The Conservative party has set out plans to reform the Rural Payments Agency to improve its performance and make it more accountable to farmers.
Speaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (23 February), shadow farm minister Nick Herbert said the RPA had been a “shambles and disgrace” under DEFRA which had made farmers’ lives a misery.
Pledging a “fundamental shake-up” of the agency, Mr Herbert said the farming minister would be made chairman of the RPA under a Conservative government.
“His job will be to get a grip of the agency and make sure it delivers,” he told delegates. “You will all know where the buck stops.”
Mr Herbert’s pledge came as he launched the party’s agenda for securing the future of the industry.
The paper, A New Age of Agriculture, sets out the party’s plans to help farmers secure food supplies, cut regulation, reform the CAP and tackle animal disease should it get into power following the general election.
It pledges to review all existing regulations to reduce burdens on farmers within three months of taking office, as well as introducing legislation on country of original labelling if a voluntary approach is not reached.
Criticising DEFRA’s ‘Food 2030’ strategy as a “vague 20-year plan” and an “airy fairy vision”, Mr Herbert said the agenda set out practical and deliverable policies which backed British agriculture.
To applause from delegates, Mr Herbert also said a Conservative government would work with the industry to find ways to tackle animal disease.
He said government could not expect farmers to contribute towards animal health and cost-sharing unless it took action to protect the industry, which included a badger cull.
“We can no longer stand by while bovine TB claims 40,000 cattle and costs £80m a year,” he said.
“Ministers have twisted the science and funked the tough decision which is needed tot tackle the problem.
“We will be led by the science and introduce carefully-managed control of badgers in high TB areas.”
Other pledges set out in the Tory police paper include the introduction of new rules into the new national planning framework to prevent the development of the most fertile farmland, in all but exceptional circumstances and ensuring that all food served in government departments meets British standards of production, wherever this can be delivered without increasing overall costs.
Keep up to date with all the news from the conference via Twitter and on our special report page.