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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 16:35 GMT
Wary welcome for farming report
Tractor
Report offers new direction for farming
Farmers have given a cautious welcome to a UK Government report on the future of English farming which urges them to become "guardians of the countryside".

The independent report, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), examines issues relating to the entire food chain.


Unilateral agricultural disarmament would be very damaging to our farmers

Sir Edward Greenwell
Environmental groups have welcomed much of the blueprint for more sustainable farming.

Recommendations include redirecting subsidies to protect the countryside; increasing organic farming; encouraging co-operatives and urging supermarkets to sell more locally produced food.

Farming has been in crisis with the foot-and-mouth outbreak last year and the ongoing tragedy of "mad cow disease" and its human equivalent vCJD.

Sir Donald Curry, chairman of the report's authors at the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, said radical measures were needed "to cut through this deeper malaise".

Culture shock

Farmer Chris Cook, from Twyford, said most farmers would welcome the report.

"It will give us a direction and after the last two years we really need to know how we're going to be able to plan for the future," he said.

"The emphasis on the environment won't be a problem for quite a few of us because we are involved in schemes already but I think it will mean a culture change for others."


The emphasis on farming driven by subsidies for production rather than what consumers actually want cannot continue

Consumers' Association
But proposals to divert more European Union subsidies from payments for crops and livestock towards agri-environment and rural development, known as modulation, has raised some fears.

Sir Edward Greenwell, of the Country Land and Business Association, said he agreed with much of the report.

But he said it gave no details about the Treasury increasing funding towards a closer focus on the environment.

"Also it is essential that it is not done by the UK unilaterally," he said.

"That would be very damaging to our farmers as the percentage lost from their bottom line production subsidies would make them more uncompetitive against their European partners."

Quality key

The president of the National Farmers' Union, Ben Gill, said a lot of the report's ideas were developments of existing work on issues like farm diversification, farmer collaboration, better training and marketing.

He said the NFU was not against rural development and environmental spending but did not agree with diverting subsidies.

Michelle Childs, from the Consumers' Association, said the recommendations echoed the concerns of many consumer and environmental groups.

"The Commission has recognised that the emphasis on quantity rather than quality is no longer sustainable to create a food production system fit for the 21st Century."

Farm gate
Foot-and-mouth disease closed the countryside
Kate Parminter, director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said the report was a "signpost" towards a greener and more prosperous future for farmers.

"The Commission's proposals recognise the wide consensus that farming is about much more than producing basic raw materials," she said.

"It is also about providing healthy, high-quality food at a fair price, a beautiful diverse and accessible countryside and vibrant rural communities and economies."

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also welcomed the report.

Anger

But Peter Stevenson, of Compassion in World Farming, called it "immensely disappointing" because it missed the opportunity to reform farming practices and improve conditions for animals.

He called on Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett to ban factory farming and the export of live animals.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Richard Burge was impressed by the report, but said DEFRA would have to be "radically reformed" in order to implement its recommendations.

Mr Burge wants policy development to stay within a "slimmed down" government department, but delivery and auditing to be handed to a single executive agency.

See also:

29 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
English farming 'unsustainable'
29 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Farm report gets two cheers
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