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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 14:23 GMT
Rewards for 'green' farmers
A combine harvester
The policy marks a shift away from subsidies
The government has unveiled its new strategy for food and agriculture, which encourages farmers to become more enterprising and environmentally friendly.

The Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food, published on Thursday, was prompted by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

It sets out ways in which farmers can be helped to get a fairer price for their produce and benefit the environment.

But critics remain sceptical and say it lacks specific new policies.

The new strategy promises 500m to encourage "green" and sustainable farming, including:

  • rewarding farmers who protect wildlife and reduce pollution

  • encouraging practices which help the environment, such as organic farming

  • helping farmers to club together to market their food more effectively

  • expanding existing environmental schemes on offer to farmers, such as Countryside Stewardship

  • more money for skills and training

  • a network of demonstration farms to encourage good farming practices

  • improvements to animal health and to combating diseases

  • promoting ways of producing alternative crops such as plants to provide green fuel

The strategy announcement follows the Curry Commission report on the future of the industry following foot-and-mouth, which was published in January.

That recommended a shift in policy to make farms less dependent on subsidies and more responsive to the demands of consumers.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett with Prime Minister Tony Blair
Ministers promise 'real change'
It suggested diverting money earmarked for the European Union's controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) into a "green" scheme instead.

In a foreword to Thursday's report, the prime minister said the Curry commission had "transformed thinking" on the subject of food and farming.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "The food and farming industries have a vital role to play in developing and delivering the government's objectives to improve the nation's health.

"I am delighted the government and industry is going to be working so closely together to maximise the commercial advantage from these ideas."

Farmers' market
Farmers are encouraged to meet customer demands
BBC environment correspondent Tim Hirsch said the document pulls together policies which have already been announced.

And environmental groups are complaining that new measures signalled in the strategy, like more support for energy crops to combat climate change, are still plans for the future rather than firm policies.

Patrick Holden, of the Soil Association, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there had been a "remorseless loss of small farms" during the past 50 years.

And there was "nothing in this package that will directly result in the reversal of the decline".

Disappointment

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), broadly welcomed the strategy.

But he added: "The key word must be `action'. If all the many recommendations are not implemented - and soon - it will not worth the paper it is written on."

Sustain, a food and farming campaign group, was disappointed by the strategy, saying more than half the initiatives in the new report had already been announced.

In July, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced 400m earmarked for efforts to promote sustainable farming.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"The strategy will contain few surprises"
See also:

06 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Sep 02 | England
15 Jul 02 | Politics
28 May 02 | England
29 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
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