By MICHAEL POLLITT, Agricultural editor
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Agriculture’s role as an engine for growth has been recognised by Downing Street, said farmers’ leader Peter Kendall.
In the past four years, farming had created 11,000 jobs and exports of food and drink had grown for seven years on the trot, he told about 550 sugar beet growers at the East of England showground at the Peterborough Arena.
Mr Kendall, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said that “trying to get the message across to government and all sectors of society had been a challenge.” Government now also understood that agricultural science had a role to play too.
“We can’t just turn the countryside into parkland and we need to think much smarter about how we get more bangs for our bucks and for all the inputs we put in. That’s why the technology is so important. We’ve got to learn to be much smarter about what we’re doing.”
The farming industry had generated growth within the economy, he said. And it was a measure of the change in attitude that government was investing in research and development and agricultural science.
Defra’s secretary, Owen Paterson, had briefed cabinet colleagues in a 20-minute summary of agriculture’s growth and contribution to the rural economy, said Mr Kendall. “That’s a long way on from Dame Margaret Becket thinking that we should be park keepers,” he added.
However, warned Mr Kendall, there was a need to mend “the broken pipeline between applied science” and farmers on the ground. He told delegates at the British Beet Research Organisation’s winter conference that he remained critical of aspects of CAP reform and the nonsense of the “whole greening agenda.”
“When I’ve talked about building successful and competitive businesses, where do 7pc ecological focus areas (set aside) fit in? And having to grow three different crops on a holding?
“We will argue that CAP must help us to be more efficient, more competitive and profitable and not wrap us up in green tape for no discernable benefit.”
But Mr Kendall did praise CAP reform proposals, which would double spending on research and development. “It will make sure that we are investing in the sort of technology that will help us to compete around the world.”
He recognised the difficulties faced by so many farmers caused by the weather. “I know it has been an awful winter, but a bit further west and north it is a lot worse than in most of the sugar beet growing area at this moment in time.”
He said that fenland farmer William Martin and fellow members of the sugar board, which represents all 3,500 beet growers, have been helping to create conditions for people to grow successful businesses. And that the NFU had made strenuous efforts to ensure that beet growers could remain properly represented by persuading MEPs of the “uniqueness of our relationship in the UK with an IPA (inter-professional agreement) and British Sugar.” This was essential to make sure that “growers get a fair deal” in the future, he said.