Farmers’ leader calls for action to kick-start �100bn industry

Match food and farming policies with action, farmers' leader Peter Kendall told delegates at a national conference in Birmingham today.

He told the audience: 'Don't just talk about the food and farming challenges; let's match the policies with the rhetoric.'

Mr Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, told members and guests including environment secretary Caroline Spelman and EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos that food security must be given priority.

The food and farming sector was a �100billion industry with the ability to kick-start the UK economy, said Mr Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union.

'Our over-riding priority is to realise our potential for delivering growth and boosting the economy – and by that I mean growth which is genuinely sustainable – now and into the future,' he said.

Mr Kendall praised Mrs Spelman and farming minister, Jim Paice, for their commitment to eradicating bovine TB and what he called 'the tough decision' to go ahead with badger culls in two pilot areas.

He said that the government's proposed planning reforms could help the industry to become more efficient. 'Getting planning consent is probably the single most frustrating process farmers experience, whether it's for state-of-the-art poultry sheds, on-farm vegetable packhouses, polytunnels, high-welfare livestock housing or small-scale anaerobic digesters,' he added.

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'We're delighted to see a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and I urge the Government to stick to its guns. As the prime minister has often said, the countryside has got to be allowed to prosper and grow. It can't just be left to fossilise. We live there; trust us on that.'

He warned that there was a mismatch between government's words and actual delivery.

Mr Kendall said that the long promised groceries adjudicator had been delayed while supermarkets turned the screw on farmers and suppliers.

Tax incentives for on-farm reservoirs, encouraged in the Water White Paper, have been withdrawn.

He was critical of the European Commission's reform proposals and told Mr Ciolos. 'Your vision is to enable the EU to meet its own food production and climate change challenges and contribute to the needs of the rest of the world. But if you pursue your plan for a fixed seven per cent of land to be out of production, it will inevitably damage the productivity and competitiveness of Europe's farms.'

Mr Kendall urged Mrs Spelman not to repeat the mistakes of her predecessor, Margaret Beckett, who had introduced CAP reforms in 2005 and left farmers in England uniquely disadvantaged.

'Please don't come back with an agreement which paves the way for England or Wales to choose unilaterally to reduce direct payments to their farmers or gives the flexibility to impose even deeper greening here than other member states are looking for.

'Do come back with news that you've secured a more level playing field for us, and the competitiveness of farmers in England and Wales has been strengthened, not compromised.'