The Coalition Government could do a great deal more to help British farming, the president of the National Farmers’ Union told an audience on the opening day of the Royal Bath and West of England Show yesterday.
The NFU’s Peter Kendall said it was particularly failing to send out positive messages which would enable farmers to know where they stand, how they will be able to trade in future and whether investments will be worthwhile.
There had been considerable progress on several issues under the current admin- istration, and Mr Kendall paid tribute to the efforts of Farming Minister Jim Paice – but he said he was concerned that the double-dip recession was breeding a negative culture at the Treasury towards farming.
It was easy to fall prey to what Mr Kendall called “the Robert Peston effect”.
Referring to the BBC business editor, he said: “The news delivered every night to us is grim about Greece and Spain and it is worrying farmers because so much of our business safety is to do with the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
“While I am confident the majority of farmers are optimistic about the long-term future, the current financial situation affects the price of farmland and has impacted on the payments dairy farmers are receiving, and it is all making them generally less confident.”
But, he insisted, there was still much optimism in the industry, despite the problems.
Mr Kendall, who farms in East Bedfordshire, was adamant that British agriculture could survive outside the EU.
“But if that were to happen we would want 110 per cent backing from our government – and it would certainly have to up its game towards the farming industry and also ensure that consumers got right behind their farmers with support,” he said.
“At present we certainly don’t get that sort of backing.
“I am frustrated by the slow pace of change from this Government, and in particular there seems to be a blockage of the mindset in the Treasury about the importance of agriculture, which is the country’s biggest manufacturing sector.”
There could, for example, be enhanced initiatives and bigger capital allowances for investment in farm buildings and the construction of on-farm reservoirs, he said, while adding that developments on CAP reform “still worries the hell out of me”.
He added: “The Government is being deliberately vague. It says it wants to be fair to taxpayers and farmers in the CAP reform, and then it goes and asks for 20 per cent modulation, taking a direct income payment from farmers and diverting the money into rural development.
“As it is, we are already receiving less than 90 per cent of the EU norm in support.”
If the Euro collapsed so would payments drop drastically, he warned. The lack of clarity from the government over what it wanted from CAP reform was therefore unacceptable.
“The one thing we need from this Government is leadership and conviction,” he added.
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