Leading article: Reaping what we sow

Share

Those attending the farming industry's annual conference in Oxford yesterday were treated to speeches from two politicians who have placed the environment at the heart of their political profiles. The Environment Secretary, David Miliband, told his audience that they must diversify into the production of bio-fuels and satisfy the public's appetite for local produce. The audience got pretty much the same message when the Conservative leader, David Cameron, rose to speak. Neither speech was likely to win much applause. But both were essentially correct in their analysis.

No one can reasonably argue that farmers in this country have prospered in recent years. And the incompetence of the Government has not made their lives any easier. In 2001 came the disastrous foot and mouth outbreak and its gross mismanagement by the Department for the Environment. More recently farmers have been penalised by the late payment of their European Union farm subsidies from the Rural Payments Agency.

But farmers would do well to accept that they are going to face more disruption in the future. Most significantly they will have to adjust to the end of the Common Agricultural Policy. This subsidy mechanism is responsible for a great injustice in the developing world. It undercuts agricultural exports from poor countries and then floods their domestic markets with dumped surpluses. It is true that the CAP has been modified, with the link between some subsidy payments and production levels broken in 2003. But this does not go far enough.

Scrapping the CAP will not be painless for our farmers. But it need not be ruinous either. More food overall would probably be imported. But a good deal can still be grown domestically. As Mr Cameron argued yesterday, there is an increasing appetite for local produce. Farmers' markets are growing in popularity. Farmers must attune themselves better to what customers want. And as Mr Miliband pointed out, energy crops represent a major opportunity for agricultural entrepreneurs. There is no reason why all those fields of subsidised sugar beet and oilseed rape that carpet our countryside should not be used to produce bio-fuels.

If they are to continue to be subsidised by the public purse, farmers will have to devote more of their energy to their role as "stewards of the countryside", rather than as food producers. They will also be expected to make greater use of biogas installations, which process the methane emissions from animal waste. Farmers can play a significant role in forestalling climate change.

The shift to "green farming" will be a struggle. But it will be necessary if British agriculture, as we know it, is to survive.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all