AS the Government ponders its future policies towards agriculture, a leading official today issued a stark warning to farmers that they may be facing their last chance to maintain the support of the general public.
The taxpayer foots an annual £3 million bill in farm subsidies and Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Government-funded Countryside Agency, told a conference in Oxford that the public now wanted more for its money than food over-production.
Mr Cameron, who is himself a farmer, commented: "I believe, perhaps perversely, that the devastation caused by foot and mouth has given this industry a chance to win back the public's confidence - perhaps its last one."
His speech will be seen by farming experts as yet another step in a "softening-up process" being launched by the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to persuade farmers to co-operate with major changes in the way that farmers receive subsidies.
These will undoubtedly include more cash for landscape conservation but Mr Cameron also floated an idea that has been discussed in these columns several times: the increased production of non-food agricultural crops, including fast-growing woodlands as a renewable fuel source for energy production.