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Country News - 2002

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Farming's future: fury and favour
Wednesday 30 January

THE final publication of a Government commission's long awaited report into the future of British farming was greeted today with a mixture of fury from the farmers and favour from various conservation bodies.

Many of the recommendations of the independent Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food had been widely forecast - they have been predicted in these columns over the past 12 months - but the strong language of the report took many by surprise.

It variously described the present £3 billion farm subsidy system as "unsustainable," "dysfunctional" and "serving nobody well." It has become "detached from the rest of the economy and environment," it says.

But what has angered farmers most was the proposed system of "modularity" in which a large chunk of cash - some £500 million over three years - would be taken out of the farm-support system for food products and targeted instead on conservation and help to other schemes to boost the rural economy.

This infuriated farmers' leaders, already reeling from the BSE scandal, years of falling farm incomes, and the foot and mouth epidemic, seen by Government as the last nail in the coffin of the old subsidy system.

Said NFU president Ben Gill, who farms at Easingwold, near York: "With the industry in its present dire state, it is hardly surprising that we oppose suggestions of taking money away from farmers - it equates to taking money which farmers simply do not have."

Conservation bodies, however, reacted positively. The Council for the Protection of Rural England described the report as "a signpost towards a greener and more prosperous future for farming and the countryside."

  • This complex report is arguably the most important document on the future of our countryside for more than 50 years. Our countryside commentator, John Sheard, will discuss its implications in more detail on Friday in A Week in the Country.

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