Monday, July 15, 2019

Green concerns top conference agenda

February 26, 2010 by  
Filed under News & Business

Concern over the impact of the environment on agriculture topped the agenda at this year’s Norfolk Farming Conference.

More than 400 delegates attended the one-day event, held at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, on 25 February.

Despite concerns over food security, extra financial support to boost production output was unlikely, farmers were told.

Farm subsidies would be increasingly based on environmental payments rather than output, said Professor Allan Buckwell.

Politicians believed the market would deliver the food needed to feed a growing world population, he told delegates.

“This is an access-to-food problem, not a problem of production.”

Instead, farmers should focus their arguments for continued support on the environment, rather than food security alone.

Farmers had a key role in the protection of resources such as water, soil and air, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But politicians had severely underestimated the scale of the action and budgets required to secure these public goods.

“The market can deliver food, but not public goods,” said Prof Buckwell. “If we don’t create the appropriate incentives, then farmers won’t supply them.”

Politicians from the three main parties took to the platform to answer questions from delegates in the afternoon.

They were joined by Norfolk farmer and eastern region UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew; and NFU director of policy Martin Howarth.

Mr Howarth said the need for food security meant agricultural production was more important than it had been in the past.

But it was important to strike the right balance between increasing output and looking after the environment.

“You can do both. You can produce food and improve the environment.

“We have been doing that – we have been increasing food production in some cases and continuing to improve the environment.

Charles Clarke, Labour MP for Norwich South, agreed it was not a choice between increasing output and looking after the environment.

“If you simply abolish all or most of the habitat constraints which there are on land use, then I don’t think the people of the country would welcome that.”

Farmers had to put forward balanced arguments to increase output while taking account of the environment, said Mr Clarke.

Tory shadow farm minister Jim Paice said the Conservatives would examine agri-environment schemes should they form the next government.

Revised payments would deliver better results and help to make schemes more effective, he said.

“What we do need to do is make sure the schemes that are available are sufficiently robust and indeed sufficiently financed,” he said.

“We need to revisit the whole issue of income foregone as a means of payment and we need to introduce an element of outcome related funding.”

Food production had to be at the top of the political agenda, said Mr Paice.

That meant a shift in attitudes towards farming. But it did not mean a return to environmentally damaging agricultural practices.

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