Calls for a cut in EU subsidies

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The current CAP support measures are providing UK agriculture with a comfort blanket, which is serving to severely hamper the pace of change within the industry, according to 2014 Nuffield Scholar Mark Bowyer.

“Radical change within agriculture, and by that I mean a sustained improvement in efficiency levels will only be achieved in one of three ways,” he said.

“These are: the introduction of legislation, a voluntary change in mindset at farm level and/or a reduction in farm support levels.

“The legislative route won’t work and neither will farmers voluntarily alter their perspectives on the shape of farming, all of which they have held for many years.

“The only way that people will change is to make them adopt new thinking. And from a farming point of view that means cutting subsidies.”

Bowyer was one of the speakers at the 2015 Nuffield Conference, which was held in Belfast over the past couple of days.

He referenced the experience of sugar beet growers in the East of England as vindication of his view on the impact of reduced support levels across agriculture as a whole.

“The farmers in question were forced to reduce their crop acreages by 50%,” he said.

“Yet, within a few years they had managed to double beet yields by way of compensation. They responded in a positive way to an economic challenge.”

Bowyer is totally open minded on the issue of Britain staying in or leaving the EU.

“Looking at the bigger picture, I think that we have to stay in. But either way British agriculture has a bright future,” he said.

“Exiting Europe would save the UK exchequer £4.2bn annually. At the present time, the monies paid by Europe to UK agriculture pretty much balances the contributions made to Brussels by British tax payers. The question facing agriculture in the event of a Brexit is this: will the Chancellor of the Exchequer agree to retain the current level of farm subsidies from national funds?”

Bowyer also cited the poor transmission of agricultural research results back down to farm level.

“This is a core challenge which faces farming as a whole at the present time,” he said.

“There is lots of excellent applied research taking place. But the rate of progress in terms of getting this new knowledge back down to farm level is just far too slow.”