The Northern Farming Conference told how Brexit offered a ’fantastic opportunity’ but farmers should ’work as one’ to establish a suitable and sustainable policy.
The farming industry would greatly benefit from ’removing the blinkers’ of an EU membership, Farming Minister George Eustice has said.
Speaking at the Northern Farming Conference in Hexham, Mr Eustice said leaving the EU created a ‘fantastic opportunity’ and the ‘chance in a lifetime’ to build a coherent and ‘brand new’ agricultural policy for the UK.
He challenged UK farming organisations to work together and develop a new system which would allow UK producers to prosper.
He said: “My challenge is to remove the blinkers of an EU membership and think together about a good scheme that is coherent, that works and that a decade from now the rest of the world will envy and want to emulate.
“What we have at the moment is a single farm payment system, a subsidy system with lots of clunky, bolt-on conditions which does not deliver for either farmers or for our environment."
CLA president Ross Murray has urged farmers to recognise the need to embrace change, and said: “We were long due a significant change because CAP was, and is, a discredited policy in the eyes of the Government and the public.
“Farming as an industry has a queue of bright and hungry youngsters wanting to kick on, frustrated by the lack of opportunity.”
Mr Eustice suggested the importance of more tailored schemes to be area-based and take into account different farming practices such as levels of rain fall and soil types.
He hoped any new scheme would have ‘simplicity’ and ‘flexibility’ but warned it would be an ‘iterative process’.
“The environment is incredibly complicated – something that works one year may not work the next year, and something that works in one part of the country might not work in another," Mr Eustice added.
“That is why we should refine these schemes year on year, year after year, so that in a decade’s time we have something stronger and far more powerful than what we started with."
The importance of striking the right international trade agreements post-Brexit was a key topic among speakers and farmers at the conference in Hexham.
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) chairman Sir Peter Kendall said trade was ’fundamental to our future’ but that farmers needed to plan for ‘less support’ and ‘more competition’.
“If we have great British produce, what a fantastic opportunity if we can get that framework right, and the politicians think about it right from the beginning,” Mr Kendall said.
“We are going to need to make sure we can demonstrate not only to British consumers – especially if we have the threat of cheaper imports – the standards, the traceability, and the welfare that we deliver in producing our food in the UK.”
The conference heard from a number of farmers keen to offer reassurance on diversification and how they had developed a successful and sustainable farming business, despite the 'steep learning curve'.
Northumberland potato farmer Anthony Carroll told farmers not to panic about the future but said they needed ‘courage, commitment and self-belief’ to prosper.
He said: “Are you going to come in the farm door or are you just going to stand hovering at the entrance? We have to change.
"If you are considering diversification, do not let the light bulb go out.
“We have to listen to what the market wants, but if we can pull together we can make UK agriculture great again."