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Can farmers survive without subsidy?

Under the Common Agricultural Policy, UK farmers receive £3.2billion annually and the government has promised to keep overall payments the same until 2022. But what will financial support look like after this? Will farmers have to ‘earn’ their subsidy with good environmental practice, in Michael Gove’s vision for a ‘green Brexit’? Or should support be reduced, or even eliminated, in a similar way to New Zealand?

These burning questions will be debated at the Three Counties Farming Conference in association with Bruton Knowles, which will take place on 16 November in Malvern, Worcestershire.

The evening event, chaired by farmer and BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson, has four opinionated high-profile speakers presenting their cases to a 400-strong audience, followed by a question and answer session from the delegates.

Speakers have offered a glimpse into their stance ahead of the debate.

New Zealand special agricultural trade envoy, Mike Petersen, said: “The most important thing New Zealand farmers learnt from the removal of subsidies was the need for constant innovation to ensure productivity gains and business success in a world without government support. New Zealand farmers now take full responsibility for their own success. This strong determination to succeed without government support is now ingrained into farmers’ mindsets here in New Zealand, and is one of the drivers of the constant innovation in our sector today.”

Former environment secretary, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson, said: “Ceasing production subsidies would bring many benefits to consumers and producers. It does not mean stopping financial support for farmers; it could even mean increasing support by adopting practices similar to those in Switzerland, rewarding farmers for the environmental and public goods they provide. However, stopping production subsidies is a prerequisite for forging new free-trade agreements and thus lowering food prices for all consumers. For producers, there are clear lessons to learn from New Zealand, where ceasing production subsidies in the 1980s brought a spectacular increase in productivity and a rapid growth in exports.”

The National Farmers’ Union president, Meurig Raymond, said: “For many the abrupt loss of subsidy will be a massive concern, but for me the context in which it might happen is equally concerning. Will the Government ensure farming can trade on fair terms abroad and at home? Will we get a fair return for our food from processers and retailers? Will consumers buy British produce, rather than lower standard imports? Uncertainty is paralysing the profitability, productivity and competitiveness of UK farming.”

CLA deputy president, Tim Breitmeyer, said: “New Zealand farmers have the ability to produce year-round and with higher levels of productivity. There is a marked difference in the attitude of New Zealanders to farming itself. Their approaches to issues such as animal welfare and natural resource protection would be unacceptable here, but they do enable them to produce at significantly lower costs. However, there are lessons to learn, for instance, agriculture receives government support to champion exports in the fast-growing markets of the Pacific Basin and invest in world leading research and development.”

The Three Counties Farming Conference kicks off at 2pm with afternoon workshops on rural affairs. Gill Lewis from the Rural Payments Agency will update on the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and rural development. NFU horticultural and potato board chairman Ali Capper will speak about the growing concerns when employing a part time agricultural workforce and Agrii agricultural consultant David Neale aims to outline new opportunities in agriculture.

The afternoon workshops will be followed by presentations from two Nuffield Scholars at 4pm, presenting their recent papers. Ben Taylor-Davies will tackle blackgrass resistance management and Chris Padfield will speak about growing and nurturing talent in the agricultural industry.

Twenty agricultural trade stands will feature at the conference offering advice, support and opportunities for farm businesses, and information for students wanting to pursue a career in agriculture.

Ticket prices are £18 in advance and £20 on the day, or for students, £9 in advance or £10 on the day. This includes admission to both the afternoon and evening conferences and the networking buffet, taking place between 5pm to 6.30pm.

The evening conference starts at 6.30pm. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.farmingconference.co.uk or call 01684 584 924.

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