THE need to abolish farming subsidies to ensure a viable future for the industry was the key topic at this year's Oxford Farming Conference.
Defra secretary Caroline Spelman used her maiden speech at the event to say that farmers should be less reliant on subsidy handouts and rewarded more for the work they do to enhance the countryside, while urging members of the European Union to commit to a radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Her views met with generally favourable reaction from Britain's farming industries who said that a long-term strategy was needed to remove volatility and abuse of power in the food market.
Mrs Spelman confirmed that a decision on badger culling was due next month and hinted that the numerous farm inspection visits farmers have to endure could be consolidated as the Government strives to meet its commitment to reduce red tape.
Mrs Spelman said: "Now is the time to make very significant progress towards reducing our reliance on direct payments. Rising global demand for food and rising food prices make it possible to reduce subsidies and plan for their abolition.
"To continue as we are threatens to snuff out the transition we need towards a market that can sustain EU agriculture in the future. Moreover, the fairer allocation demanded by new member states – with which I have sympathy – threatens to entrench subsidy dependence further. This must not happen."
She also told delegates, including the European agriculture minister Dacian Ciolos, that the current Common Agricultural Policy, set to be revamped in the coming months, was leading to inaccurate trade and undercutting food production in developing countries, a system she described as "morally wrong".
NFU president Peter Kendall said: "The NFU supports a progressive reform of the CAP which helps farmers to become more competitive and productive so that they can meet the big global challenges. It's important that we have a UK government that is pragmatic and engaged in its approach and that recognises the economic, environmental and political importance of the CAP.
"We all want to get to a place where farming in Europe can be less dependent on support but there has to be recognition that this requires a long-term strategy that includes addressing the problems that continue to exist in the market volatility, global distortions and abusive power in the market place."
In a bid to endear herself to the farming audience, Mrs Spelman added she wanted to see more power given to farmers and less direct control imposed from Government, something she said should bring better profits.
"We want to see a greater degree of trust and collaboration when developing and delivering policy" she told delegates.
Elsewhere George Lyon, Liberal Democrat MEP, said that GM food must be used in Europe to prevent the continent being left behind the rest of the world.