Farmers need a professional body, and the Agri-culture and Horticulture Development Board is best placed to take on that role, food and farming minister Jim Paice has said.

As farming became more market-oriented, a professional body was needed to provide advice to farmers, Paice told the Oxford Farming Conference this week. “I don’t mean the role played by the NFU but in terms of technical and business expertise,” he said.

He added that he had already approached AHDB chairman John Godfrey and asked him to explore how the AHDB, currently a levy board, could evolve into the professional farming body he envisaged.

Paice also announced the launch of 14 rural and farming network groups, representing different parts of England, which he said would be able to shape rural policy.

“For too long our rural communities have been overlooked,” Paice said. “We are putting that right through the rural and farming networks, which will have direct access to ministers and, just as importantly, ministers will use them to ensure we understand the impact of our policies.