A healthy agricultural sector is vital to the continued wealth of the nation, the government's Commission on the Future of Farming and Food has been told. However, the manufacturers and retailers who gave evidence at the Commission's first public session also made it clear farmers had to focus much more on the needs of their customers, and the end consumer, if they were to prosper in the future. The industry executives made it clear that price remained the most important issue for consumers when it came to choosing food. There was no loyalty per se to English food, they said. The commissioners were also told the supply chain had to become more efficient. And the retailer delegation, led by Bill Moyes of the BRC, made it clear they would back any moves by farmers to create co-operative organisations along the lines of those established on the Continent. Safeway's communications director Kevin Hawkins said: "We need a more efficient, market led supply chain. We need new organisational structures ­ such as co-operatives ­ to encourage integration and scale economies." The retailers also agreed there had to be more direct communication with farmers to end "misunderstandings" on issues such as where profit was made ­ and by whom. Peter Blackburn, president of the FDF, who led the delegation of top manufacturers, agreed said the whole chain had been "pretty awful" at communicating with consumers. And Bill Roland, boss of Mars Confectionery, said inter-industry dialogue was not as good as it should be: "There are still a number of farmers, manufacturers and retailers not connecting as well as they ultimately could." Both groups insisted that government would have to play a much pro-active role in any reshaping of the chain. Blackburn said manfacturers bought two thirds of UK farming output, adding: "If we don't have farmers providing us with raw materials and ingredients then we will not have a manufacturing industry down the track." {{NEWS }}