Lord Bach, minister for sustainable farming and food, outlines progress made in the government’s strategy

Defra has worked closely with farmers throughout the past year to achieve dynamic change in farm policy and practice at every level. Through the new Single Payment Scheme we are seeing a managed transition from a subsidy-dependent industry to one focused on the market, and at the same time an industry rewarded for the delivery of public benefits through cross-compliance and agri-environment schemes.
The government’s Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food (SFFS) first set out the way ahead for the farming sector - and good progress is being made in implementation.
Our new Farm Regulation and Charging Strategy reflects our commitment to reducing bureaucracy and our concern to work with farmers to find new ways to help them farm more sustainably, better protect the environment, promote biodiversity, improve animal health and welfare and emphasise food and worker safety.
In Europe, the UK has been the frontrunner in arguing for further CAP reform. The major reforms of 2003 and 2004 were an important start - and their extension to the sugar sector under the UK presidency in November was very welcome - but we need to go further. The government recently published its vision for CAP centred on the principles of sustainable development, in which farmers are rewarded by the market for their outputs, rather than by subsidies, and where farmers are environmentally and socially responsible and in which farm policies no longer distort international trade and the world economy.
This objective was advanced at the sixth ministerial meeting of the WTO in Hong Kong last month, where some small - but not insignificant - steps were taken towards liberalising world trade. A lot remains to be done in 2006 if the trade round is to meet its objectives - not least securing substantial improvements in market access and significant reductions in trade-distorting domestic support. But an important agreement was reached at Hong Kong to end all export subsidies by 2013, with a substantial part realised by the end of the first half of the implementation period. A deadline of April 30, 2006 was set to finalise the details of this - and the wider aspects of the trade round.
The Hong Kong meeting also furthered the development objectives
of the round, with agreement to extend duty and quota-free access to the poorest countries (mirroring the EU’s Everything But Arms agreement) for 97% of products and to eliminate export subsidies for cotton in 2006.
Meanwhile, at home our livestock farmers in particular face many challenges. In the beef sector there have been considerable issues as it comes to grips with CAP reform, particularly at farm level. We recognise that the sector is remodelling itself to face these challenges. At the same time the government is spending £8m to improve efficiency and innovation in the sector. Industry leaders agree that they need greater efficiency throughout the supply chain to safeguard the links between consumers and producers.
Dairy farmers’ attempts to grapple with the problem of a low farmgate price for milk are one of our main concerns. However, given goodwill by all elements in the food chain, I believe the dairy sector has a healthy future. My department is working with industry at the Dairy Supply Chain Forum to help develop a sustainable and profitable sector.
Real progress is being made under the new Environmental Stewardship Scheme. After the first agreements in August, more than 10,000 farmers and land managers have agreements in place with more than a million hectares under Entry Level and Organic Entry Level Stewardship.
Defra has also been working closely with the food and drink industry and other stakeholders to develop a Food Industry Sustainability Strategy. This sets out how all those involved in the industry beyond the farmgate (food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and foodservice providers) can, through widespread adoption of best practice, help to achieve sustainable development. The food industry is well placed to contribute to this agenda.
Following public consultation on a draft of the FISS last year, we plan to launch the final document early this year. I have been immensely encouraged by the results of a series of bilateral meetings with captains of industry regarding support for the FISS as a framework for spreading best practice - 2006 will be the year when we start to roll out implementation.
While we have made substantial progress towards sustainable farming and food industries, there is still much to be done.