FARMERS were told to get the government off their farms yesterday and to launch a new effort to ensure the production of GM crops if they want to capitalise on the global opportunities that will be there for the taking over the next 20 years.
Controversial economist Sean Rickard delivered the message as he predicted a “very comfortable future” for the agricultural sector at the annual Farming Scotland conference held in Carnoustie.
The senior lecturer in business economics at the Cranfield School of Business Management told delegates that with the world population rising there would be no let-up in the demand for food.
He firmly believed farming would buck the economic trend and escape the downturn that will hit other business sectors. He pointed to the potential for a 15-20% rise in agricultural incomes over the next 30 years.
But Mr Rickard said farmers had to reduce their reliance on subsidies and the “daft, half-baked” environmental schemes that governments dreamed up and which had become ever more expensive and obscure just to keep civil servants in jobs.
He too called on the industry to do more to ensure a future for GM technology – if farmers are to meet the growing demand for higher quality food from the same land resources as well as cut their water and energy use, reduce their environmental impact as well as dramatically lower production costs.
He said: “If you think the government is your friend then you are living in cloud cuckoo land. If you think subsidies will continue then you are in cloud cuckoo land. The only way you can guarantee your future is by taking control of your business.
“GM will revolutionise the agricultural industry. It is time industry here embraced it. One of the reasons you are so far behind is because you have been cowards and stood behind weak politicians who have been led by the minority in the rope-sandal brigade (the organic movement and environmentalists). It is them who have been telling government what it should be doing.
“But it’s time you told government what it should be doing. Not having GM is having an adverse effect on your industry. It’s time to wake up.”
Mr Rickard said current agricultural policy thinking in government was coloured by civil servants, “quango people” and politicians who had lived through the 1980s and 1990s when production was plentiful and there was a need for it to be curbed.
But that was no longer the case and agricultural output needed to increase to avoid food shortages.
“The new focus has to be on productivity. Organic farming is a busted flush and it is not the future.”
He called on greater collaboration across supply chains and for farmers to work with others to recognise the enormous potential that could be gained from closer links and new technologies.
“You need to get the government off your backs. It has in the past only ever held you back or sent you all in the wrong direction.”