NFU vice-president Guy Smith has questioned whether the Conservative Party has considered the full consequences of leaving the European Union.
Mr Smith raised the issue with Defra secretary Liz Truss in front of 400 delegates at the Norfolk Farming Conference on Thursday (12 February).
With less than three months before the general election, Mr Smith said there was “a lot at stake and a lot of permutations that may come out the other end”.
One issue – which would be much discussed over the next three months – was the country’s future relationship with the European Union, he said.
“If we did come out – and the Conservative Party could put us on that road – what would agricultural policy look like in the UK?”
Guy Smith, NFU vice-president
The Tories have pledged to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Brussels and to hold an in-out referendum on the country’s membership of the Europe Union by 2017.
Mr Smith said: “I think the concern of many farmers is that we sometimes wonder if it is being thought through what the consequences of such a decision might be for agriculture?”
The Common Agricultural Policy was “the most important policy” in the European Union and represented 47% of the EU budget, he said.
“If we did come out – and the Conservative Party could put us on that road – what would agricultural policy look like in the UK?
“Do you think we are being given enough detail about that scenario?”
In response, Ms Truss said there were huge benefits of being part of the single market.
“I recognise the importance of having a level playing field with other countries – and that is what the CAP provides,” she told conference delegates at the John Innes Centre, Norwich.
But when it came to issues such as approvals for pesticides and GM crops, Ms Truss said the UK was being held back in terms of the technology it could develop and use.
“I want the best of both worlds. I want us to have access to the European market and I want us to be able to part of the CAP.
“We need to get to a better position where we can have the benefits of being in Europe without some of those costs it imposes on our industry.”
Liz Truss, Defra secretary
“But we do have to recognise that the regulations in place are not doing us any good and they are not doing many of the other countries in Europe any good.”
Similarly, CAP greening rules were complicated and would entail more government regulation and inspection of farms, said Ms Truss.
“We want to reduce that. We want to free farmers to produce the food that people want to eat and buy,” she added.
“I think we can make progress with the renegotiation.
“We need to get to a better position where we can have the benefits of being in Europe without some of those costs it imposes on our industry.
“I think the prime minister will achieve that in the renegotiation and I think when that is put to the British public, the British public will support that.”