Chaired by local farmer and BBC Countryfile Presenter Adam Henson, and starting at 6.30pm this year's conference will discuss - Survival in a Post Subsidy Britain.
With the single farm payment guaranteed until 2020, battle lines are being drawn up to maintain support on the one hand and to remove it completely on the other.
With strong lobbying groups pushing hard to keep the level of subsidy intact, pressure groups are keen to implement more environmental and welfare standards as a trade off.
However, it may not be needed. New Zealand’s farm reforms of the 1980s dramatically illustrate the point. Faced with a budget crisis, New Zealand’s government decided to eliminate nearly all farm subsidies. This was a dramatic reform as New Zealand farmers had enjoyed high levels of aid and the country’s economy was heavily dependent on agriculture than the British economy is.
Despite initial protests, farm subsidies were repealed in 1984. Almost 30 different production subsidies and export incentives were ended.
When the subsidies were removed, it turned out to be a catalyst for productivity gains. New Zealand farmers cut costs, diversified their land use, sought nonfarm income, and developed new products. Farmers became more focused on pursuing activities that made good business sense.
More efficient agricultural production in New Zealand has also spurred better environmental management. Cutting farm subsidies, for example, has reduced the previous overuse of fertilizer. And cutting subsidies has broadened farm operations to encompass activities such as rural tourism that bring management of the rural environment to the fore.
Is the message to British farmers, subsidy cuts should be embraced, not feared? After subsidy cuts, British farmers would be able to prove their entrepreneurial skills by innovating in a myriad of ways. Would British farmers, like their New Zealand counterparts become proud of their new independence, and have little interest in going back on the taxpayer gravy train?
The removal of farm subsidies in New Zealand gave birth to a vibrant, diversified, and growing rural economy and it debunked the myth that farming cannot prosper without subsidies. Rather than passing another big government farm bill that taxpayers can’t afford, the British government should step back and explore the proven alternative of free market farming.
Joining us for the debate we welcome:
Mike Petersen, New Zealand Government Agricultural Envoy, giving his first-hand account of how they have handled the changes.
Rt Hon Owen Paterson, Former Environment Secretary, who will argue there are clear lessons to learn from the policy adopted by New Zealand.
Please note this year a hot buffet will be served from 17.00 before the Evening Debate starts rather than after as in previous years.