REGULATIONS and bureaucracy are stifling British agriculture.

Sir Don Curry, chairman of the Policy Commission on the Future Of Food And Farming, said it must be slashed, although previous attempts had resulted in more being churned out.

"An industry has been founded around it," he said, "Far too much of the support provided to the industry is stripped off in advice and consultancy fees. The profits generated through this bureaucracy are greater than the profits of our core industry. That is unsustainable and has to be understood."

The reduction of regulations and bureaucracy was one of the key recommendations in his report.

He welcomed the Government's willingness to look at rationalising the agri-environment schemes. "The administration costs of many of these are up to 30pc of the value of the schemes," said Sir Don, who farms in Northumberland. "It is quite unacceptable and there is no reason why the whole of this bureaucracy could not be dismantled and replaced with a pyramid."

The basic entry level would be at the bottom and open to every farmer; options would be on the next level and the elite schemes at the top. It could all be operated by a single administrative system. He saw no reason why it should not be bolted on to the IACS form as a simple tick box system.

"Simplicity has to be the key and the ability of our industry to do that in a paperless way is something we have to achieve," he said.

He was pleased the Government had committed itself to run pilot schemes over the next two years with a view to rolling it out nationally after that.

During later questions, Sir Don was asked how bureaucracy could be reduced. He admitted it was a serious challenge. "The use of IT is crucial," he said. "Some farmers will find it unpalatable but we have to grasp this challenge."

He could not imagine how anyone could be a serious player in farming in the next few years unless they accepted that most communication would be electronic.

"There is no reason for a beef farmer to have a single sheet of paper, provided his births are recorded electronically," he said. "Every claim form could be automatically transmitted to him to be signed off electronically. Everything could be done on screen by ticking a box." It would reduce Government and industry costs.

He also suggested a rationalisation of farm inspections by having one inspection covering all aspects.

Ben Gill, NFU president, chaired the morning session and explained the NFU had just visited Holland to see what went on there. They had 1m cattle births each year and employed only 38 people to carry out the entire national administration.

"We have about 4m births but employ more than 600 people to administer it," he said.

The other massive difference was that the Dutch system did not use a single piece of paper; much of it was done using a telephone keypad.

Sir Don was critical of some environmental schemes which paid farmers to repair damage that had been done, while farmers who had looked after the environment and habitat out of their own pocket could not receive a penny. The new system would, it was hoped, mean every farmer would be able to receive payment