Farmer and Euro MP Phil Bennion says Rural Apprenticeships should be part of a reformed CAP.

Phil Bennion and his dog inspecting his biomass cropThe EU's Common Agricultural Policy should include support for Rural Apprenticeships to train people for careers in farming, land management or rural crafts, says Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion.

The CAP is due to be reformed from 2013 with a variety of changes to improve value for money, promote sustainable farming and stimulate the rural economy across Europe. But now Lib Dem MEPs are backing proposals for the CAP reforms to include long term support for dedicated Rural Apprenticeships.

West Midlands MEP Dr Phil Bennion, Employment Spokesman and a farmer, said: "Farming across Europe is in crisis and needs to become more sustainable and more competitive. A new CAP needs to target resources far more efficiently than in the past and one of the best ways to do this is to train people to master the full range of rural skills, from farming techniques to landscape management and fast disappearing rural crafts.

"Some pilot apprenticeship schemes have already been set up in areas such as the English Lake District focusing on skills such as dry stone walling and upland sheep management, with some success. Other similar schemes concentrating on rural crafts and land management have been trialled in Shropshire.

"Commission official John McClintock consulted me recently on whether an EU-wide Rural Apprenticeship scheme could work as part of a reformed CAP, and I warmly welcomed it.

"There is a huge challenge now to make farming, forestry and every form of diverse rural enterprise economically and environmentally sustainable in the future.

"We cannot afford to fail. To protect our environment but also our food security, a prosperous and productive countryside is not an optional extra but essential. Britain and other EU nations cannot just import all our food from the third world.

"Training a new generation of farmers and rural craftspeople across Europe is vital. The average age of farmers in many EU countries is soaring past 50, many young people are abandoning the land and skills and rural crafts are fast dying out.

"New techniques using green technology to improve productivity while protecting the environment are being developed with exciting results but we need to train people up to take advantage of them. Making farmers more efficient also makes economic sense, so the plan will pay for itself.

"The Coalition government has done some good work promoting apprenticeships, it is time this is built upon with a dedicated Rural Apprenticeship programme as a key part of rural policy in all EU states."

The idea has also been supported by George Lyon, the Scottish MEP who is Lib Dem agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament.