AGRICULTURE is strong enough to lead Britain's economy out of recession, farming leaders have claimed.

The optimistic message came out of yesterday's National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham where agricultural, political and world trade chiefs gathered to discuss the industry's future.

And East Lancashire delegates reiterated their belief that the county was well placed to prosper, even in the downturn.

In his opening speech, NFU president Peter Kendall (CORR) revealed that Britain's GDP dropped by 1.8per cent last year, but the total income from farming rose by 36 per cent and its contribution to GDP by 38per cent.

He said: "The improvement for farming is also, frankly, good news for the whole country.

"For a long time our economy has been sustained by the services industry, above all by that favourite of the Government - financial services - the very sector that has given us the credit crunch.

"It is now in deep crisis, and surely cannot be the sector that will lead us out of recession.

"But farming and food can."

The past 12 months has seen a surge in the price of beef, lamb, pork and dairy products as the country has stepped up to meet demand despite a world food shortage.

This increase has benefited many East Lancashire farmers and Dr Harsha Vardhana Singh, deputy director general of the World Trade Organisation, predicted this would continue.

He told delegates: "Agricultural production can grow in-line with demand as long as national and international policies are in place to facilitate this."

For Downham beef and sheep farmer, Thomas Binns, the drop in the pound had made a huge difference when it came to exporting his animals.

The NFU council member said: "Thirty per cent more lambs were exported in 2008 than the year before because of the weak currency which has made foreign buyers look towards the UK.

"East Lancashire livestock farmers are in a good position but the dairy men face a big challenge and will be vulnerable to global commodity prices in the coming year."

Lancashire Young Farmers' Club chairman Robert Blezard, of Clitheroe, said the NFU's confidence was good for the 650 YFC members in the county.

He said: "Lancashire has a large rural population and there are a lot of young people following in their parents' footsteps and going into farming because they believe it has a strong future.

"You can see farmers are doing better because they are investing in new buildings in my area and many believe they can do well in the recession."