Farming leaders at the NFU conference in Birmingham have urged the Government to "stick to its guns" over controversial reform of the planning system to help the countryside prosper.

Speaking at the ICC, National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said the £100 billion British food and farming industry could help kick-start economic recovery, but warned the Government must match its rhetoric on the importance of agriculture with action to cut regulation and support farmers.

He said getting planning permission for buildings such as poultry sheds, on-farm packhouses for vegetables, polytunnels or livestock housing was probably the "single most frustrating process" farmers had to go through.

The Government is attempting to simplify more than 1,000 pages of planning regulations into a single 50-page document, because it says reform of the system is needed to boost "sustainable growth", but the changes have prompted fears it could put much of the countryside at risk of inappropriate development.

Speaking at the NFU annual conference, Mr Kendall said: "I urge the Government to stick to its guns.

"I know it has sparked significant opposition from conservation groups, but, as the Prime Minister has often said, the countryside has got to be allowed to prosper and grow. It can't be left to fossilise."

He also warned the Government that "woeful" changes to tax rules meant that farmers were not incentivised to build on-farm reservoirs to reduce the threat of drought.

Ministers should be "be bold", he said, bringing in an adjudicator to monitor the behaviour of major retailers towards producers and processors despite opposition from supermarkets.

He welcomed the Government's move to cut dozens of farming regulations, but urged ministers not to be tempted to "burden" farmers with new rules.

He said ministers had moved in the "right direction" by giving the go-ahead to controversial pilot badger culls in a bid to tackle TB in cattle, which can contract the disease from the wild animals.

Outside the conference, several dozen animal welfare campaigners staged a noisy protest against the badger cull, chanting "shame on you" at delegates as they arrived for the meeting.