State support for agriculture in the United States and the European Union (and thus, by implication, in the UK) has for decades been accompanied by overlapping, and not always consistent, policy narratives. These narratives variously assert the role of the state in promoting agricultural modernisation, the support of farming incomes, the social and economic integrity of rural communities and the sustainable management of rural environments. Historically, the dominant impulse has been to place the enhancement of agricultural productivity and the support of farming incomes at the centre of this bureaucratic project. Although expressing optimism about technological advance and exhibiting a largely economistic imperative, accountability has been weak in relation both to social dimensions (e.g. farm structure, public health, animal rights and landscape aesthetics) and to the ecological consequences of production and landscapes (e.g. soil conservation, water quality and biodiversity). By the 1980s this state project for industrialised agriculture was coming under attack from two directions. Critics of the domestic budgetary implications of farm support argued that agricultural subsidies were too costly, exceptionalist in their treatment of a diminishing occupation, lacked transparency and were ineffective in supporting farming incomes (W. Cochrane 2003; Potter 1998). Later they were joined by agro-food interests, neo-liberal commentators and development advocates who emphasized the heavily trade-distorting nature of subsidies offered to farmers through commodity support and production aids (Peine and McMichael 2005). In an era of market governance and the incorporation of agriculture into the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for the fi rst time, it seemed the moment to dismantle state support for agriculture and to liberalize production and markets.