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Agriculture Bill is not the radical rethink we need

The good, the bad and the what next

Earlier this year, the Government ran a consultation on the future of agriculture policy in England. You can read our 10 key points to see how we responded here.

Following this consultation, the long-awaited Agriculture Bill is being published today (12th September 2018).

Here’s our quick guide to the Agriculture Bill

We’ll be examining the details of the legislation and preparing a more detailed briefing before the main debate on the Bill, expected in mid-October.

Update: for our latest position on the Agriculture Bill, please see our briefing for second reading here.

1. What’s good?

Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards. This is the principle of public money for public goods – directing funds towards important outcomes such as healthy soils, climate mitigation and high animal welfare. It’s something we have lobbied for enthusiastically.

As a partner in the Innovative Farmers programme, we’re delighted to see a commitment to farmer-led research and innovation.

The extended transition period of 7 years is to be welcomed, giving farmers time and motivation to adopt new approaches, although great care must be taken to ensure we see major progress towards nature friendly farming during and after this period.

2. What’s bad (or needs improvement)

Overall, it’s not the radical rethink of food production that is desperately needed if the Government is serious about saving nature, restoring soil health and tackling climate change. It’s far from certain that the new schemes will provide the comprehensive support farmers need to move from decades of overreliance on agrochemicals and cheap fossil fuels to a more ecological approach across all our land.

There’s no mention of support for wildlife and climate-friendly farming systems such as organic and agroforestry, despite the wealth of scientific evidence showing that organic agriculture is good for biodiversity, soil health, water quality, climate change and animal welfare.

There’s no indication of the level of long-term funding. We think investment should at least match the current farming budget – although redirected to benefit the environment, nature, farm animals and human health, and secure the viability of farming businesses.

There’s no mention of the links between farming, food and public health, despite calls for this to be a top priority from a broad coalition of food, farming and public health experts and practitioners – and, indeed ‘Health and Harmony’ being the title of the Government’s own consultation on the future of agriculture.

The Bill does nothing to address widespread consensus that a no-deal or hard Brexit would be catastrophic for food standards, farmers and the environment. Whether the UK stays in a customs union or similar will determine whether farmers have a viable economic future to produce public goods and farmers need a level of certainty the Government has so far failed to provide.

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3. What’s next?

This is just the start of the Agriculture Bill’s journey through parliament. The next crucial stage is the main House of Commons debate – expected in mid-October. One of our top priorities is to ensure organic farming is recognised and supported for the benefits it delivers to wildlife, soil health, climate change and animal welfare. 

Now is the perfect time to contact your MP! Find out how you can do this quickly and easily here.

It’s clear that there’s a vast amount of detail still to be developed, tested, and turned into policy. We’ll continue to work hard to develop proposals and offer our experience and expertise to Defra to help design a new farm support system fit for the 21st century – one which enhances natural resources, helps mitigate and adapt to climate change, allows other species to flourish and produces a wide range of nutritious foods.

We welcome many aspects of today's announcement, particularly the confirmation that public money will be aimed at providing public goods and the focus on soils, water and air quality that this entails. However, from what we've seen, it is not the radical rethink that we so desperately need if the government is serious about saving nature, restoring soil health and tackling climate change.