10 Key Points
10 Key Points from our response to The Future for Food, Farming and the Environment - Defra consultation
Throughout February - May, the Government ran a consultation on the future of agricultural policy in England post-Brexit.
Defra has reported that the "Health and Harmony" Consultation received more than 44,000 responses from individuals and businesses who took the chance to make their voice heard, including many of our members and supporters.
The Government will analyse the feedback carefully and publish a response shortly. As part of the process to develop new farming policy we expect the Agriculture Bill to be published before the end of September this year. We will keep you updated with the latest developments.
You can find a summary of our 10 key points below:
We strongly agree with the Government’s approach of public money paying for public goods
The UK’s new agriculture policy should prioritise farming methods that deliver the following public goods: wildlife and biodiversity, soil health, improved air and water quality, climate mitigation, and high animal welfare - ensuring all farm animals can live a good life, with low levels of anti-microbial drug use. In addition, the government should include public health as a public good that should be delivered by farming and food policy.
The government should prioritise agroecological, systems approaches to securing environmental outcomes as public goods via agriculture
In designing new farm support schemes it’s important that the government recognises that whole-farm, agroecological, systems approaches, such as organic and agroforestry, deliver more than the sum of their parts - partly due to the multi-functional interaction between key elements. An integrated approach is essential if perverse outcomes and unhelpful trade-offs are to be avoided.
An expansion of organic farming should be at heart of the government’s new environmental land management scheme
This is not just because organic farming methods are proven to deliver a wide range of public goods, it is also because consumer demand for organic in the UK and globally is growing steadily, and conversion to organic offers significant business opportunities for farmers. We want to see a bold commitment to increase the amount of organic farming in the UK with all the attendant benefits it brings. The scheme should therefore include expanded support for organic conversion and maintenance payments.
On public health, farming is an important part of the picture
The way that we produce our food has major implications for our health – the reconfiguration of agricultural policy presents an opportunity to move towards farming practices that are not only better for the environment and for animals, but can support us to stay healthy. The government should harness the power of public procurement to stimulate demand for higher quality, fresh British produce. This should be accompanied by support for horticulture, a shift in production and consumption towards ‘less but better’ meat and dairy; the promotion nature-based social prescriptions linked to farming, such as Care Farming UK; and giving all children the chance to visit farms and to grow food.
Farmers should be placed at the heart of agricultural research and innovation
This should be achieved through more funding for farmer-led innovation, modelled on the Innovative Farmers Network where organic and non-organic farmers work together through field labs to find solutions to shared challenges, with support and input from specialists from the UK’s leading agricultural research institutions. We suggest the allocation of at least 10% of the current R&D budget for innovative agriculture projects led by farmers themselves - who are best placed to know what they need to solve the problems that they face.
Ensure farmers receive more of the final value of the food they produce
Much more can be done to help them take a bigger slice of the cake. This could involve both better vertical and horizontal collaboration, at farm level and in the supply chain; the shortening of supply chains for the benefit of farmers and consumers; initiatives to develop strong farmer owned brands that connect with consumer lifestyles and values and comprehensive labelling of systems of production.
Put climate change at the heart of new farming policy
Although many farmers are already struggling with the impacts of more extreme weather, there have been no reductions in agricultural emissions for the past 6 years. New policies must harness the potential of farmland to sequester carbon through trees and soil – including an ambition for agroforestry to become a mainstream practice. New farm support schemes must also fast-track a transition away from reliance on artificial nitrogen fertiliser and fossil fuel based inputs towards wholly ‘renewable’ food production, so that farming becomes a net positive contributor to preventing climate change. This must be accompanied by a wider transformation of our food system including dietary change towards less but better quality meat, action on food waste, and supply chains which are shorter and more resilient.
There should be more support to encourage young people to enter farming
This could include revising tenancy law and supporting share farming and ‘landless’ farmers. The County Farms Estate should be retained, protected and its remit strengthened to support new entrants into farming and agriculture should be presented as a positive and appealing career choice, for example by school careers advisors.
The way we trade post Brexit is crucial for food and farming
Our EU neighbours are our closest and most important trading partners for food imports and exports. A situation where the UK post-Brexit remains a member of the single market and/or customs union and therefore aligned with the EU, rather than the US, is likely to be preferable for the majority of farming and food businesses - and from an environmental, animal welfare, and consumer protection point of view. It is critical that all future bilateral trade agreements maintain the highest food safety standards and don’t generate a race to the bottom with UK farmers and food producers trying to compete against cheap imports of lower quality.
We do not have to develop our farming policy in the UK predicated on the need to increase food production in line with increased population
Research shows that there is enough food produced today for everyone to have the nourishment they need, and yet nearly 1 billion people are hungry, and 1 billion malnourished. Also, currently, more than 1 billion people are overweight, leading to major diet related health problems, and this number is growing. Different systems of agriculture cannot put right the main causes of hunger – poverty, natural disasters and conflict – but poor agricultural practice and infrastructure, and over-exploitation of the environment can be addressed.