Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Ambition for the future – Bold proposals for agricultural land use and food production in a Green Brexit

  • Our seven big and bold policy proposals appear further down this page
  • To read the full document - please click here

The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union presents an opportunity to establish a new policy framework for agricultural land use and food production.  Government should aim to empower farmers to deliver future-proof agricultural systems that will be replicated around the world in decades to come: quality food, honestly priced, produced while enhancing our dividend to nature; ensuring a legacy worth inheriting for the next generations of Britain’s farmers.

Sustainability must provide the foundation stone of change – not only because we are the custodians of creation, but because good business demands that we take action to protect our primary assets.  Individually and together we have a duty to nurture our natural capital, so that our land performs well, and our relationship with nature becomes stronger.  Our capacity to grow good food forever should be enhanced with each generation that passes on every family farm.

To achieve this government must set a clear new direction for British agriculture, but critically, it must also allow farmers the freedom to succeed or fail as they take greater control of their own businesses.  While government must set and enforce high base-line standards it must also encourage farmers to organise at local and landscape level.  This flexibility will be essential if farmers are to think creatively to reform the infrastructure they rely on in the fields, at the farm gate, and throughout their supply chains.

Government should also reflect on its role as citizens’ champion.  Taxpayer funds directed at agriculture should deliver excellent value, with genuine accountability a pre-condition for all farm payments.  Farmers do not want handouts, and subsidy as a means of income support must end because this distorts the market place, promotes sloth, and reduces ambition.  However, ongoing financial support for farming is critical and will be needed for at least a generation.  Market distortions, established over decades, will take many years to repair, and substantial public funding will be required to fully arrest and reverse the degradation of our natural capital.

Just as we need biodiversity in the hedgerow, we must protect the diversity of Britain’s farm businesses, which were once the beating heart of rural England.  A race to deliver sustainable agriculture could restore employment, prosperity, and wellbeing to the patchwork farmlands of our nation.

The present state of nature requires a swift transition from the current destructive model of payments.  In the future, taxpayer funds should be used only to reward excellence and support the delivery of public goods, including environmental restoration and maintenance, farm animal welfare excellence, and the right to access all farm land.  Landscape-scale approaches should be prioritised, and capital grants should be focussed towards precision agriculture and clean technological investment.

Funding should not only be provided by the taxpayer but through a system of economic rents on the use of non-renewable natural capital assets such as nitrogen and phosphorous.  Funds from these rents should be ring-fenced and used to invest in Britain’s natural legacy.  Enforcement must be more proactive and effective, and should protect public interests, including the right to clean air and water and the need for natural biodiversity.

Government should also investigate medium term options to fully offset UK agriculture’s environmental footprint.  This could be achieved while enhancing our capacity to provide good, healthy and sustainable food for British citizens. 

With strong leadership and a clear sense of purpose we believe it is possible to grasp the opportunity provided by our departure from the European Union and reform agricultural land use and food production so that it becomes a diverse, thriving, sustainable industry, competing successfully to sell quality produce at home and abroad.

Big and bold – seven key policy recommendations

We believe the following seven bold policy recommendations would go a long way to delivering rapid, viable and sustainable agricultural land use and food production.  

Each item below is described in more detail in the full document.  

We urge the government to take action to deliver:

1. A national approach to sustainability metrics.
Government should identify key environmental and farm animal welfare metrics and ensure they are collected nationally.  A national sustainability metrics database will allow food chain stakeholders and government to analyse and drive progress.  This database might in fact be a series of databases, and may be delivered by private agencies. At a macro level data must be open and available for all to access, while individual farmers must be able to access their own data to improve standards at farm level.

2. Charging for the use of non-renewable natural capital assets.
Government should introduce charging for the use of non-renewable natural capital assets.  In the first instance charges should be introduced to strongly disincentivise the use of nitrogen and phosphorous because of the impact they have on our land and waterways.  Funds raised should be used to fund the restoration and maintenance of renewable assets.

3. Creation of a Farmland Forest, using 5% of farmland, to restore biodiversity, manage water, improve farm animal health and welfare, enhance beauty, and offset methane emissions.
A new permanent Farmland Forest, using 5% of farmland, should be established to strengthen biodiversity, improve hedgerows, manage water, enrich farm animal environments, improve animal health outcomes, and enhance beauty.  This woodland would also sequester the equivalent of UK agriculture’s total methane emissions. 

4. Accountability for citizens.  
a) Farm contracts should be published on-line
b) The public should have a right of access to all farmland
c) Citizen science and reporting capacity should be enhanced
d) Method of production labelling should be introduced for all meat and dairy products
e) Method of slaughter labelling should be introduced for all meat products

5. Net carbon negative agriculture by 2030.
All farms should be generating clean energy by 2030, for own use and for export to the grid.  Government should support a full range of clean energy options.  Each proposal should be considered on a case-by-case basis but a planning presumption in favour of renewables development should be established.  Community-based schemes should be welcomed.  

6. A rapid transition, with metrics collection required from day one as a condition of continued Basic Farm Payments (BFP).
We seek a rapid transition, over no more than five years, with some sustainability metrics collection required from day one as a condition of continued basic farm payments (BFP).

7. A national quality brand, similar to Origin Green, based on environmental and farm animal welfare excellence.
Government should consider investing in a national food brand similar to Ireland’s Origin Green.  This would help to focus an approach to metrics, and could be used to promote British environmental and welfare quality at home and around the world.  We recommend a brand built on all-round sustainability, which champions high environmental standards (climate and biodiversity) and excellent farm animal welfare.

To read the full document - please click here

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