English farmers have expressed support for the idea of “public money for public goods” as part of a new post-Brexit farm policy, with many more supporting the principle than opposing it.
That is one of the findings of a new survey of 500 farmers by green umbrella organisation, the Wildlife and Countryside Link, into farmers’ opinions on agricultural policy.
According to the survey, 50% of farmers said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the government’s proposal for future support to be based on public money for public goods, as opposed to 20% who said they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the idea.
About one-third of farmers said they were “neutral” towards the idea.
The survey also explored what farmers considered to be “environmentally responsible options to warrant receiving support”.
From a list of 15 options, the most “deserving” action was deemed to be water pollution prevention (56%), followed by animal welfare (50%), habitat restoration (41%) and biodiversity conservation (38%).
Some 38% of farmers surveyed also cited “food productivity and competitiveness” as an environmentally responsible option warranting support.
‘On the same page’
Wildlife and Countryside Link has been quick to claim that this shows “saving the environment is more important to farmers than subsidising food productivity”.
“Farmers and conservationists are on the same page overall for the future of farming,” said Helen Cheshire, who chairs Wildlife and Countryside Link’s agriculture group.
“With more than double the number of farmers in favour of public money for public goods than are against it, this research is a clear vote from farmers for keeping a strong environmental focus in future farming policy and legislation.”
The publication of the survey’s findings in a report launched on Monday (24 June) is accompanied by a call from 26 charities for the government to ensure the environment, animal welfare and public access remain the central focus of the Agriculture Bill as it passes through parliament.
A number of green groups recently expressed concern that the government’s “Green Brexit” agenda might be slipping, with current Defra secretary Michael Gove expected to leave his post as a result of the impending change in Tory party leadership.
Wildlife and Countryside Link said future payments must deliver value for taxpayers by rewarding farmers both for the delivery of public goods and farming productivity. “These must be complementary,” it said.
“It is vital that the government sticks to its guns on future farming policy. Any watering down of its plan would be a betrayal, not only of our struggling natural world, but of our struggling farming industry too.”
The report also notes that “current agri-environment schemes and farming regulation have been a disappointment to the majority of farmers as well as conservationists”.