Farming network presses for ‘radical’ support reform

Radical change in the way agriculture is supported is essential, the Nature Friendly Farming Network has suggested, with environmental improvement put at the centre of future farming policy.

Formed at the end of last year, the group is made up of more than 400 farmers who are “committed to managing their land for wildlife and public service, as well as growing and providing healthy, nutritious food”.

See also: Farmers’ network backs Gove’s ‘green’ Brexit plan

A survey of the group, timed to coincide with the consultation on Defra’s command paper, Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit, found nine out of 10 wanted to see “radical change”, prioritising high environmental standards, while still ensuring sustainable and profitable food production in the UK.

But almost half of those surveyed said they didn’t feel confident the government would deliver the farming policy required to create this positive environmental change.

Asked what public goods should be prioritised under a new policy, the farmers put protection of pollinator health, preserving upland farming and high animal health standards at the top of their agendas, while improved productivity and public access to the countryside were seen as less important.

How to respond to the Health and Harmony consultation:

“We cannot miss this significant opportunity to transform British agriculture in order to help farms evolve and thrive, while restoring and protecting our natural heritage,” said group chairman Martin Lines.

“Brexit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure British farmers have the systems and policies in place to grow affordable, healthy food while restoring biodiversity and reversing soil declines.”

He urged all farmers to respond to the consultation ahead of the deadline of 8 May and ensure their voice is heard.

Key findings from Nature Friendly Farming Network survey

  • Nine out of ten (89%) “nature-friendly farmers” believe now is the moment for radical change in agricultural policy to ensure sustainable and profitable food production, while caring for the environment.
  • Almost half (47%) of those surveyed don’t feel confident that government will deliver the farming policy required to create positive environmental change.
  • 96% of respondents want high environmental standards to be a key requirement of future trade deals – to combat the threat of cheap imports.
  • Eight out of ten (79%) believe the governments in each of the UK countries should cooperate to put the environment at the centre of future farming policy, through a common framework.
  • 93% say that it is crucial to maintain at least the current level of investment, refocused to deliver better value for money, to ensure a thriving sustainable agriculture sector in the UK.

When asked which other public goods they believe need to be prioritised in policy after Brexit, the respondents said:

  1. Protection of crops, tree, plant and pollinator health
  2. Preserving rural resilience and traditional farming and landscapes in the uplands
  3. High animal health standards
  4. Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment
  5. World-class animal welfare
  6. Flood prevention
  7. Improved productivity and competitiveness
  8. Public access to the countryside