OFC 2018: New farmer group backs more support for environment

More than 100 farmers have added their support to retargeting taxpayer money more towards agri-environment measures and less towards direct payments post Brexit.

The so-called Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) was officially launched at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on Friday (5 January).

The independent organisation wants the UK and devolved governments to create a post-Brexit policy that helps farmers restore wildlife, reverse declines in soil quality and mitigate climate change.

See also: Are Gove’s environmental ambitions practical for farmers?

According to the group, existing farm practices often rely on the heavy use of chemical pesticides and herbicides which can damage biodiversity and public health.

Almost 3m tonnes of topsoil is lost each year in the UK, while farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970, it adds.

“Brexit presents a once in a generation opportunity to create a new farming policy that will help farms evolve and thrive, at the same time as restoring and protecting our natural heritage,” said NFFN chairman, Martin Lines, who runs an arable farm in Cambridgeshire

“We can use this opportunity to create a long-term, stable policy framework that will drive a mainstream shift towards a sustainable, productive, nature-friendly future for British farming as well as protecting the landscape across the UK.”

Reward and recognition

The group insists growing affordable, healthy food is still a key objective for future food policy, but wants to see greater reward and recognition for the “thousands of farmers who are committed to managing their land for wildlife and public service”.

Many of these policy ideas chime with the vision of Defra secretary Michael Gove.

He told the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday (4 January) that, while he was prepared to roll over the BPS system of support during the Brexit transition stage, he then wanted a new arrangement that focused on improving biodiversity, tackling climate change and protecting soils.