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Reforming farming

Hundreds of British farmers contact MPs attacking government plans to row back environmental schemes 
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Husband and wife farmers putting out hay in the field for the sheep to feed on

Over 300 UK farmers have contacted their MPs demanding the full rollout of key reforms to the farming sector aimed at enhancing wildlife, reducing greenhouse emissions and promoting nature conservation and restoration.

Last month, Liz Truss announced a review of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), a new set of subsidies set to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The key Brexit promise has been in development for six years but now looks set to be watered down by Truss and the new Defra secretary Ranil Jayawardana.

A dash for growth

It is thought that Truss and her cabinet see environmental stewardship at odds with her dash for growth. But in the letter, coordinated by The Nature Friendly Farming Network, farmers say that this is a ‘false trade-off’.

It goes on to say that they were ‘promised agricultural policies that would make our farms the standard bearers for quality, sustainability, and profitability’ and that weakening environmental incentives would be ‘a poor use of public funds and wholly against the direction of travel within the sector’. 

The letter, received by 148 Conservative MPs, will add to pressure on Truss and her cabinet to continue rolling out the new farm payments scheme, which ensures food production and environmental delivery can be achieved hand in hand.

‘The Environmental Land Management schemes are a signature policy achievement of recent Conservative governments. They are not just critical for the environment, but for food security and farm profitability too. It’s critical that the government continues with the rollout, so that the growing number of farmers who want to adopt more nature-friendly practices are properly rewarded.’

Director of the Conservative Environment Network

PM under fire

The prime minister has been criticised publicly over these proposals by senior Tory figures including Michael Gove and William Hague, as well as the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), whose director Sam Hall described ELMS as ‘critical for both food security and farm profitability’.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to contradict the prime minister over her plans to ban solar panels from most English farmland.

‘Farmers urgently need a clear vision for the future and the right policies and political will to get us there—we need ELMS to work for all farms of every size and system.
‘There is already much evidence showing how nature-friendly farming provides greater profitability, resilience and the foundations to build sustainable enterprises. When we farm this way, our businesses go from strength to strength.

‘Our rural environments are improved to the benefit of local communities. It’s time the Government stood by its commitment in 2019 and joined the solutions to achieving a multifunctional landscape that produces food, recovers biodiversity and delivers ambitious climate action.’

UK chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network

Working with nature

The move to review long-held environmental commitments to farming coincides with a new report from the Nature Friendly Farming Network, which argues that if the government wants to prioritise food security, then nature and climate-based reforms are of critical importance.

‘Rethink Food’ shows that the war in Ukraine, the Covid pandemic and Brexit-related labour shortages have exposed the fragilities of our farming industry, and that in order to build a truly resilient and productive sector, farmers must be encouraged to work with nature, rather than against it.

‘Farmers know that healthy soils and a thriving natural environment are good for business; they help create resilient, reliable and productive farms. 

‘The Soil Association fully supports NFFN’s call to retain ELMS and is asking for urgent clarity from Defra on the future of the scheme.

‘ELMS is an important component in the transformation needed in farming and we are working closely with NFFN to find practical ways to accelerate the transition to an agroecological food and farming system.’

Head of Farming and Land-use Policy at the Soil Association

Phase out the CAP

Among the policy recommendations from the report is that the government must ‘move at pace to phase out the Common Agricultural Policy’ and replace it with the very initiatives Truss and Jayawardena are threatening to dilute.
Far from being the safe, economically sensible decision, the report argues a return to something like the Common Agricultural Policy would ‘pit farming and nature against each other’, and that 60 years of the subsidy scheme ‘increased economic precarity for farmers’, ‘undermined nature and climate’ and ‘failed to deliver diverse and healthy nutrition’.

‘Over the last few weeks we’ve seen raw sewage pumped into our rivers and oceans and a long-held promise to improve our food and farming systems scrapped – something everyone in the sector knows we desperately need. The government is stripping away protections for nature by the day. It has to stop.’

Chairman and Founder of River Action

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