New Hope for the Future of Farming
We strongly welcome the comments made today by Environmental Secretary Michael Gove. These demonstrate an enthusiastic commitment to enhancing the country’s natural environment, and an understanding that a bold new nature-friendly approach to farming policy is needed to turn that aspiration into reality.
With the approach of Brexit this country enters a period of unprecedented change, not least for the agricultural sector, which has been largely shaped by EU policy. At this time, it is encouraging to see that soil health, reversing biodiversity loss and higher animal welfare standards are driving factors in DEFRA’s vision for agricultural policy. Like many, we await with interest the 25-year Environment Plan and the Agriculture Bill, which must be closely aligned.
A once in a lifetime opportunity
The speech committed Britain to leading the way on environmental standards, from pesticide regulation to animal welfare and soil protection. These goals resonate strongly with us and we look forward to working with the Secretary of State to help him achieve his aims. Organic farming presents huge opportunities for putting Britain on the path to progressive environmental stewardship and, with demand for organic produce growing, making the right policy decisions that support organic and other environmentally-friendly farming methods would help to create a flourishing British agricultural sector.
We heard much today about supporting environmentally-responsible land use and rewarding agriculture that has ecological benefits. We would welcome further thought to how this will interact with public health objectives, ensuring that good food is accessible to all. It is not just about delivering the highest standards in animal welfare and environmental protection, but about ensuring those benefits are translated into availability of high quality food where it is needed most. There remains a danger as Britain leaves the EU that substandard imports will undercut UK farmers and dilute what could be a strong food culture based on ethical, sustainable and healthy British produce for all. Better procurement policy can play a surprisingly big role here and is one cross-departmental issue that we hope the Secretary of State will champion - for the benefit of farmers, animal welfare, public health, and the environment alike.
A forested future
Lastly, we are delighted that the pledge to plant eleven million trees by 2020 is being upheld. Just last week we, along with other farming and forestry organisations, wrote to the Environment Secretary about integrating trees in agricultural systems, through the promotion of agro-forestry. The benefits of trees to the natural environment are well understood, from storing carbon to improving soil structure, and when used alongside arable or livestock systems can boost farm productivity too. We will be interested to see how planting more trees on farms is integrated in DEFRA’s plan for delivering the 2020 target. Agroforestry, alongside organic farming, should be part of a new, integrated approach to climate change and agriculture – and we hope that the Secretary of State will show his determination to grasp the urgent challenge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the food and farming sector, alongside efforts to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.
The Secretary of State said that environmental organisations are vital to continued advances in the protection and enhancement of the environment, and he welcomed campaigning as a driver for Government progress. Our promise to Gove, to our members, and to the British public, is that we will continue to drive forward in our call for robust and strategic thinking and offer practical solutions and policy proposals that protect natural resources, sustain soils and deliver better food for all.