Where Next for Farming?
I’m sure we are all still taking in the result of yet another election that surprised the pollsters and pundits this morning. The general election has resulted in no clear majority for either the Conservatives or Labour. While nothing is certain, right now, it looks likely that Prime Minister May will form a government with Democratic Unionist Party support but there’s a lot of speculation about what will happen next – and things could change fast.
There’s a big question mark over what this means for the Brexit negotiations due to start soon – especially as Theresa May called this election explicitly to shore-up support for the Conservative negotiating position on leaving the EU. This could present an opportunity to address some concerns with the impacts of so-called ‘hard Brexit’ for food and farming.
Whatever happens, and whoever ends up in Government, the Soil Association will continue to work with politicians from all parties to ensure that food and farming gets the attention it deserves. We’re pleased that many MPs with a strong track record on issues such as farm animal welfare, soil protection, public health and climate change have been re-elected.
When the election was first announced, the Soil Association set out eight priorities for food and farming policy. We’ll be calling on the next UK Government to adopt these recommendations, among others.
Whatever happens next, we’ll work with the new Government and MPs from all political parties to help secure a healthy, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable food and farming system. And one that works for all our organic farmers and growers. Despite the unexpected result, we anticipate that the formal organic sector roundtable with DEFRA will take place as planned on 29 June – and therefore we continue our preparations for that, including as part of the extended English Organic Forum meeting on 16 June, which will feed into the DEFRA organic roundtable. We will let you know if that changes.
In the meantime, you can read more about our post-CAP policy report here, our eight manifesto priorities here, and some thoughts on the so-called Great Repeal Bill which will be one of the first new pieces of legislation in the new parliament here.
We’d like to know what you think too, so if you have any feedback or suggestions, please do drop us a quick email.
1. Food and farming vision
The Conservative manifesto states that: “We have huge ambitions for our farming industry: we are determined to grow more, sell more and export more great British food”.
Whilst the headlines are all about quantity, the quality of food and the impacts of agricultural systems on wider issues such as public health, environmental protection, and animal welfare matter just as much.
What we need much more of, is a focus on transforming farming and land use at the scale and pace required to meet multiple challenges - from tackling climate change and halting and reversing wildlife losses, to supporting rural livelihoods and improving public health. We need a holistic vision that farmers, environmentalists, medical professionals, and citizens can all get behind.
2. Farm animal welfare
Whilst the Conservatives made a welcome promise to “continue to take action to improve animal welfare”, one pledge notable by its absence from the manifesto was the 2015 commitment to ensuring high farm animal welfare standards are upheld in any future trade agreements.
However, at the Greener UK hustings last month, DEFRA Minister Therese Coffey told a large audience that many previous pledges were still valid, even if they weren’t anywhere to be found in the 2017 manifesto. We will be calling for urgent confirmation that upholding high farm animal welfare standards in all future trade deals is among them, from whoever ends up with the Ministerial briefs on trade as well as agriculture.
Farm animal welfare must also be at the very heart of the UK’s new domestic agricultural policy. We’ll be pushing for high ambitions with policies and funding to match – read more here. As part of that, we’ll be ramping up our Labelling Matters coalition campaign for mandatory method of production labels on all meat and dairy products, so shoppers can make fully-informed choices.
3. Farm payments - including organic
Current levels of farm payments look set to continue for the duration of this parliament i.e. until 2022. This includes agri-environment schemes, such as organic conversion and maintenance payments.
As for after 2022, the coming weeks, months and years will be crucial to shaping what the manifesto calls: “new frameworks for supporting food production and stewardship of the countryside”.
The Conservative manifesto committed to “work with farmers, food producers and environmental experts across Britain and with the devolved administrations to devise a new agri-environment system” Organic farmers and growers need to have a strong voice, alongside others, as part of that.
We’ll continue to work with whoever forms the next Government, parliamentarians, the wider organic sector, and partners such as Greener UK and Sustain to influence the overarching principles and practical details of future farm support schemes. Read more about our specific proposals for organic here
4. Soil protection
Soil gets two mentions in the Conservative manifesto. Firstly, there’s a commitment to: “help Natural England to expand their provision of technical expertise to farmers to deliver environmental improvements on a landscape scale, from enriching soil fertility to planting hedgerows and building dry stone walls.”
It also states that the Government will: “deliver on our commitment to improve natural flood management, such as improving the quality of water courses to protect against soil erosion and damage to vulnerable habitats and communities.”
This is welcome but we need more specific policies and actions to deliver on the UK’s commitments to protecting soil health – read more about our proposals to save our soils here.
5. Climate change
In a puzzling omission, climate change was not among the “five giant challenges” set out in the introduction to the Conservative manifesto. Overall, climate change didn’t feature very strongly, and the need to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from the food and farming sector got no mention at all.
However, the manifesto contained a welcome commitment to “continue to take a lead in global action against climate change”. To deliver this commitment, Government must translate this into rapid carbon cuts at local and national level – as well as acting on the international stage.
It means paying specific attention to agricultural emissions and the climate impact of the whole food and farming system, which is too often the elephant in the room. It means more increasing support for climate-friendly farming systems, such as organic and agroforestry. It means addressing issues such as food waste and dietary change. And it means designing all new trade agreements to be fully compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement. Read more about our call for zero-carbon farming here.