Ag Bill starts change in farm policy
The future legal framework for farming support outside of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was laid out in the new Agriculture Bill last week.
As it wasn’t passed before the last election, the Agriculture Bill has reappeared in parliament with some promising additions. The Soil Association welcomed the continued commitment to public money for public goods - rewarding farmers who store carbon and protect water and wildlife – and the addition to the list of measures to improve soil. However, to bring about the radical changes needed in the food and farming sector the bill must go further or it will fail to solve the climate, nature and diet crises. It doesn’t offer specific support for farmers to adopt nature-friendly agroecological farming, like organic, or environmental action across the whole farm, rather than in small areas. There are also no measures to help farmers make a radical shift away from artificial fertiliser and pesticides, which is vital to rescue wildlife and improve soil health.
Protecting against future trade deals
We share the concerns of the National Farmers Union that the ambition set out in the bill is totally dependent on the UK striking sensible trade deals covering food and farming. If we allow imports of food from countries with low animal welfare and environmental standards, UK farming will be unfairly penalised and the Agriculture Bill will remain wishful thinking with our impacts on climate and nature merely offshored. The trade deals that define the future of the food and farming industry will have a big impact on our health, nature and prosperity of rural communities, they must have proper parliamentary scrutiny and it is worrying that the government is resisting legislating on this.
Making the UK an environmental superpower
The support schemes that follow will be make or break for farmers around the UK. Future schemes must support the practices and farming systems that do most for the environment, build on the experience developed by on-farm innovation and reconcile the need for public accountability with concerns about scheme bureaucracy. The UK can no longer lean on the CAP for failures in farm payments we have to solve these ourselves, the future scheme must deliver on the ambition to make the UK an environmental superpower.
The Agriculture Bill marks the start, but by no means the end, of a huge transformation of farm policy in England.