Agriculture Bill: Great commitment to soil but more is needed

Commitment to soil in Agriculture Bill

Gareth Morgan, Soil Association Head of Farming and Land Use policy, is today (13th February) giving oral evidence to the Agriculture Bill committee.

We’re asking the committee to ensure that an integrated approach to farming, environmental recovery, healthy food production and the development of a thriving rural community is included in the revised version of the Bill. 

Read our full response to the Agriculture Bill below to see what we welcome and what amendments we’d like to see.

Today (Thursday 16 January) parliament has been presented with an updated version of the Agriculture Bill, which will shape the UK's farming policy after we leave the European Union.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has described the bill as "one of the most important environmental reforms for many years". 

The updated Agriculture Bill moves to reward farmers for providing "public goods" such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside or measures to reduce flooding.

The bill is a revised version of one that was presented to parliament in September 2018.

What's good?

  • The revised Agriculture Bill will make a commitment to soil, following pressure from lobbying groups such as the Soil Association.

  • The government has, for the first time, committed to providing financial assistance to farmers for protecting or improving its soil quality - for example by providing assistance for soil monitoring programmes and soil health research to support farmers.

  • The bill now lists soil as "an essential natural asset" with recognition that "its careful management can help to provide a whole range of public goods".|

Gareth Morgan, Soil Association Head of Farming & Land Use Policy, said:

“We are pleased to see the continued commitment to public money for public goods in the Agriculture Bill - rewarding farmers who store carbon and protect water and wildlife. It’s great the government has listened and soil is now referenced within the bill and that payments will be available to farmers for protecting or improving soil quality."

What's not so good?

But the Soil Association remains concerned that there's no commitment to farm-scale nature-friendly farming.

Agroecological farming, like organic, is not mentioned and the government has failed to meet demands from farming organisations to legislate that trade deals will protect British farming standards.

Sharing his concerns, Gareth added:

"Much more is necessary to bring the radical change our farming sector needs to solve the climate, nature and diet crises. Small tweaks to the status quo will not suffice. It is disappointing the bill still does not commit to support for farmers to adopt nature-friendly agroecological farming, like organic, or environmental action across the whole farm, rather than in small areas. Nor does it signal support to enable the radical shift away from artificial fertiliser and pesticides needed to restore nature and soils capable of storing carbon.

“The ambition set out in the bill is also totally dependent on sensible trade deals. If we allow imports of food from countries with low 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. It is vital we have proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and it is worrying that the government is resisting legislating on this.”