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Prime Minister must map realistic future for farmers and stop seeking silver bullets

Prime Minister must map realistic future for nature-friendly farming

The Soil Association is calling for the government to stop seeking silver bullets and back nature-friendly food production, following an announcement by the Prime Minister today (Tuesday 20 February).

Speaking at the National Farmers Union conference, the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary have announced a range of measures to "boost productivity and resilience" in the sector, including "the largest ever grant offer for farmers" in the coming financial year, expected to total £427 million.

According to Defra, this includes doubling investment in productivity schemes, bolstering schemes such as the Improving Farming Productivity grant, which provides support for farmers to invest in automation and robotics, as well as solar installations to build on-farm energy security.

The Prime Minister also announced a new annual UK-wide Food Security Index to capture and present the data needed to monitor levels of food security, that the Farm to Fork Summit will be held annually, and a £15 million fund to help tackle food waste by enabling farmers to redistribute surplus food that cannot be used commercially at the farm gate.

This comes as new regulations will be laid in Parliament tomorrow to ensure fair and transparent contracts for dairy farmers, meaning clearer pricing terms for farmers; changes to contracts can’t be imposed on farmers without their agreement; and providing more straightforward ways for farmers to raise concerns about their contracts. Alongside this, a review is also set to launch to improve fairness in the poultry supply chain.

Responding to Rishi Sunak's annoucement, Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said:

“Cash boosts for our farmers who are facing so much uncertainty are welcome but today’s announcement smacks of a search for silver bullet solutions instead of mapping out a more realistic future. Instead of hoping for the price of fossil-fuel derived fertilisers to come down, government should be investing in research, advice and support for farmers to move away from dependence on damaging and expensive inputs.

"There is a role for new tech and setting land aside for habitats, but this won’t be enough on its own. Nature-friendly food production must be prioritised to deliver transformative change across the farmland that makes up 70% of the UK. For true food security, government must bolster the Sustainable Farming Incentives with a bold vision for resilient farming, following the lead set by organic and agroecological farmers who are using truly sustainable and regenerative approaches.

"Other countries across the rest of Europe have targets to boost organic farming, recognising the benefits already being delivered. Without targets to deliver this type of clear vision, farmers will be ill-equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change while imports meet the growing demand for sustainable and organic food.

"However none of this can be achieved without fair supply chains that incentivise climate and nature friendly production, so we are delighted to see government taking a more active role to ensure farmers get a fair deal. We hope to next see that logic applied to securing trade deals that don’t undercut British farmers.”

England is lagging behind on organic farming

Unlike England, for which the government has no target for organic, the EU is aiming to grow organic farmland by 25%, with Austria and Germany going beyond that and instead pushing for 30%.

Scotland is also aiming to double its organic farmland by 2026, and the French Court of Auditors declared organic the best value for health and environment.

This is despite organic being an evidence based solution. The Ten Years for Agroecology study showed that a transition in Europe to a food and farming system based on organic principles and healthy and sustainable diets could contribute a drop in agricultural emissions by 40-50% by 2050, with plenty to feed the growing population healthy diets.

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