What is in the meaning of a word? I ask because if you look at the meaning of ‘sustainable’ in the Collins English Dictionary it states it is something ‘which conserves an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources’.
When applied in the context of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) this makes sense, as the English Government clearly wants a new agricultural policy focused on ecology and the wider interaction between farming and the environment.
But that line about avoiding the depletion of natural resources raises an interesting point, namely that while the SFI, and other schemes for that matter, are focused on environmental sustainability, just where does the focus on farm business sustainability come in, thus avoiding a drastic reduction in the number of farmers over the next decade?
Commentators have reacted with cautious enthusiasm to new details emerging about the SFI, but significant clarity is alluding the industry at a critical time, which makes planning difficult.
There is also a dawning realisation that however the numbers are run, it appears the new environmental payments offered to farmers will not be a like for like replacement for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), something which is particularly galling as European farmers will see their Common Agricultural Policy payments maintained at significant levels during the next tranche of that scheme.
The balance between environmental goals and farm business profitability is also causing conflicts in across the UK, with tensions rising between those wanting to implement large scale tree planting initiatives and farmers wanting to utilise the land for food production, with tenants particularly vulnerable.
Replacing BPS was never going to be simple, but there needs to be pragmatic incentives within the new schemes which not only enable farmers to do their bit for the environment, but also allows them to do it in a financially sustainable manner.
Whether farmers could be classed as ‘natural resources’ is open to debate, but if governments fail to engage with them properly then the wider sustainability ideals will flounder.