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George Eustice: Consultation on future ag policy closing

There is just one more week to go before our consultation on the future of agriculture policy closes.

We have already had thousands of responses and have run more than 20 events and workshops across the country to gather feedback and ideas.

 

This week I attended one of the Defra events in West Berkshire, hosted by the Soil Association, and I attended another Parliamentary group in Westminster to discuss the relationship between good soil husbandry and water quality.

 

One of the things I want our new policy to achieve is to bring about an end to the perceived antagonism between environmental outcomes on the one hand and productive farming on the other.

 

For too long, both green non-governmental organisations and farmers have too readily assumed they are mutually exclusive: that you either have productive and profitable food production or you are stopping farming and creating a few habitats for wildlife instead.

 

What we are actually trying to achieve with the new Environmental Land Management scheme is a framework of powerful incentives and rewards for wider environmental benefits which enables a more sustainable approach to farm husbandry and soil husbandry in particular.


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This will mean we both have profitable, productive farming and environmental gains.

 

The importance of soil health and good soil husbandry is the one area I find there is a meeting of minds.

 

Every good farmer instinctively understands the importance of taking care of their soils. They know it is not just about chemistry; the soil is a living ecosystem.

 

They know their farms and the nature of each field. They understand the importance of crop rotations and of farmyard manure to maintain levels of organic matter.

 

We know if we give greater attention to soil husbandry, we can achieve multiple outcomes for the environment.

 

For instance, if on arable land, we incentivised a particular type of grass ley which contained grass varieties with deep roots and nitrogen fixing flowering plants as part of the mix, we would give land a break from cropping creating more fertile soils; we would improve aeration of soil; we would reduce fertiliser use; we would increase organic matter in soil and store more carbon; we would have more flowers for pollinators and more invertebrates for farmland birds; and we would get livestock back on the lowlands.

 

As we contemplate a new policy, I think we need to be looking for simple but powerful interventions like this.

 

Interventions with multiple benefits which happen of their own accord without us having to send someone round with a clipboard and tape measure to try to evaluate every last outcome.

 

If anyone has ideas of their own, there is still time to feed it in and we value all contributions and experiences of land managers.

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