As the UK sees the biggest shake-up in agri-funding in decades, future Government policy must support farmers for the ‘public goods’ they provide in tackling climate change, says Martin Lines, Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) chairman.
Is it time to redefine what a farmer’s role is in the eyes of the public post-Brexit?
For too long, farming has only focused on and talked about one part of its business; food production.
I see farmers as asset managers and we should be trying to get the best return from all of the assets we have under our control. We have our soils, buildings, the natural capital and the environment to all help give us a return on investment. Any business only focusing on one product is potentially putting the overall business at risk.
With the change to CAP payments and moving to “public money for public goods” we will see new opportunities and different challenges to how we operate our businesses and our role in our communities and the countryside.
Over the next few years, we need future policy to support farmers to be paid fairly for all the goods and services they can provide from the landscape they manage. We will have new markets opening up for delivering natural capital beneﬁts and carbon capture opportunities that we can receive income from.
We have seen large areas of the countryside flooding, subsequently storing water and preventing further damage to build up areas over the past few months. As our climate changes we need to develop opportunities to be rewarded for the public beneﬁts flood mitigation delivers.
For UK farming to supply and deliver different goods and services in the future, we will need to have a margin of proﬁt in order to be able to make a living from our businesses.
All the food products we can produce, the climate mitigation measures we need to implement, the ﬂood prevention we need to deliver and the wildlife beneﬁts will all need to give a fair return on the investment we put in.
We continue to see a steady stream of individuals and press and media coming out with headlines that seem to get more extreme or controversial daily.
This is not helping the mental health of the people in the industry and the pressure many farmers are feeling.
It is almost like “click bait” to try and get the most reaction possible just to get that person or news organisation noticed. We see the usual response from farmers and public on social media engaging with these stories and building up a rage.
While it is good to engage in a positive way and try to explain the diﬀerences in production systems or environmental protection we have here in the UK compared with other parts of the world, I think we really need to be careful what we say and how we are seen by those outside of our industry.
We need to get our politicians and the public to understand the countryside better and the food products and the standards we produce to, now more than ever.
With the weather hopefully improving, our countryside will be bursting into life with activity in our ﬁelds and new life being born on our farms and in the surrounding environment.
We are seeing lots of activity in Westminster and other parliaments around the UK, shaping the new Agriculture and Environment Bills that will change the landscape for generations to come.
Now is a really important time to engage with your MP and the many diﬀerent consultations going on with diﬀerent government departments, about how the new public money for public goods model works and the vision for farmed landscape in 5 and 10 years’ time.
A major focus of concern is our future trading arrangements with the EU, the US and other countries. If the UK Government wants us to be global leaders in tackling our climate and nature crisis, we need to have a clear standard we want to be achieved both in the UK and countries that supply the UK.
We need a benchmark for all products to meet, such as the UK Kitemark, that the public can understand and trust.
We know many products are already available in the UK that are produced at lower animal welfare standards or use crop protection products that are banned here in the UK.
On the January 1, 2021 we cannot just stop all these products coming into the UK as we will not be able to increase our own productivity in time or source products from elsewhere in the world to meet our standards.
We need a 5-10 year transition period, at the end of which all products must meet the UK’s future standard.
This will give us opportunity to develop UK farming to increase production where there are future opportunities and also to trade with other countries, supporting and helping them improve their animal welfare, food production systems and their environmental standards.
Martin can be found tweeting at @LinesMartin