Focusing on food production at the expense of the environment is a mistake, because our food supply can only be secure with healthy soils and pollinators, says Martin Lines, chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
As I write this, we still do not have a clear direction or timescale for Brexit.
But we continue to get closer to a ‘hard Brexit’ and the real possibility of World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs which would really have a major impact on UK farming.
As farmers, the landscape is our business asset. It is where and how we make our living and produce the food and other products that people need.
Like any other kind of business owner, we not only need to focus on the detail of the shop floor, but also on the infrastructure which surrounds and supports it.
For too long the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has focused farmers on the goods we produce at the expense of how and where we do this.
By only looking at farm production, we have neglected our own infrastructure – our pollinators, soils, and water quality. The things that underpin everything we do.
As a result, they have suffered and declined. We now have fewer pollinators and wildlife, more degraded soils and poorer quality water.
Under the current system, many farmers are trying to deliver the highest quality products alongside environmental benefits, but they are being constrained by the rules.
There is no flexibility in the system. It does not address the where and the how we farm – just the what.
Our landscapes, which are our business assets, are not part of the equation.
However, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The proposals in the Government’s new Agriculture Bill are a promising step forward for farmers.
This new legislation will help farmers to invest in their ‘business infrastructure’, supporting them to restore the environment and the things farmers can deliver and the public benefit from but that farmers do not currently get any reward for.
Pollinators, flood mitigation, carbon capture. These are things society needs and we as farmers can provide.
“But what about food?” I hear some say. We all need food, that is a given, but to only focus on that one aspect is a mistake.
I hear much talk about food security, but to be blunt, there can be no security in food production unless we have a healthy environment and healthy soils. It is just not possible.
And it is not just about the environmental benefits. The transparency in the market place measures that the Bill contains will benefit my business.
I do not want to be producing something the consumer does not want and value, or not to get a profit above what it costs me to produce.
We need to deliver what the consumer needs. Over-production drives down the price I can get for the food I produce. And that over-production is then just wasted.
We have a once in a generation chance to set the scene for the coming decades.
How do we want our farmers to be supported and how do we want our landscape to look in 30 years’ time? That is what is at stake here.
The direction of travel is clear, but we need the funding to match the ambition. Now is not the time to roll back on promises.
We need to help farmers to adapt to new technologies and new ways of farming.
And to make this transition to a brighter future, we need to put consumers at the centre of this change – to help them to see the benefits of what we do for them and for the whole country.
Martin can be found tweeting at @LinesMartin