The UK can lead the world in tackling our climate and nature emergency by protecting food production standards in law, but sadly, politicians do not seem to recognise this, says Martin Lines, chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
The next four months are going to be critical for UK farming.
Not only do we need to gather in this harvest, and prepare and plant for next season, in ever increasingly challenging weather; we also have Governments around the UK setting out the framework for future agricultural support.
The Scottish Agriculture Bill has been in Parliament this week.
Next month, in Westminster, the UK Agriculture Bill will continue its journey through the House of Lords, giving peers the chance for further amendments before being sent back to Members of Parliament for votes.
The Trade and Environment Bills will also be making their way through the UK Houses of Parliament.
A rather heavy (and important) legislative period for all!
With the country’s attention on the global pandemic, and the subsequent economic fallout from its consequences, we hear only a little about Brexit and how the UK will be leaving the transition period on December 31.
The concerns our industry has over no-deal trading are fast coming at us, head on.
We hear the Government continue to talk about free trade deals Ministers hope to strike with countries around the world, and the financial benefits these will allegedly bring, but they will not be in place by the end of this year.
While lots of attention has been given to an American free trade deal, many other countries are looking to increase their trade into the UK of many agricultural products, including Australia and New Zealand.
Many of these products will be produced to different animal welfare and environmental standards than those in the UK, where we pride ourselves at having some of the highest standards in the world.
These domestic standards are being further raised and improved, yet our politicians, and the public at large, often turn a blind eye to how these things are produced in other parts of the world – essentially offsetting any damaging environmental impact beyond our shores.
While I welcome the principle of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, to advise and guide on standards in trade deals, I feel it will have no teeth or power to deliver anything of substance, and is just the Government’s attempt to hide away from putting food and environment standards into law, something the Nature Friendly Farming Network and our members have repeatedly called for.
We also need clear environmental regulations, with strong enforcement, to raise current nature and climate standards on all farms.
We need long-term funding and certainty, so farmers are properly rewarded for environmental goods into the future.
While there is plenty of good in the draft legislation at present, there is certainly more I would like to see in there too.
I am unfortunately old enough to remember the old kitemark the UK had, when any product coming into the UK would have to meet its standards.
The public could trust the products with this mark.
We traded around the world, and any country who wanted to supply the UK would meet the standard.
The UK could lead the way in having positive trading terms which help give a market for products that meet our standards and tackle our climate and nature emergency.
If only our politicians recognised this huge potential.
We all need to put as much pressure on our politicians as we can over the next few months to do the right thing and have a minimum standard written into law.
The Bills that will be passed over the coming weeks will set the landscape for years to come, and while we all continue to face a huge range of challenges, we cannot miss this opportunity for change.
With the immense pressure and uncertainty the whole industry is under at the moment, we need more details of how we can change our businesses to meet what the Government and the public now want us to deliver, both in the short and long-term.
The Government will hopefully be giving us more information shortly about what it is doing to help the industry transition away from BPS and how public money will be used to deliver public goods and a more resilient agriculture sector.
We know change is needed, and many farmers are already leading the way, demonstrating what can be achieved.
We just need to work together to make sure this is done in the most effective and efficient way possible, for the benefit of all.
Martin can be found tweeting at @LinesMartin