Two new reports have suggested the rural economy and food production can and should be boosted through smart government changes to farm policy and a re-focus of priorities.
One said tax relief could tackle the stretched cost of food production from the ‘poor quality environment’ of farmland, with the other calling for CAP funding and powers to leapfrog from the EU to devolved areas post-Brexit.
The think-tank Green Alliance report said unsustainable farming practices were reducing the efficiency of the UK food sector.
What is needed, it said, is a more long-term sustainable system of maintaining good quality assets to shift farmer focus to the need for health soils, clean water and ‘other sensible environmental outcomes’.
Inclusion of tax relief for food businesses and a sustainable food pact could also help increase private sector investment to help restore and manage its own natural asset base whilst improving UK production.
Sue Armstrong Brown, Green Alliance associate, said: “We need a new land use policy model to replace the Common Agriculture Policy, and this must harness the power of the food chain to deliver environmental goals.
“Finding ways to help the food sector restore and manage its own natural asset base is essential, because there will not be enough money in the public purse to do everything.
“The state needs to pay for conservation, but the food sector can and should come together to invest in sustainable production.”
The think-tank Green Alliance report suggested two ways the government could help on farmland:
The report called on farmers, food companies and supermarkets to join forces to find long-term solutions to environmental challenges as more than 90 per cent of the money generated by the food sector lies with non-farming businesses such as supermarkets and manufacturers.
As it stands, impacts on soils solely create almost £250 million of extra costs per year.
But the report said additional costs from consequences of water pollution and biodiversity damage, such as the loss of vital pollinators, could make the figure much higher.
Anna Turrell, senior public affairs manager of sustainability at Nestlé UK, said food manufacturers were dependent on the preservation and maintenance of health ecosystems.
She added: “To ensure that the sector can continue to provide food for generations to come, we need to address the environmental challenges we face today.
“Healthy soils, clean water and the preservation of biodiversity are all critical elements to ensure the long term sustainability of our food systems.
“We believe that collaboration will be critical to achieving this, which is why the government has such an important role to play in supporting the creation of a collaborative space where farmers, manufacturers and retailers can come together to develop scalable, industry-wide solutions collectively.”