Farmers who fail to meet minimum standards on water, air and soil quality, wildlife protection and animal health after Brexit should be fined, the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) has said.
The NFFN has called for the Agriculture Bill to set ‘ambitious’ minimum standards to stop a minority of farmers from ‘ignoring the environmental impact’ of poor farming methods.
Martin Lines, chair of the NFFN, told Farmers Guardian he wanted fines to be a last resort, but they would be necessary to ensure the standards were universally met.
“Going forward, we must engage with farmers to give them support and leadership to improve the standard they are falling short on,” he said.
“If they are not willing to engage and bring their standards up, there would have to be some kind of fine system, but there must be support and training first.”
A new regulator would police compliance with the standards, but it is not yet clear whether this would be the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), set up by the Government in the Environment Bill, with a separate inspections body, or a different organisation altogether.
The NFFN would like the Government to pay for the new regulator, but suggested processors and retailers could provide any necessary top-up cash as they receive most of the return from food sales.
More work needs to be done on deciding the level at which the minimum standards would be set, but Mr Lines hinted they could well be lower than those required to enter the new public money for public goods scheme which will replace direct payments.
“This is not part of what will be the Environmental Land Management Scheme,” he said.
“The standards would be as low as we want to go – I do not like the word bottom – but we want to see UK farming improve and have a better public perception.
“Those farmers who let the side down, they are the ones the public gets to see the video of on social media, or gets put on the news, and it lets the rest of us down who are trying to farm in a way which demonstrates to the public how good, healthy food is produced.”
Martin Lines is a contributor to Farmers Guardian’s Brexit hub. You can read his pieces HERE.