Speakers at the LEAF annual conference said the farming industry should focus on so-called ’Natural Capital’ to replace CAP.
The current status quo of farming is not sustainable and the industry must help shape a new agricultural policy which would see food production and the protection of natural assets go hand in hand.
At a Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) conference in London, farmers and industry experts discussed the opportunities and challenges for food and farming, with particular focus on whether Brexit had ‘opened the door’ for so-called ‘Natural Capital’ to replace the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).
Natural Capital defines natural assets including soil, air and water, many of which farmers help to nurture as a matter of course.
Professor Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford claimed the ‘current status quo in farming is not sustainable’, adding: “Natural Capital and farming are like peas in a pod.”
LEAF sustainability manager Kathryn Green said: “Natural Capital may be a new approach but the concept of valuing what farmers do is certainly not.
“Integrated Farm Management (IFM) includes the need to understand, monitor and record, and importantly, value the economic, environmental and social impacts of farming.
“In essence, this is what Natural Capital is all about.”
Defra deputy director of the Natural Environment Strategy Nick Barker outlined how, with the imminent launch of the Government’s 25-year environment plan, Natural Capital could provide some key advantages.
He said: “It encourages system thinking and a long term view, helping to drive better uses of resources, focusing attention on where it matters most.
“Fundamentally it is about environmental decision making.”
Other speakers at the conference highlighted a number of challenges, including how to set a value on environmental benefits and how a long term approach could be monitored in the short term.
Ian Dickie, director of eftec (Economics for the Environment Consultancy) said: “We do not have the same way at looking at environmental benefits yet as we do other areas of capital. That is why Natural Capital is vital.”
Green Alliance senior economist Angela Francis, who claimed that CAP was a ‘terrible subsidy system’ that was always going to be replaced, believed any Natural Capital accounting needed to be farmer led.
Environment Agency (EA) environmental finance manager Chris Knight said the EA wanted to ‘spur the debate’ on Natural Capital: “We want the process to be more than box ticking.
“We want to identify where we can make the most of Natural Capital but this is a very long process.”