Farm regulation as it stands under EU legislation is inflexible, outdated and ‘does not work for farmers’, the final Farm Inspection and Regulation Review (FIRR) has said.
Dame Glenys Stacey, FIRR chairwoman and lead of Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s review, said the current one-size-fits-all rules-based approach – which has been the same for 46 years since the UK joined the EU – was ‘pernickety’ and should instead be replaced by a more supportive, flexible and incentives-led approach, supportive of farmers’ individual circumstances.
It should offer them practical advice, guidance and help to incentivise good practice, with the regulator working alongside farmers to, in her own words, ‘do with’ rather than ‘do to’.
It had been favourably received by Government, she added.
“As things are, farmers are subject to a number of pernickety and sometimes nonsensical rules,” Dame Glenys said, adding regulation was no longer about an ‘explicit set of rules’.
“There is little practical advice or guidance given to ensure compliance. Instead, automatic financial penalties have become the norm when at times they are unfair.
“Yes, sometimes swingeing sanctions are justified, but more often, more is achieved by a more supportive approach.”
Changing the balance between ‘on foot’ and remote surveillance, such as using drones to monitor field margins and other public goods that the land manager is contracted to deliver, would make inspections ‘more efficient for the regulator and less burdensome for the farmer’, Dame Glenys said.
The new regulation would also save farmers both time and money, whilst allowing them to become more productive.
It followed an interim report in June in which Dame Glenys said regulation must be more holistic, nuanced and adaptive, ‘on prior notice [and] arranged beforehand with an exchange of information’.
She told a press briefing this week: “My argument is that the way we regulate farming should be aligned to farming itself. Farming is different farm by farm and place by place.
“Regulation could be so much more effective if it was modernised and joined up.”
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer welcomed the review’s recognition that a new system should be more flexible, proportionate and supportive.
He said: “The review highlights many of the problems and frustrations farmers have with current enforcement and we support its aims to make it simpler to run a farm business post-Brexit.
“A new system must ensure current codes of practice and assurance schemes are built upon to effectively demonstrate and drive best practice.”
NFU president Minette Batters said Dame Glenys’ recommendations were ‘one part of the change needed to assist farming to become more productive, profitable and sustainable’.
She added: “While we applaud the aspiration it must not be rushed; time is needed to detail how this system would look, how it is funded, its governance and what the impact would be on farm.
“Any new system must restore confidence in our regulatory system, support farm businesses and allow them to continue producing safe, traceable and affordable food for the nation.”
Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, welcomed what she called a more ‘coherent and supportive approach’ but warned if it reduced the knowledge and experience of the rationale for individual areas, bringing all regulation into one place ‘could be a backward step’.