Environment charities have called on the government to give certainty to farmers over the future of agricultural policy that delivers environmental benefit, after an independent survey revealed the majority of farmers embrace the direction of travel.
A survey of 500 farmers conducted by AgriSmart on behalf of Wildlife and Countryside Link showed 80% believe the health of the natural environment is important or very important for their farm business. Pollution prevention was rated by most farmers as deserving government funding in future farming policy, with more than half of farmers (56.2%) believing that activities which prevent pollution should be supported.
Animal welfare (50.4%), habitat restoration (41%) and biodiversity conservation (38.2%) all ranked more highly than food productivity and competitiveness, which 38% said should be prioritised. Soil conservation and protection of crop, tree, plant and bee health were ranked closely behind at 37.2% and 35.0% respectively.
Twenty six environment, access, and animal welfare charities coordinated by WCL have therefore called on the government to:
● ensure that public goods such as the environment, animal welfare and public access remain the central focus of the Agriculture Bill as it passes through Parliament;
● deliver value for taxpayers’ money so financial payments will be made to farms for public goods and farming productivity and these must be complementary – moves to boost productivity must support environmental and welfare enhancements;
● guarantee long-term public goods-based funding, giving farmers the certainty they need to invest in improving nature, animal welfare and public access;
● ensure strong, fair and properly enforced regulation that applies to all rural land managers, regardless of whether they receive public funding; and
● ensure farmers receive a fair return from the market for their produce, and the power of major retailers to influence farm-gate prices is used appropriately.
WCL said: “The Agriculture Bill, awaiting its next stage in Parliament, gives us a once in a generation opportunity to fix our broken farming system, a system which has incentivised unsustainable production for years. Putting the environment at the core of public funding for farming is key to delivering public goods, including: clearer air for us to breathe; cleaner water to drink; sustainable, responsibly-produced food to eat; and enhancing the treasured wildlife, plants and landscapes we all enjoy and want to access.”