The government has announced today (2 December 2021) details on how it will reward and incentivise farming practices that protect soils – including organic.
The new guidance from Defra includes a commitment to organic farming for the first time since discussions on the Environmental Land Management Discussion began. This follows extensive lobbying from the Soil Association and the English Organic Forum.
Within the document outlining Defra’s planned approach, the department said it “recognises the benefits that organic farming can offer to the wider environment”. It said Defra is exploring how to reward organic producers, including a “future organic standard”, which will provide an “easily accessible, holistic package for organic farmers”.
Gareth Morgan, Soil Association Head of Farming and Land Use Policy, said:
“We are delighted to see a commitment to organic in Defra’s new Sustainable Farming Incentive plans. This is a long-awaited recognition from government that organic farming delivers benefits for the environment and should be incentivised. Alongside organic and environmental groups, we have been lobbying hard for many months to ensure farm payment systems acknowledge the fact that organic farms have on average 50% more wildlife, thanks to practices that protect nature and store carbon. Support for organic, including those converting to organic, is the first step towards recognising that we need to work in harmony with nature across the whole farmed environment.
“But this needs to go further. Outside of organic, there is no commitment to rewards for farmers who protect the environment across their entire farm – instead the focus is on isolated practices. We can’t fix the climate crisis without halting the declines in wildlife we are seeing, so it will not be enough to protect one area of a farm while damaging another. Small tweaks to the status quo will not suffice. Farming policy should incentivise a widespread shift to nature-friendly, agroecological farming. We hope this is the first step towards government providing clarity on the type of farming it wants to see in the UK, so farmers can have confidence in making long-term changes now.”
The plans also covered new standards for protecting soil health – acknowledging that “soils are one of our most important natural assets”. In his speech, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the SFI “focuses on soil health because the health of our soils is critical to improving both biodiversity, water quality and the production of a healthy crop.”
“The move by Defra to provide incentives to farmers for protecting soils is a welcome step in tackling the climate and nature emergencies. Holding more carbon than the earth’s atmosphere and vegetation combined, soils are an essential tool in tackling climate change.”