The Soil Association warns that we still await the bold and decisive announcement needed from government to give farmers confidence and spark a mainstream shift to truly nature-friendly farming – while welcoming the announcement today (Thursday 5 January) that farmers will be incentivised further to protect insects and restore habitats.
Following several delays, Farming Minister Mark Spencer spoke at Oxford Farming Conference to give an update on the plans to reward farmers for protecting the environment. In a statement released at the same time, Defra outlined a series of payment hikes to encourage more farmers to take up both the post-Brexit Environmental Land Management Scheme and updated versions of the Countryside Stewardship schemes that were in place before Brexit.
But the Soil Association warns today’s announcement isn’t enough.
Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said: “Today’s payment hike recognises the poor uptake so far of the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme, but farmers still await the bold vision and clarity they need to invest with confidence in a transition to nature-friendly farming systems, like organic. We are running out of time – government needs more game-changing action.
“If we are to truly reverse the catastrophic decline in wildlife and meet our climate goals, we need bolder ambition with support for farmers to protect nature across their entire farm, not just in protected areas. Transformative change is needed rather than tinkering around the edges. The Environmental Land Management Scheme cannot achieve this in isolation – trade deals, carbon markets and supply chains must also work to ensure British farmers can produce nature-friendly food that is good for both the planet and human health.”
The Soil Association continues to urge the government to set out a clear vision for farmers of a resilient and profitable pathway to nature-friendly, agroecological farming, as set out in its recent report on the Economics of Transition to Agroecological Farm Businesses.
Agroecology remains the most evidence-based solution to the climate and nature crises, as demonstrated by the bold ambition for agroecological farming in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, the Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe study, and Chatham House’s recent sustainable agriculture report.
Morgan added: “This is not the big announcement we have been waiting for, but we are pleased to see the government starting to recognise the vital role of smaller and tenant farmers by improving their access to the Environmental Land Management Scheme. It is also encouraging to hear the minister making the case for the resilience that nature-friendly farming can bring and the role insects must play in sustainable food production. Support for farmers to switch to predatory insects for pest control, instead of using toxic pesticides, is vital. Hedgerows and grass and flower strips both within fields and at the edges will not only create habitats for insects and other wildlife, but help farmers be more resilient by moving away from increasingly expensive chemical inputs.”