This post is by Miles King of People Need Nature.
The current tax system operates against the sort of public benefit that the new agricultural policy established by Michael Gove is seeking to create. English landowners receive £2.4 billion a year in tax breaks for which there is little or no benefit to society. This amount of money is almost exactly the same as landowners receive in farm subsidies and it exposes a contradiction: although the system of providing payments to farmers is being fundamentally reformed, the tax breaks received will be untouched. Read more
This post is by Georgina Mace, professor of biodiversity and ecosystems at University College London.
The recent UN IPBES Global Assessment on biodiversity and ecosystems exposed the dramatic decline of nature. Seventy five per cent of the land surface has been significantly altered, and among assessed groups of mammals and birds, one in four species are at risk of extinction. The average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20 per cent and land degradation has reduced productivity in 23 per cent of the global terrestrial area.
This crisis not only threatens the diversity of life on Earth. Ongoing degradation and changes to ecosystems pose further risks to people through threats to food, energy and water security, as well as being a significant driver of climate change. Read more
This post has been jointly written by Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, and Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance and chair of Greener UK. A letter based on this piece appeared in The Sunday Times.
For better or worse, over the last forty five years the EU has played an unarguably important role in the way we manage our landscape, firstly through the Common Agricultural Policy and latterly through the Single Market’s role in environmental regulation. Now, as we prepare to leave, questions about how we continue to manage our countryside are stimulating an important, and sometimes controversial, debate.
Most of us don’t have to think too much about the food we eat, beyond “what on earth am I going to cook this evening?” We assume there will be food we want at an affordable price, and that, if it is on the shelf, it is safe to eat and has been produced to acceptable environmental and welfare standards. But the new trade relationships we negotiate after Brexit could present significant risks to the UK’s food system which could put an end to this confidence. Read more
This post is by Chris Clark of Nethergill Farm. It is the first in a short series about the options for the future of upland hill farming in the UK.
With the increased uncertainty regarding the viability of hill farms, the time is now ripe for farmers to think radically about hill farm management and consider new alternatives in a way that has not been possible since the last war. The justification for the old hill farming world is going or maybe has already gone. Read more
This post is by Tom Lancaster, senior policy officer at the RSPB, and Marcus Gilleard, senior policy programme manager at the National Trust.
For a couple of policy wonks on the Brexit front line, perspective can be hard to come by at times. So we’ve taken a few days to digest Michael Gove’s speech at last week’s Oxford Farming Conference and assess where it leaves us in our quest for a more sustainable farming and land management system.
New Year articles and blogs often predict what is going to happen in the year ahead. But after the political upsets of the past couple years, it seems more appropriate to pose questions than predict outcomes. So here are some of the important questions that need addressing this year, starting, inevitably, with Brexit.
Between 1990 and 2005 I was heavily embedded in the genetic modification (GM) debate, as a member of one of the key regulatory committees for ten years, and then as deputy chair of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC). AEBC recommended a public debate on GM crops, which reached 37,000 people through a variety of routes and excited a good deal of press attention. The result? Most people are uneasy, most scientists are not, and the economists thought there was little of consequence either way for the UK at that time. The effect on policy? Almost none.
For farmers, change is a way of life. Weather is unpredictable. Consumer appetites change. Prices go up and down. Managing uncertainty and volatility goes with the job.
But the ability of farmers to keep bouncing back will soon be tested to its limits, and possibly beyond. Brexit will bring change of a scale and at a speed that will dwarf anything seen by the current generation of farmers. This could include changes to the availability and cost of labour, the size and terms of subsidy payments, the potential imposition of new import and export tariffs and, should certain trade deals be struck, increased competition from low cost food imports. Not all farmers will cope. Many are likely to fail. Read more
UK farming is in crisis. Forty per cent of farms make no profit. Farm debt is soaring. Farmers are taking home an ever decreasing share of what we spend on food and, over the long term, food prices have been dropping.
Many farmers are stuck in a cycle of working the land ever harder just to break even. This is taking a heavy toll on the asset that farming relies on most of all – nature – as regular reports from the State of Nature partnership and the Natural Capital Committee make clear.