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.
This post is by the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, second church estates commissioner and former secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.
The UK agriculture sector has always sought to provide good quality food at a reasonable price, which is the very purpose of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, we cannot ignore that it has come at a price to many growers and that agriculture is under pressure. Read more
Since the EU referendum, there has been growing pressure for clarity over two things. First, how an independent UK will protect its natural environment, and, second, how we will pay for it, as most of the legislation that currently directs these areas comes from the EU.
Very soon, the government will be laying down the first major marker for its approach with its 25 year plan for the environment. The title is perhaps slightly misleading; it will not be a plan, rather an outline for how to develop a plan. But the signs are that it will contain some heartening aspirations and set out a strong framework. And above all, it will bring welcome clarity to an area where before there was only speculation and uncertainty.
This post is by Green Alliance’s chair, Dame Fiona Reynolds.
For the many people who care about the beauty of our countryside and the natural environment, this is the big question of our time. We know the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been a net negative for the environment, yet we also know that the majority of the UK’s rural landscapes will continue to be farmed. So now is the time to get some anchors in the ground about what should be the principles underpinning a new farming and food production policy, even if it’s too early to put the details in place. Read more
It’s heretical for a think tank to admit this, but our latest big idea is not really that big. It is in fact medium sized and achievable step from where we are now. It’s an idea so obvious, that once you hear it, you’ll be surprised it’s not happening already. But it isn’t, we checked. Rather than coming up with another big idea for nature, Green Alliance, in partnership with the National Trust, has researched how to enable existing big ideas, around ecosystem services and natural capital, to translate into real changes on the ground. The result is the Natural Infrastructure Scheme (NIS), a new market mechanism which would mean farmers and other land managers could financially benefit from environmental improvements such as flood alleviation and habitat creation. We think its simplicity could lead to ‘payments for ecosystem services’ becoming a mainstream market, reversing declines in nature, and supporting new, environmentally beneficial approaches to farming in the UK.