The UK Government’s new Agriculture Bill will be a “missed opportunity” if it fails to incentivise farmers to switch to sustainable farming practices. 

That’s the warning contained in a briefing published today by the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), in which it sets out its continuing concerns about the new Agriculture Bill, the second reading of which takes place today.

Wanted: Whole farm approach
The SFT says it welcomes the publication of the revised Bill but wants to see a ‘whole farm’ approach to the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) “in order to integrate efficient and sustainable food production with nature friendly farming practices”.

The organisation has warmly welcomed to the inclusion of soil health as one of the Bill’s big priorities and welcomes the mention of agroecology. But it wants to see this go further and is calling for the introduction of two amendments to the Bill:

  1. To provide specific support to farmers during and after the transition to agroecological methods;

2. A commitment that the same sustainability standards required of UK farmers would be applied to all imported food under any future trade deal, in order to maintain the competitiveness of food production in the UK.

“We remain concerned that by too tightly focusing the support on environmental objectives in a way where most of them do not link food production with nature conservation”

Patrick Holden, SFT chief executive said: “We remain concerned that by too tightly focusing the support on environmental objectives in a way where most of them do not link food production with nature conservation, the Government is missing an opportunity to support a mainstream shift to more sustainable farming, while potentially undermining the viability of UK agriculture with cheap imports.

Piecemeal
By only rewarding specific environmental practices rather than an integrated approach, farmers are not being incentivised to introduce sustainable farming practices across the whole farm. Instead the piecemeal nature of the Bill could end up simply supporting some farmers to become caretakers of wildlife pockets within a continuing desert of intensive agriculture.”

The SFT says that, in conjunction with the Campaign for Local Abattoirs, it “welcomes unreservedly the provision in the revised Bill that could provide financial support for ‘ancillary activities carried on, or to be carried on, by or for a producer’.” With this in mind, the organisation will press the Government to “ensure this provision is used to prevent further small abattoirs being driven out of business, since these are essential for all producers of locally marketed meat”.