Sustainable Farming Policy

Credit: Vicki Hird

Farming is integral to our landscapes and communities. The way in which we manage land is important for farm businesses and the public as a whole. How and what we farm has a considerable impact on the climate, biodiversity, communities and our health.

We all have a stake in the ways we produce food today and in the future.

The Sustain alliance is a leading voice in pushing for an sustainable farming future in the UK.

We need to move towards farming systems that provide healthy, affordable food that is grown to high standards and which supports good livelihoods.

Farmers can gain an array of benefits from transitioning into agroecological farming systems that work with nature. This can include: improving soil health, reducing input costs, better drought and flood tolerance; enhancement of ecosystem services (pollination, pest predation); more stable income; better margins; and, greater job satisifaction.

Farmers, growers and land managers should be fairly rewarded for the public goods they deliver - from carbon sequestration, to nature recovery and natural flood managment.

To enable this future, we also need equitable supply chains and routes to market that pay farmers fairly, prioritise the production of healthier food and which make food affordable. These supply chains need to share the values of a climate/nature friendly, healthier and fairer future for all.

Policy change

Yet government policies and food industry practices still often drive harmful production systems and many farmers and farm workers are struggling to make a decent living. Despite some new measures policy is still failing to protect farmers from unfair trading practices of big players in the supply chain, such as supermarkets, and our health, soils, bees and smaller farmers are in trouble.

Changes in government policy, public investment and private investment, could do much more to help for the benefit of everyone.

Being in the European Union has meant UK farm policy was largely designed under the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy. Brexit means that the UK must now take control of how it supports and sets standards for farming. The UK’s approach to international trade deals will also have big implications for farmers, at home and abroad.

Agriculture Act 2020
Sustain coordinated the alliance's responses to the Agriculture Bill as it passed through Parliament. This was a landmark for UK legislation, being the first major piece on agriculture for 50 years. We wanted to influence the Bill and give voice to farmers and others in the debate. This page provides briefings on key amendments.

Beyond 2020 - new farm policy
There is ample evidence that policy needs to do more to ensure British farmers can deliver a sustainable, healthy, ethical food system. UPDATE - The new English Environmental Land Management Scheme, which will replace the European farm support schermes in England, is being consulted on. Our response to the latest Policy Discussion Document is available. 

Public Money for Public Goods
Farm subsidies are one distinct and very significant piece in the jigsaw puzzle of new farm policy. Since the EU Referendum, there has been a welcome shift in public and industry mood, as well as government policy, towards public money being used for public goods, not just given to farmers automatically due to the size of their farm. Then Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove and Farming Minister George Eustice (now Secretary of State for Defra) have given helpful signals that this is the likely direction of travel.

Agri-food standards in trade deals
Many are now deeply concerned that in the race to secure international trade deals, the UK may come under severe pressure to compromise our food standards – a damaging race to the bottom.

Agroecology Future
Sustain works with a number of expert groups and practitioners on agroecology farming systems. Our aim is to: make policy-making fit for an agroecological future; support farmers and growers into agroecology systems; drive positive change in the agri-food supply chain; and, give a voice to those leading the way in nature and climate friendly farming. We believe that diversity of UK farm types and sizes is essential if we are also to achieve sustainable food production, good livelihoods in farming, opportunities for new entrants, and for communities to have control of their food and where it comes from.

Fringe Farming - the potential for peri-urban food growing
Sustain is delighted to launch our new Fringe Farming project to boost agroecological food production at the edge of UK cities, working in partnership with practitioners and researchers to greatly increase access to land for socially and ecologically beneficial farming close to urban communities. 

The benefits of farm diversity
The mosaic of British farming is vital for protecting landscapes and natural resources as well as rural economies and communities. The small and medium, family farm and mixed farm – which provide specific and often unrecognised environmental and social benefits – need specific policies to survive in a more liberalised market and deliver for a more diverse domestic and local marketplace.

Fruit and vegetable production
Sustain supports the work of the Fruit and Vegetable alliance, seeking to increase fruit and vegetable production and consumption, as a key way to promote public health through farming policy.

Farming for climate and nature
With farming covering three-quarters of UK land, the future of food, farming and nature are inextricably linked. Leaving the EU poses significant risks for UK environmental and wildlife policy and our commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it also provides an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise our countryside in a way that better meets the needs of people and the environment, for generations to come.

Overuse of farm antibiotics
The systematic overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is undermining their ability to cure life-threatening infections in people, by creating an army of dangerous bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.


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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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