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. Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove and Farming Minister George Eustice have given helpful signals that this is the likely direction of travel.

But what will be recognised as a ‘public good’? Specifically, the Sustain alliance would like to see public investment supporting:

  • A new, universally available Land Management Support scheme with three elements: a menu of outcomes; an organic scheme; and a whole-farm scheme. Specific LMS strands would be available to boost agro-forestry, extensive pasture-based livestock, horticulture; new entrants and succession planning. There is a strong case for front loading and/or capping payments to use the support wisely;
  • Sustainable business, capital and infrastructure support with specific help for smaller farm businesses;
  • A new publicly funded programme of low-cost advice and support for a farmer-to-farmer advisory network.

Sustain is working with others, such as Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link, to help secure environmental and biodiversity measures as a vital part of the basket of public goods to be provided by farmers and land managers, supported with public money.

Sustain is also championing public health as a public good – currently largely absent from the ‘public goods’ approach. Recognition of public health as a public good could help pave the way for beneficial improvements to farming standards, investment of public money and publicly supported research and development.

Read a blog by Sustain's farming campaign coordinator Vicki Hird: Public health is a public good, from which the following is an extract

Public health expressed as a public good could include, for example, support for activities:

  • contributing to healthy diets by reducing the health and economic burden of diet-related disease and making sustainably produced, fresh food available, affordable and accessible to all, by for instance:  
    • more and diverse horticultural production based on sustainable methods and decent working conditions,
    • specific support for diversification away from producing products we should be reducing in our diets, such as sugar,
    • better household food security, better physical and mental health for workers and the ability of people on a low income to buy good food - through wages based on decent contracts and a living wage that reflects the actual cost of living, as well as better working conditions in the food and farming sector as a whole (notorious for low pay and precarious jobs)
  • reduced or eliminated risk of food borne diseases (such as E.coli, salmonella, campylobacter);
  • improved nutritional profile of agricultural products sold as ingredients, for example diverse and less highly processed grain and flours; less sugar; fish and livestock fed in ways to create healthier profiles of fatty acids; more nuts; and more seasonal variety of fruits and vegetables;
  • cessation of the prophylactic use of antibiotics in livestock farming, as well as reduction of antibiotic use overall through better hygiene and animal welfare measures and related strategies;
  • reduction of pesticide use, exposure in the environment, and pesticide residues in food;
  • tackling air pollution from farming such as ammonia;
  • active promotion of access to countryside, educational farm visits and biodiverse green space and ensuring the access is healthy, for example ensuring opportunities for beautiful and tranquil experiences, wildlife encounters and physical activity;
  • policy and contractual requirements for fresh, healthy and sustainably produced food in schools, hospitals and other public sector institutions via public procurement measures, as well as helping diverse and sustainable farmers to access these contracts;
  • active promotion and growth in acreage of beneficial farm systems that can deliver some – or all – of these outcomes such as organic, agro-ecological and agro-forestry.
 

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Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

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.