Sustain / Sustainable farming policy

Public Money for Public Goods

Farming support payments are a distinct and significant piece of new farm policy.

Since the EU Referendum, there has been a welcome shift away from area-based payments and towards rewarding delivery of public goods.

Successive Defra Secretary of States have given helpful signs that this will be the direction of travel. More recently, Secretary of State George Eustice has continued Defra's commitment to 'public money for public goods'.

What will be recognised as a public goods? And how would the Sustain alliance like to see public money invested into agriculture?

Public goods must include: climate change mitigation and adaptation; nature recovery; soil health regeneration; clean water and air; public access and education; public health.

A new universally accessible Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme that rewards farmers, growers and land managers for delivering public goods.

An approach that supports farmers into higher standards of farming and whole farm systems: organic, pasture-fed, agroforestry, intercropping, and sustainable horticulture.

Payments which incentivise farmers to aim high in delivering multiple public goods through the synergies gained from whole farm system approaches.

Farming business that are economically sustainable and which create good livelihoods for existing farmers and new entrants of all sizes.

A new publicly funded advice system that is independent, trusted and innovative.

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 also champions 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

Public health expressed as a public good could include 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 ultra-processed foods; and,
    • 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, agroecological and agroforestry.

Sustainable farming policy: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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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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