Sustain initial response to Defra consultation on post-Brexit farm policy: Strong ambition but misses tricks

Defra publishes ten-week consultation on the UK's first major new farming legislation since 1947. Sustain's Farming Campaign Coordinator Vicki Hird gives an initial response to seeing a version of the consultation.






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On the launch today (Tues 27 February) of the government's consultation on ‘Health and Harmony - The future of farming, food and the environment in a green Brexit’

Vicki Hird, Farming Campaign Coordinator of Sustain said,

Defra's ideas for the first major new farming legislation since 1947 are a mixture of vision and pragmatism to please many, but probably wont create the 'harmony' quite yet.

The scope and range of issues covered are good - from environment, animal welfare and even beauty to skills and rural resiliance as well as fairness in the supply chain - but without a budget and hard targets it is hard to see how it will be realised.

Bewilderingly the word health is in the title but there's little real mention of getting us all eating and feeling well and to remove the pressure of diet related disease on the health service.

But we are pleased with the emphasis on getting value for money from farm payments. Targetting them via capping the payments so all farmers can benefit and so environmental and other outcomes can be delivered is long overdue.

This consultation must get the widest public involvement possible for farmers and workers, the environment and our health's sake." 

Longer comment: 

"Inevitably, it does not promise a budget to deliver what we know is needed – from ensuring protection of vital ecosystems and wildlife and ensuring we have food to promote public health, to giving all farmers and farm workers, new and old, a decent life and resilient rural economy. Without a decent budget, can this deliver?

"The emphasis on supporting public goods is welcome, but given that the consultation has the word ‘health’ in its title it is disappointing to see little real reference to health - other than animal and plant health - when we could be promoting dietary health through procurement of local fresh food for schools and hospitals and boosting horticultural production. Physical and mental well-being get a mention but we need real proposals that will help farmers as well as the wider public.

"Yet it is clear we are in a new era of farm policy where multiple objectives should be delivered from the public purse and we welcome the opportunity to ask the public and industry how they want to continue to support farmers when the UK leaves the European Union.

"This consultation gives more details of the proposed phase-out of current area-based farm payments via capping payments - with a range of options - and replacing this with a new contract for supporting farmers based on payment for public good outcomes. These could include soil and water protection, biodiversity and climate change mitigation. Such targetting is needed.

"After our own consultation, Sustain proposed a new, multi-annual Land Management Scheme, so welcomes this idea in the consultation. But identifying public health as an outcome is a major gap and we are disappointed to see no mention of targets for agroforestry, pasture-based farming or organic, as these can deliver outcomes of 'public goods' as part of viable whole-farm systems.

"We welcome Defra's inclusion of fairness in the supply chain and ideas for giving farmers more power such as price transparency and sharing market data. These are long overdue. As are a focus on skilling up workers and making farming a 'great career choice'. But wages for farm workers are key. Without a sector bargaining body for England, such as has been retained or reinstated in Wales and Scotland, attracting and retaining skilled farm workers will remain a problem.

"The government also anticipates supporting farm sectors most at risk, helping all farmers in the transition and in building productivity. Simplification of schemes and efficiency of delivery are frequently mentioned and Defra makes much of supporting farmers in managing risk, but the government wisely seems to be unwilling to provide finance for everyday risk management.

"The proposals vary in level of detail and whilst it is crucial to get the public – as wide as possible – to respond to the on-line consultation, they may struggle to say what their priorities are without more information.

"Many of the good ideas may fall by the wayside if ithey do not get public and budgetary support. So we hope this unique opportunity to give farm and land management policy a major overhaul gets a wide view and public engagement.”


Contact Vicki Hird 07903 478249

Defra proposal published Tuesday 27th February 2018.

Photo credit: Tomas Kohl


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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.