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Government announces new farming actions, drawing mixed responses

On Back British Farming Day, Food and Farming Secretary Thérèse Coffey has announced a package of measures designed to support British farmers. While the government's initiatives are undoubtedly welcome, they have elicited mixed reactions due to concerns about their scope and ambition.

South Somerset, UK. Copyright: Phil Kieran | shutterstock

South Somerset, UK. Copyright: Phil Kieran | shutterstock

The new measures announced by the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) fell under three key themes: improving demand for British produce, speeding up Sustainable Farming Index (SFI) payments whilst helping cash flows, and improving both diversity and fairness in the supply chain.

The government’s plan is to encourage consumers to "buy British" when shopping online by collaborating with industry stakeholders to guide consumers toward purchasing domestically produced goods.

Hastened support has been announced for farmers participating in nature friendly production through SFI actions, with participating farmers receiving a payment after one rather than three months, allowing the first payments for SFI to go out before the new year.

In an attempt to strengthen and improve fairness in the supply chain, a £4 million Small Abattoir Fund was also announced, aimed to help address the loss of local abattoirs across the country. Upcoming fairness enquiries into the horticulture and egg sector were also announced, as Sustain has previously commented on, as well as bringing the dairy supply chain code legislation forward by a year to go live in 2024 – a welcome boost for fairness. 

But experts question the ambition and scope of these announcements. Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming at Sustain says:

"Fast tracking SFI payments and the new fair dealing rules on dairy are helpful but will not satisfy the urgent needs of nature loss, climate crises and unfair food systems. A far more ambitious, coherent plan is needed with support for all farm sectors to transition to nature and climate-friendly, resilient farming, more infrastructure alongside abattoirs, the budget to match and a clamp down on all abusive supply chains."

On procurement, Defra confirmed “farmers producing sustainable British food under our environmental land management schemes will be able to use them to help meet public procurement standards”. However according to Ruth Westcott, Sustain Climate Coordinator, this has worrying implications for public procurement standards:

"The Government hasn’t released the long-overdue rules for public sector food yet but must support nature-friendly British farming. They will fail though, unless they call for ambitious targets, with proper monitoring and enforcement, and caterers must report on compliance. Participation in ELMS must be the minimum requirement for all sourcing, in addition to 20% organic or LEAF mark, as was proposed last year."

Technology was the final strand of measures, with a new £15 million pot for rooftop solar installations providing a new opportunity for farmers to sustainably improve their farm energy supplies and help insulate themselves from further energy cost volatility.

Published Wednesday 13 September 2023

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

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