'Still no clarity for growers'


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06 December 2022
Frustration at government failure on nature-friendly growing. 

THE Soil Association remains frustrated at the UK Government’s continued failure to provide clarity on future support for English growers to protect the environment.

While recognising the government’s desire to ensure the scheme delivers for nature and climate, the sustainable food and farming organisation was disappointed to hear reports that the delayed review of nature-friendly farming reforms may come as late as February.

Environmental and farming groups were expecting a significant update on the future of the Environmental Land Management Scheme on December 1st when Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey addressed the CLA conference in London.

The Soil Association welcomes the Environment Secretary's comments that food production and protecting nature can be "symbiotic", with her saying: “The choice is not producing food or doing environmental schemes, it’s about making space for nature and that must go alongside sustainable food production. They are not mutually exclusive." 

But the speech left English growers – who are facing huge pressures – still desperately lacking the long overdue details they need to both manage their businesses and activate a shift to nature-friendly farming.

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Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said: “We remain frustrated at the continued government failure to give farmers confidence that previous promises to reward sustainable food production will be upheld.

“Delays and rumours of watering down plans to reward farmers for protecting the environment must end now. This policy is crucial at a time when our food system is in crisis – fertiliser, feed and energy costs for farmers are skyrocketing, wildlife populations are in freefall, shoppers are being priced out of sustainable food, and climate change is escalating at an unprecedented rate.

“It is disappointing that Defra has been unable to restore confidence in the government’s commitment to supporting nature-friendly farmers right on the eve of the UN Biodiversity Summit COP15. With farmland making up the vast majority of English land, this risks undermining pledges to restore nature before they have even been made.

“We urgently need transformative change with investment in a revolutionary shift to the most evidence-based solution – resilient, nature-friendly, agroecological farming. We also must see a renewed commitment to long-term support for our nature-friendly farming pioneers in the organic sector.”

The Soil Association is calling for:
•    More ambition and funding within the Sustainable Farming Incentive – not the rumoured scaling back of existing standards which it says have so far inspired little confidence among English farmers. The association says the scheme must help farmers make the transformational change needed to restore nature and produce food that supports a healthy diet.
•    A route map for growers to help them transition to resilient farm businesses focused on more diverse, nutritious food production in harmony with nature whilst tackling climate change and restoring soil health and biodiversity.
•    Clarity for organic farmers – currently Countryside Stewardship provides funding for converting to and maintaining organic systems, which is due to end in 2024. With 50% more wildlife and 44% more soil carbon on organic farms, the Government must renew its commitment to its nature-friendly farming pioneers, the association says. Failure to do so would risk serious damage to nature while also falling behind Scottish and European governments who have made significant commitments to organic.
•    Despite the uncertainty, the Soil Association also urges farmers to get involved with ELMS, saying it still offers the best opportunity to obtain payments for nature-friendly practices. The government has previously provided reassurance that anyone in Countryside Stewardship agreements will be able to shift to ELMS without any penalties for leaving the agreement early. Free advice on navigating farm subsidy polices, and on how to build resilience through agroecological practices, is available to any type of farmer (not just organic) with the Soil Association’s farming team.

Photo: Karina lago

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