Protesting farmers have allies in the public and also in nature

Article by Vicki Hird, Strategic Lead on Agriculture, Wildlife Trusts

We need better policy so that all farmers can move to resilient, nature-friendly farming – and so they are not undermined by bad policy.

The food system is clearly not working for farmers, for nature or the climate or even consumers. And some farmers are getting angry. For too long we’ve needed a coherent strategy for food and farming, and it’s really hurting that we don’t yet have it.

UK Government policy needs to recognise the multifunctional role of farming in producing food alongside nature protection and climate resilience, and that without action – for example, on fair dealing from buyers and better trade policies – we will not be able to feed ourselves in the future.

Many farmers have justified grievances about having to bear the burden of providing a vital service. Meanwhile their buyers treat them badly, don’t pay a fair price at the farmgate and set unacceptable, often utterly ridiculous standards. Retailer and supply chain treatment is getting worse and there is a lack of effective rules to stop abuse and to ensure fair negotiations, contracts and treatment.

UK Government must also change trade policy so it does not undermine our farmers and wildlife by allowing lower standards of imports or drive lower UK standards that could hurt critical natural services provided by healthy soils and pollinating insects, which in turn support food production.

It’s true that the slow and complicated process of developing new, post-Brexit farm payments schemes and wider support has not helped. Farmers need to plan and yet they’ve not known what they are planning for, for far too long.

Now that Environmental Land Management schemes are being finalised in England, and better financed, we should have a rapid delivery and a strong advisory system. This must ensure that farmers can get the support and advice they need to benefit the nature, climate and other goals across their farms – as well delivering viable businesses and healthy, diverse food production.

The new payments and wider transition support, as well as the proper regulations in place to prevent harm to habitats and wildlife, can also help farmers in reducing increasingly costly inputs like pesticides and enable them to make more profit. This will help protect soils, pollinators and all wildlife, and build vital climate resilience, so they can continue to produce healthy, nature-friendly food for all. Farmers do have the public support for this and should draw on this to demand government action.

The public wants farmers to protect rivers, soils, pollinators and wildlife, and to build resilience to our changing climate – by doing so, farmers can continue to produce healthy, nature-friendly food for all. Farmers should draw on this support to demand better government policy, not least because nature loss and climate change are major threats to food security in the UK and present ever-growing risks to farm businesses.

Farmers can build strong partnerships too at a local and regional level – as many are already doing with their local Wildlife Trust. Farmers can use that relationship to build support for stronger fair-dealing regulations and better trade policy.

Let’s not forget, there is a great story to tell about benefitting society with fabulous public goods – from more birds, bees and wildflowers to clean rivers and nature-based flood management – alongside healthy food.

We know many farmers are already doing this brilliantly, but we need to demand better policy together so that all farmers can move to resilient, nature-friendly farming – and so they are not undermined by bad policy.

This article by Vicki Hird originally appeared on the Wildlife Trusts website

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