The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) has welcomed key aspects of the Agriculture Bill, which will encourage farmers to protect soils and biodiversity while also reducing air and water pollution. But the SFT remains concerned that in extending the scope of the post-Brexit farm support package to embrace wider environmental objectives, the opportunity to shift mainstream food production in a more sustainable direction is being overlooked.

Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the SFT said, “My concern is that farmers may be able to enter only part of their farm into an Environmental Land Management contract while continuing to manage large areas of farmland in a business as usual, highly intensive way. If this happens we will fail to break away from the existing isolation of wildlife within deserts of intensive agriculture, an approach that has led to catastrophic declines in wildlife and other aspects of natural capital. As such, a major opportunity will have been missed to move food production as a whole in a more sustainable direction.

Producing high quality, health-promoting food from production systems that avoid damage to the environment while maintaining and building natural capital, should be the prime objective of a reformed agricultural support package. This should not be eclipsed by piecemeal environmental measures.

Farmers should, of course, embrace genuinely beneficial new technologies, but worshipping at the alter of high-tech solutions is not the silver bullet some people think it is. We need to create the conditions for systemic mainstream change by improving the economic climate for those who adopt diverse, integrated and fully sustainable food production methods. This could be achieved by a carrot and stick approach of ensuring that all farmers are financially accountable for the damage they do and rewarded for the benefits they deliver.”

Photograph: stevekeiretsu

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