In this week’s podcast, Patrick is joined by Lord Benyon, the UK’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA. Lord Benyon is himself a farmer and landowner and was a Member of Parliament for 15 years, serving as Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries during the coalition government.
Lord Benyon begins by explaining his decision to transition his farm in Berkshire towards regenerative practices, which he believes will allow his farm “to prosper” under the Government’s new schemes. Working with neighbouring farmers, he hopes to make use of private initiatives, linked to the Government’s new Biodiversity Net Gain planning requirement, as well as carbon offsetting schemes.
Patrick asks challenging questions about whether the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes are going to do enough to shift the balance of profitability, so that farmers are paid for doing the right thing. This leads on to a discussion about land sharing vs land sparing. “I still want to be a food producer” says Lord Benyon, but argues this can be done alongside having a keen interest in biodiversity restoration and environmental protection. Both agree that, rather than separating farming from nature, we need to bring the two back in harmony together.
The demise of small, family farms is another topic of conversation. “We forget the culture part of agriculture at our peril,” says Lord Benyon, pointing to the sustainability of diverse landholdings. Both agree that governments must value the social and cultural aspects of farming in order to make small farms more viable.
After a brief interlude (whilst Lord Benyon votes on the Environment Bill!), the conversation turns to the Global Farm Metric, the importance of measuring the impacts of farming and the potential for linking that to food labelling.
Richard Benyon is a DEFRA Minister in the House of Lords with responsibility for rural affairs, biosecurity, plant and animal diseases, designated landscapes, among others. He was a Member of Parliament for 15 years and served as Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries during the coalition government. Richard is a farmer and landowner in Berkshire and prior to returning to Government sat on the board of the Blue Marine Foundation, Plantlife and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. He was also Chair of the Duchy of Cornwall’s Net Zero Task Force. In Parliament he was a Member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Defence Select Committee and was deeply involved in environmental issues.