Farming industry calls for government to champion sustainability at a fairer price

05 December 2022, 13:22 PM
  • The UK government is being urged to act on making Britain’s agricultural landscape more sustainable, and offering a lower price for produce
Farming industry calls for government to champion sustainability at a fairer price

Farming groups are frustrated at the government’s continued failure to provide clarity on future support for English farmers to protect the environment.

It has been revealed that the delayed review of nature-friendly farming reforms may come as late as February, which won’t benefit farmers struggling now with rocketing prices of feed and fertiliser.

Calls for nature-friendly farming
This has been a disappointment for farming groups as the government had appeared to be committed to reforming the sector.

Gareth Morgan, head of farming policy at the Soil Association, explained, “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.”

At the recent Country Land Association Rural Business conference, Mark Tufnell, president of the group, added, “We have held the government’s feet to the fire, communicated robustly and negotiated hard, but we have done so in a way that never loses sight of the end goal: that being paid for environmental delivery is the right thing. Improving our soils and boosting nature is the right thing to do.

“But it is getting very difficult to sell this proposition to farmers at large when the government in England has failed to promote its own message effectively.”

Independents better for farmers
The call for sustainable farming reform was compounded by a recent report from charity Sustain, entitled Unpicking Food Prices: Where does your food pound go and why do farmers get so little, which revealed that farmers make less than 1p profit when selling to supermarkets as opposed to independent and cooperative retailers. 

The report looked at five everyday foodstuffs – apples, cheese, beef burgers, carrots and bread – and found that, after intermediaries and retailers take their cut, farmers are sometimes left with far less than 1% of the profit if supplying a supermarket chain. 

By contrast, in shorter chains run by social enterprises like vegetable box schemes and co-ops, more value reached farmers and their workers.

Vicki Hird, head of farming at Sustain, commented, “It is astonishing how little of the money we pay for our food ends up in the hands of the farmers and growers. Farmers carry a lot of risks and work in difficult conditions to put food on our table. 

“We also expect them to look after our landscape and our nature – and want them to do more of that in the future including protecting nature and helping to cut 30% of food-based climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. If they are to do that, they need more money in their businesses. That money should not leach out of the system into the coffers of food industry intermediaries and supermarkets. 

“If we’re to give our farmers the chance to change how we produce food, they need to keep more of the value so they can invest and try new approaches. We should not let intermediaries and food buyers hold all the bargaining chips. 

“Crucially, our report shows that paying farmers more need not mean higher food prices so retailers cannot use that excuse - there would be little impact on many products’ retail prices if farmers were paid more. We make strong recommendations on investing in better routes to market, regulating supply chains, and building transparency.”

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