Game-changing Ideas for Supporting Agriculture Post-Brexit

Soil Association
Thursday, 23rd March 2017

The Soil Association have set out six vital ideas to support farming post-Brexit. These include agroforestry, soil, animal welfare and organic.

The Soil Association have set out six game-changing ideas for a fresh approach to farm support post-Brexit, at a Bristol event on Monday (20th March). 

The six game-changing ideas set out by the Soil Association are: 

1. Agroforestry 

Putting trees in fields to increase productivity, lock up more carbon and boost wildlife [2].

2. Investing in soil 

Fundamental to farm productivity, food security, climate change and public health. Potential policies to restore and protect soil include soil stewardship payments, monitoring and reporting soil health [3].

3. A tipping point for organic

Organic farming has proven benefits, for example for wildlife [4]. Only 3% of our farmland is organic [5] compared with Sweden at 16% or Austria nearer 20%. [6]

4. A good life for farm animals

High standards of animal welfare, making good  the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council’s vision that all animals lead “a good life” and making high welfare systems the attractive option for farmers and investors [7]. Stopping the routine, preventative use of antibiotics [8].

5. Back farmer-led innovation 

During a time of rapid transition support farmers’ ingenuity, helping farmers find practical, more sustainable ways of farming and rewarding scientists who help them [9].

6. Making the most of public procurement

The UK public sector spends £2.4 billion-a-year buying food and catering services. Use this spending power to drive the demand for food produced to high standards [10] [11].

Soil Association Innovation Director Dr Tom MacMillan discussed ‘The Future of British Farming outside the EU’ report commissioned by South West MEP, Molly Scott Cato.

Dr MacMillan said: “Brexit will put a huge strain on farmers and the countryside, and it comes at a time when both are already under pressure. While averting a poor trade deal has to be a high priority, as it could quickly push standards down and farmers out, we will have failed if we simply recreate the policies and problems that farmers face today.

“We’re hearing a fair bit of consensus from farming, nature and public interest groups on the big principles for agricultural policy after we leave the CAP – which the public expect high standards on animal welfare, for example, and that public money should pay for public benefits. What’s missing are practical and inspiring ideas that seize the chance to make a better fist of it, and face up to monumental challenges like climate change. So we’ve tried to set out a few in this report.

“One potential game-changer is agroforestry, bringing trees into fields, which could up productivity, boost wildlife and help tackle climate change. If our government aimed for half of farms to try it, as the French are doing, it could be transformative. 

“Another is to back practical innovation by farmers, putting at least 10% of the £450m the UK spends each year on agricultural research into projects led by farmers. Many of the best ideas in farming already come from farmers, and we’ll depend on their ingenuity more than ever in this time of change.”

As the UK leaves the relative security of guaranteed trade partners, Dr MacMillan believes that watering down standards could compromise export opportunities and undermine the British public’s confidence in animal welfare, food safety and traceability. A YouGov poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth, shortly after last year’s referendum, found that 83 per cent of the public expect the same or higher standards as EU laws when it comes to protection for wildlife and wild areas [1].

Molly Scott Cato said: “Leaving the EU does offer a unique opportunity to move towards an ecologically sustainable farming system; one that focuses on relocalising food production and at the same time encourages biodiversity, improves animal welfare and helps tackle climate change. Ultimately what happens to farming will affect us all as it will shape the future of our economic, social, environmental and physical landscape” 

Dr MacMillan added: “We don’t have all the answers. That’s why we’re urging others to be ambitious. Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to mend our nation’s relationship with food, farming and the countryside.”

For more information go to www.soilassociation.org

[1] www.foe.co.uk/blog/brexit-what-next-uk-wildlife-nature
[2] Soil Association Agroforestry Conference www.soilassociation.org/farmers-growers/agroforestry-conference/
[3] 7 Ways to Save Our Soils www.soilassociation.org/media/4672/7-ways-to-save-our-soils-2016.pdf
[4] Niggli, U. (2015) ‘Sustainability of organic food production: challenges and innovations’ Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74:1  83-88,  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665114001438  
[5] Defra www.gov.uk/government/collections/organic-farming
[6] IFOAM www.ifoam-eu.org/en/organic-europe
[7] Farm Animal Welfare Council (2009), ‘Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present and Future’ www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/319292/Farm_Animal_Welfare_in_Great_Britain_-_Past__Present_and_Future.pdf
[8] Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics www.saveourantibiotics.org
[9] Innovative Farmers www.innovativefarmers.org
[10] A Plan for Public Procurement www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/332756/food-plan-july-2014.pdf
[11] Food For Life www.foodforlife.org.uk

Useful links

Why ruminal animals should be pasture-fed

Silvoarable agroforestry: shared farming

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