The APPG on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming welcomes the Agriculture Bill’s focus on future agricultural policy being directed by ‘public money for public goods’, and its broad perspective on what constitutes a public good. A shift towards this, and away from Direct Payments based on the amount of land owned, will ensure a higher level of environmental protection and a much more sustainable food and farming sector.
However the APPG would recommend that additional public goods are included: reducing the use of pesticides and certain types of fertilisers, limiting antibiotic use in livestock to only when is necessary, and including goals for public health – helped by measures such as increasing production of fruit, vegetables, pulses and other healthy and nutritious foods, supporting British farmers through more opportunities in public procurement, and improving public access to fresh fruit and vegetables. It is crucially important that all public goods have specific, measurable targets and benchmarks attached which can be used to track changes over time. Furthermore, aspirational targets to attain certain levels of public goods should not be introduced without also introducing legal minimum requirements – which should rise over time as average farming practices improve. Though these targets need to include a clear specification of the amount of financial assistance which will be provided to farmers for the provision of these public goods, and in what varying amounts, with assurances of long-term budgetary commitments.
The APPG supports the emphasis on improving supply chain fairness and transparency, but these measures should be introduced in alongside an extension of the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and an introduction of an agricultural wage board for England to ensure consistency with Scotland and Wales.
The APPG is happy with the 7 year transition period, which will provide ample time for farmers to adjust. However this transition period should not be at the expense of seeking to realise drastic environmental improvements in the near future. Nor should this transition jeopardise the UK’s food security when payments are de-linked from the requirement to farm. This de-linking could only serve to create a greater dependence on imports from countries with lower standards than our own, which would entrench systems in which domestic farmers are undercut. Furthermore, it goes without saying that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the UK’s agricultural sector and should be avoided at all cost. Rigorous contingency planning must take place to protect farmers and the public’s access to food in case this eventuality occurs.
We support the Bill’s proposal to allow elderly farmers to exit the sector and provide opportunities for new entrants. This should be accompanied by much greater support for tenant farmers, the protection of county farms, and assisting young farmers with the initial lump funds required to enter the farming sector. The Governments’ seasonal workers scheme should be extended far beyond the proposed 2500 workers to fully address the needs of the sector, and curriculums in agricultural colleges and universities should be greatly improved to include education on agroecological, sustainable and climate-friendly methods of farming.
More broadly, attention must be paid to ensure that farmers do not have to pick or prioritise certain public goods over others – instead the focus should be on whole farming systems. To this end the agroecological approach to farming should be adopted by the Government, as well as specific farming methods such as organic, pasture-fed and agroforestry.
Over the coming months we will prepare briefings and hold public meetings for MPs to discuss the Agricultural Bill, as well as liaising with our advisory group to help coordinate work in Parliament, to continue to push for an agroecological approach to farming and land management.
Kerry McCarthy MP
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer