We must put decarbonisation at the heart of agricultural policy | David Drew MP

How we manage our land is fundamental to tackling the climate crisis. Farmers are the custodians of much of our countryside, so putting decarbonisation at the heart of agricultural policy is vital.

Yet this Government has failed to deliver any framework for the future of farming and agriculture, let alone one that supports an effective response to the climate emergency.

It’s very disappointing that, 11 months after we concluded the committee stage of the Agriculture Bill, the government has failed to allow it to continue to enactment.

Though there were many faults with the proposed bill, which my shadow Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs colleagues and I pointed out at the Committee stage, we broadly welcomed the use of public money for public goods as a way forward for farming.

And there can be no greater public good than reducing our contribution to climate change. However, farmers are now left in limbo with no agricultural policy in place.

The Environment Land Management Schemes (ELMS) to be piloted are crucial to enable us to understand how farms and agriculture already support decarbonisation as well as the importance of soil and water management, and biodiversity.

So it’s a great pity that, because of the Government’s timetable slippage, the ELMS pilots will now coincide with the start of the newly applied agriculture payments regime at the beginning of 2021.

I have been a key member of the APPG on Agroecology, working with organisations such as the Soil Association, Sustain, the Landworkers Alliance and the Campaign to Protect Rural England to look at how to achieve a better, more sustainable approach to agriculture, as well as becoming more self-reliant in food production.

Farmers’ role as custodians of the countryside is a huge responsibility. Those who tend the soil will never grow rich, but will reap rewards from caring for our land and producing our food.

Sadly, those rewards are not enough to encourage new farmers, and we need to do more to promote farming as an attractive career option.

In schools, agriculture science should be included as a STEM subject and held in the same high regard, encouraging younger people to see farming as a career.

This is also why I have called for the retention of county council-owned smallholdings as a way for new entrants to realise their dream of working the land.

I am fortunate that my own constituency of Stroud provides a microcosm of the way to move forward. We have a vibrant farming community and many innovative projects, including a successful community agriculture scheme, biodynamic farms and many smallholdings.

Organic and alternative farming methods help to reduce carbon emissions, but farmers also need more support to protect resources that lock in carbon, such as existing hedgerows or wetlands, if we are to stand any chance of keeping within the 1.5C climate change rise.

Carbon sequestration can only be achieved with proper policy support and a national drive to address this fundamental challenge to farming and the countryside.

Labour is well placed to meet this challenge, as the party which has led other radical changes to farming systems – from the deficiency payments introduced by the 1947 Agriculture Act to the introduction of the Common Market in the 1970s, and then an area-based scheme in 2005.

Having spent so much time with farmers in the past few years, I know they are ready to rise to the challenge. But they cannot be expected to do so without government support.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the battle for action on the climate crisis taken to our city streets, but the frontline must be in our green fields.