Distributive policy

Opinion: Focus on environmental risks after post-Brexit political mess

What will we say when we think back to this transition period, between Brexit and the end of the Basic Payment Scheme (RPB)? That we got rid of BPS “cash for nothing” and embraced the golden future of Environmental Land Management (ELM)?

Or that in an increasingly complex and precarious world, we have opted for more complexity, with food production as an afterthought?

Anyone who reads weekly farmers or attends farmer meetings will be well aware of the “green” money opportunities in the post-BPS world.

See also: Sustainable Farming Incentive 2022 – what farmers need to know

About the Author

Paul Cob

Farmers Weekly Opinion Writer

Paul Cobb is an independent environmental land management consultant based in Kent and a partner of FWAG (Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group) South East.

Carbon credits, net biodiversity gain, nutritional neutrality, environmental jargon is unfamiliar and confusing.

And that’s on top of understanding Countryside Stewardship (CS) and the ELM Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse heading our way.

The people announcing these new opportunities say the market is growing, the money is there, so why not grab it?

After all, money from environmental stewardship has been part of the bottom line of farms for many years.

Perhaps one day we will see the arrival of this “money for contrition” as an era of opportunity.

But right now, the blurring of long-term contracts and revenues, doubts about allowing developers and polluters to offload their responsibilities, and the ethics of taking land out of food production , or even driving farmers out, create enormous uncertainty.

Add to that crazy input prices, labor shortages, poorly enforced regulations and the overwhelming sense of a government treating agriculture as a sacrifice in trade deals or a blank canvas for wild plans. , and it’s no wonder farmers are feeling drunk, adrift and staring for answers.

If there was ever a time for clear support for how agriculture is falling behind the environment at the same time as food production, it’s now.

But we are letting it slip away in diffuse, incremental and unnecessarily complex initiatives, encouraged by an environmentalist lobby that feels its time has come.

The normalization of the environment in agriculture has happened thanks to progressive farmers who have understood that production is based on natural systems and not separate from them.

Working with these allows for healthy soil and water, and wildlife that is integrated into agriculture, not driven out of it. Support that and the job is done.

New environmental market opportunities do not replace this, and the equal distribution of funds between the three ELM levels sends the wrong signal.

Most farmers will be unlikely to participate in landscape recovery, and being stuck with poorly rewarded “sustainable farming” options will not replace BPS.

With hindsight, we would say that we could have recognized food as a public good because it is vital and the market does not adequately reward it.

We could have continued to support food production through a new BPS, with an annual payment tied to and dependent on both land and wider landscape management options.

This support for agriculture would generate real “green” results.

This would be farmer-led, much simpler than ELM, and allow market opportunities to play their part as carefully considered add-ons, not life-saving straws to cling to.

Economist JK Galbraith coined the phrase “age of uncertainty” to contrast the self-assured 19th century with the turbulent 20th century.

Life has become much more uncertain in the 21st century. It’s time to strike the right balance between agriculture, food and the environment.