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Supporting farmers in the agricultural transition: Creating a better future for farming with a pay rise for nature

Following this week's manifesto announcements Hannah Blitzer, Senior Policy Officer, Wildlife & Countryside Link, highlights the complex challenge the next Government will face to protect and restore nature, mitigate climate change, improve public health and support our domestic farming industry.

June 2024

Banner image - CPRE, Hilary Fenten

This week’s election promises by the four main political parties (see: Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Green and Labour manifestos) demonstrate that politicians agree that farming and nature are closely connected. Whatever the outcome of the General Election, the next Government will inherit a complex countryside challenge - to protect and restore nature, mitigate climate change, improve public health and support our domestic farming industry.

There is just a little more than five years to meet the Environment Act target to halt the decline in species abundance and meet Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 commitments. With nearly one in six species already at risk of being lost in Great Britain and no river in England in good health, missing these targets means farmers, and the public, will experience the consequences of further environmental degradation and climate vulnerability, including soil degradation, the loss of pollinators, lower food security, and GDP loss. The recent winter and wet weather demonstrate that these impacts are already on our doorstep, with arable farmers facing an estimated billion in lost revenue. For these reasons, all political parties must step up their ambition to help farmers transition to nature-friendly farming.

At the same time, growing concerns around extreme weather and farm livelihoods demonstrate that now, more than ever, farmers need strong, ambitious support to navigate the realities of farming in a climate and nature crisis - the biggest threats to food security. Likewise, the British public (deeply concerned about the lack of political action on these twin crises) needs all political parties to back nature-friendly farming and a sustainable food system while halting pollution and emissions.

The challenge is clear: thriving nature and a stable climate underpin food production and security – but we need to work together to create a better future for farming. One of Link’s main asks of our Nature 2030 campaign, and the Restore Nature Now (RNN) march on 22nd June, is “a pay rise for nature”. Farmers manage 70% of UK land and play a major role in supporting environmental recovery. However, as the broken system of direct payments continues to be phased out, farmers need more resources and support to ensure that they can continue shaping a climate-friendly, high-nature food system while addressing the environmental challenges that are the biggest threats to food security.

All political parties must commit to paying farmers fairly and to effectively facilitate a “just transition” in food and farming. More funding is integral to this objective. The Scale of Need report demonstrates that, at minimum, £4.4bn per year must be invested in nature-friendly farming to meet legal targets.

By going further and doubling the annual nature and climate-friendly farming budget to £6bn to fund even more ambitious agroecological improvements in farming and major landscape recovery projects, the future of farming can be secured by supporting farmers to transition to green practices.

Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling for all political parties to scale up farming investment to meet the following goals:

  1. Make ELMs work for nature, climate, farmers and the public. Payment rates in ELM offer good returns, particularly for options like species-rich grassland that deliver for nature. However, ELM can go further for nature and climate, and better enhance food security and farm livelihoods. The right actions need to be in the right place, with options being spatially targeted and prioritized and linked to the delivery of Local Nature Recovery Strategies. High-ambition options need to be properly funded and accessible. Outstanding issues, such as those relating to the public access options, need to be addressed. Increased funding will ensure that farmers are fairly rewarded and that ELM delivers value for money and public goods like thriving wildlife, flourishing rivers and clean air.
  2. Establish an effective regulatory baseline for farming that rises over time, alongside appropriately resourced enforcement. There is a growing regulatory gap in farming, as well as a lack of robust monitoring and enforcement with repeat cases of non-compliance. Regulations ensure a level playing field and provide value for money for taxpayers. By developing ambitious regulations and clarifying the obligations of regulators, faster progress can be secured for the farming transition in a cost-effective way and deliver fairness for farmers trying to do the right thing. For example, effectively reforming the environmental permitting regulations can mitigate the harm to animal welfare and the environment caused by intensive livestock farms.
  3. Develop free, accessible, 1-2-1, and high-quality advice for farmers. Farmers need to be confident that the payoffs for nature-friendly farming are increased resilience and improved profitability. New resources for advice, skills and training will ensure that farmers and land managers who are transitioning have the right skills to understand what is expected of them and effectively adopt sustainable practices.
  4. Deliver a progressive food policy that supports UK farming and food security, by promoting better environmental and animal welfare standards in trade deals, particularly for imports, enacting a food strategy and strengthening regulation to promote fairness in supply chains.
  5. Publish and implement the long-awaited Land Use Framework. An effective land use policy is a credible pathway to meeting nature and climate targets while delivering sustainable, healthy food production. The Land Use Framework should cover multiple land uses, be cross-departmental and inform both national policy and local decision-making to meet national targets, such as 30x30.

Farming groups (e.g., NFFN, CLA and NFU) and eNGOs are calling for sufficient investment in the farming transition as a public policy priority, to support farmers to produce food in a changing climate. And, by investing more in nature-friendly farming, a renewed rural sector can play a key role in reversing nature’s decline.

The General Election is a renewed opportunity to Restore Nature Now and for the future Government to truly support for farmers and secure a thriving countryside.

Want to get involved? March with us to restore nature on Saturday, 22 June in London and show political parties that nature is integral to the future of British farming.

Hannah Blitzer is a Senior Policy Officer at Wildlife & Countryside Link. Follow @WCL_News

The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.