Soil Association says farmers are lacking details on support for nature-friendly production
The Soil Association has reiterated its frustrated at what is says is the government’s continued failure to provide clarity on future support for English farmers to protect the environment.
The organic body said that while it recognises the government’s desire to ensure the scheme delivers for nature and climate, it is disappointed to hear reports that the delayed review of nature-friendly farming reforms may come as late as February.
A significant update on the future of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) was expected on Thursday 1 December when environment secretary Thérèse Coffey addressed the CLA conference in London.
The Soil Association welcomed Coffey’s comments that food production and protecting nature can be “symbiotic”, with her saying: “The choice is not producing food or doing environmental schemes, it’s about making space for nature and that must go alongside sustainable food production. They are not mutually exclusive.”
‘Lacking overdue details’
But the group said the speech left English farmers still ”desperately lacking the long overdue details they need to both manage their businesses and activate a shift to nature-friendly farming.”
Soil Association head of farming policy Gareth Morgan said: “We remain frustrated at the continued government failure to give farmers confidence that previous promises to reward sustainable food production will be upheld.
“Delays and rumours of watering down plans to reward farmers for protecting the environment must end now. This policy is crucial at a time when our food system is in crisis – fertiliser, feed and energy costs for farmers are skyrocketing, wildlife populations are in freefall, shoppers are being priced out of sustainable food, and climate change is escalating at an unprecedented rate.
“It is disappointing that Defra has been unable to restore confidence in the government’s commitment to supporting nature-friendly farmers right on the eve of the UN Biodiversity Summit COP15. With farmland making up the vast majority of English land, this risks undermining pledges to restore nature before they have even been made.
“We urgently need transformative change with investment in a revolutionary shift to the most evidence-based solution – resilient, nature-friendly, agroecological farming. We also must see a renewed commitment to long-term support for our nature-friendly farming pioneers in the organic sector.”
Soil Association’s three big asks
The Soil Association is calling for more ambition and funding within the Sustainable Farming Incentive, stating the scheme must help farmers make the transformational change needed to restore nature and produce food that supports a healthy diet.
It also wants to see a route map for farmers to help them transition to resilient farm businesses focused on more diverse, nutritious food production in harmony with nature whilst tackling climate change and restoring soil health and biodiversity.
And it wants clarity for organic farmers. Currently, it says, countryside stewardship provides funding for converting to and maintaining organic systems, which is due to end in 2024. With 50% more wildlife and 44% more soil carbon on organic farms, the government ”must renew its commitment to its nature-friendly farming pioneers. Failure to do so would risk serious damage to nature while also falling behind Scottish and European governments who have made significant commitments to organic.”
Despite the uncertainty, the Soil Association still urged farmers to get involved with ELMS as it ”still offers the best opportunity to obtain payments for nature-friendly practices.”