Many farmers see themselves primarily – or exclusively – as food producers who are engaging in land use in order to meet this goal. With this assumed responsibility comes longstanding views on what farms should produce and how farms should look, and this has often meant that the natural resources embedded within our landscapes have been pushed to the sidelines, regardless of how vital they are to the process of food production.
But farmers are increasingly needed to do more than produce food. The geopolitical upheavals of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine have shown just how vulnerable our UK food system is. Rising costs of growingly inaccessible inputs have put more strain on businesses that are struggling to be economically viable. Ongoing ecosystem breakdown, seen in rampant declines in biodiversity, poses continually threats to farming’s future. This is why long-term and ambitious policy is needed to support farmers in delivering public goods through sustainable systems and an urgent rethink of food security is needed.
Legal targets for nature and environment have been proposed
In England, long-term environmental targets to protect and enhance our natural world have been proposed as a requirement under the Environment Act 2021. As legally-binding targets, including for nature, air, water and waste, they present a first step in ensuring that the Government meets its “apex target” of halting nature’s decline by 2030 – but disappointingly they leave much to be desired.
The suggested target to increase species abundance by 10% by 2042 – based on 2030 levels – will do little to support and protect biodiversity across farm landscapes. Basing targets on 2030 levels is working from an extremely low baseline that will struggle to put biodiversity firmly back into the heart of farming.
Likewise, as farmers, we know that what we do has a direct impact on our land. Farmers need to be supported and encouraged to make the right changes on their land and we need clear, effective and enforced targets for water quality; that drive forward lasting changes in agricultural practices.
Fundamentally, we need far more ambitious targets that move faster in their ability to effectively enhance nature as a cornerstone of a thriving farming sector.
In response to these proposed targets and the recent calls to relax environmental delivery on farms, Marin Lines, NFFN Chair says:
“Food production is absolutely underpinned by the ability of our landscapes to sustain it. If we push our environment to its limits by opting for a short-sighted “food production at all costs” approach, then we will gravely pay the costs later.”
“The restoration of our natural world is not an optional add on or a luxury. It’s a core building block of sustainable food production and there is a vital role that farming must play in cultivating food security and that means securing an abundant biodiversity and thriving ecosystem functions, such as soil health, flood mitigation, pollination and carbon sequestration.”
“The package of measures outlined will provide an imperative starting point in protecting and enhancing biodiversity. But we cannot stress enough the importance and necessity of these measures in going farther in driving genuine action.”
“The 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68% fall in populations of multiple species between 1970 and 2016. Increasing species by 10% by 2042 is nowhere near sufficient enough to create abundance in the face of these historic and alarming declines.”
We will respond to the Government’s eight-week consultation before the targets are set in law in October 2022.