Written Evidence submitted by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (FS0037)

 

The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) is a farmer-led independent organisation, established in November 2017 uniting nearly 3000 farmers across the UK who are committed to managing their land for wildlife and public service, as well as growing and providing healthy, nutritious food.

 

Question 1.  What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

  1. There are several factors that are negatively impacting the resilience of food supply chains and leading to rising food prices. These include

The rising costs of inputs

  1. In recent months, the cost of many of these have skyrocketed; particularly fossil fuel based fertilisers which have risen markedly in response to the escalating costs in the price of natural gas, which has been driven by a range of factors including the War in Ukraine. Recent analysis estimates that UK farmers faced additional fertiliser costs of £160 million in 2021 and could face added costs of around £760 million[1] if high costs persist and use remains the same as in previous years. 
  2. Artificial fertilisers have played a prominent role in UK food production and if their price or availability is impacted it can have knock-on impacts.  For example, the rising costs of these inputs is likely to be passed onto consumers through higher food prices, while in other cases farmers may decide to produce less in response to escalating costs.
  3. If the farming sector maintains its dependence on high input use to maintain food production, it will make production ever more costly in a world typified by growing uncertainty and instability. Reducing the agriculture sector’s reliance on these increasingly costly inputs is therefore key in  building resilience, achieving long term food security and reducing environmental impact .
  4. Whilst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has had significant impacts on the price and availability of food, it has been exacerbated by the ongoing impacts of climate change at home and abroad. This summer food production has been severely impacted by a prolonged period of drought, which is expected to result in reduced yields for a range of different crops, fruit and vegetables. As previous experience suggests, this is likely to result in increased costs for farmers and rising food prices for those products which have been most affected.
  5. Globally, the impacts of a warming climate are also having significant impacts on food production and food prices. For example, heatwaves in India[2] and China[3], two of the world’s largest producers of food have had significant impacts on crop yield and have contributed to the skyrocketing rise in costs of staple products such as wheat. The Government’s recent Food Security Report highlights that climate the largest medium to long term threat to global security is that of climate change[4], highlighting the urgency to develop robust strategies aimed at adapting to its impacts and mitigating against the most severe impacts.

Unsustainable food and farming policies

  1. Previous policy decisions around farming, food production and land use have left the UK’s food and farming system increasingly vulnerable to external shocks. The input-driven farming that drove yield growth in the 20th century has delivered a system that is highly efficient, but is in reality fragile. The continued drive to squeeze extra productivity out of livestock and land has come at a cost - undermining nature and the climate, increasing economic precarity for farmers, and failing to consistently deliver diverse and healthy nutrition.
  2. Our reliance on costly inputs from around the world has left the UK farming sector increasingly vulnerable to market volatility, while contributing to climate change and undermining the health and vitality of our soils and ecosystems. A focus on specialisation has resulted in inappropriate decisions around land use while reducing the diversity of what is produced. Our food farming system is one which is synonymous with large levels of waste throughout the supply chain, meaning food often doesn’t make its way to people with high environmental cost.
  3. Taken together, each of these impacts on our ability to feed people affordably in the long term. Already, the flawed nature of our food and farming system is making food less affordable, with the costs being passed onto consumers.

Impacts on businesses and consumers

  1. The multiple shocks being experienced throughout the UK’s food and farming sector will have significant impacts. For some farming sectors increased input costs may make business unviable. This is particularly relevant for smaller businesses with high input costs, which may not be able to absorb shocks to their businesses in the short term.
  2. For consumers,  the impacts of the cost of living crisis, rising energy costs, inflation, climate impacts and the increased cost of farming inputs are driving up food prices, pushing more people into food poverty. For example, the Food Foundation estimated that 7.3 million adults and 2.6 million children experienced food poverty, representing 13.6% of UK households[5], while food price inflation reached 12% in summer 2022[6]. Given that the contributing factors mentioned above show no sign of abating in the short term, this figure is likely to increase.

Question 2. What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?

  1. In the short term it is likely that UK food price inflation will continue to rise given the ongoing war in Ukraine and the immediate impacts of this summer’s heatwaves and drought, both nationally and internationally. Given the gravity of the current situation, it is crucial that policy interventions serve to address rather than further exacerbate the issues being faced. These should include measures which can be enacted at pace to overcome shortcomings in our current food system, such as flawed incentives which support innapropriate land use; and support for those most vulnerable. These must be delivered alongside longer term interventions which seek to build a resilient, regenerative  food and farming system which helps feed people well, while addressing the nature and climate emergency. 

Strengthen the agriculture transition

  1. Biodiversity recovery, climate mitigation and adaptation are core foundations in achieving long-term food security. Farming in a way which works with nature can help secure a more profitable resilient farming sector which is less vulnerable to external shocks. Farming in ways which help address the nature and climate emergency can help improve yields[7], significantly reduce costs[8] and can help farms cope with increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather.
  2. A transition to farm payments  that support farmers to work with nature is crucial in building a more productive, resilient and sustainable farming sector. The successful roll out of ELMs is therefore pivotal as it will enable farmers to reap the multiple business benefits that nature friendly farming can provide.
  3. For example, the  development of the Sustainable Farming Incentive can help harness opportunities to reduce the agriculture sector’s reliance on costly inputs. These should involve the development of standards which support the adoption of genuine Integrated Pest Management (IPM), standards that support a regenerative approach to soil management and help farmers reduce inputs via nature friendly alternatives. 
  4. The Local Nature Recovery Scheme (LNR) can support farmers who are leading the way in adopting nature-friendly farming  and those who have previously lacked the financial and technical support they need to embrace positive change. If well designed it can help support the delivery of local and national objectives, as well as supporting farmers to work together to deliver environmental benefits at scale.
  5. A well funded Landscape Recovery scheme (LR) is crucial  in restoring and creating a range of habitats across the wider countryside, including peatlands, woodlands, and wetlands which are essential in tackling  climate change, which is key to long-term food security. Already, this scheme has proven popular with farmers and Defra should continue to meet this demand.
  6. To secure the benefits of nature friendly farming the agriculture transition must proceed as planned, with the successful roll out of ELMs in its entirety by 2028. Delivering on  this commitment is vital to ensuring future food security, in providing clarity and certainty for farmers and securing value for money for the taxpayer[9].
  7. Any delay to the transition, or shift in focus away from the principle of public goods would have severe ramifications for future food security, biodiversity recovery and climate resilience. It would risk undermining the case for long term investment in agriculture and land use; it would risk the successful delivery of a range of the UK’s environmental and climate commitments[10];  and it would  delay many farmers the opportunity to move towards more sustainable business models.

Question 3. End perverse land use incentives

  1. The UK Government should bring to an end incentives which encourage the production of bio-energy on prime agricultural land. Bioenergy production directly displaces food production, with recent analysis estimating that if much of the land currently dedicated for biofuel production was redirected towards food production it could mitigate against much of the impacts on global food security experienced as a result of the war in Ukraine[11]. On top of this, there are growing concerns regarding whether bioenergy production can make as meaningful a contribution to climate mitigation as previously claimed[12]. Moving forward, a robust land use framework can play a key role in ensuring that bioenergy production is targeted to deliver genuine climate benefits, without compromising our ability to produce food sustainably.

Support smarter land use

  1. Currently, much of UK’s prime arable land is dedicated towards the production of livestock feed, while the import of feed stocks from across the globe (mainly for pig and poultry production) has a significant overseas impact. The former is an inefficient use of land as it requires large areas to produce a relatively small proportion of caloric and nutrient intake[13]. The UK Government should introduce a strategy which seeks to harness high grade agricultural land to support production for human consumption, while assisting the upscaling of pasture fed-livestock systems. This could be guided by the Land Use Framework expected in 2023 and must be coupled with more ambitious action on dietary change.

Tackling food waste throughout the supply chain

  1. Farmers often bear the costs of a food system that pushes production at a farm level while wasting considerable volumes of food and drink along the way. Waste can be found in every facet of the food supply chain: from farm fields to food manufacturing, hospitality, retail and households. In the UK, around 9.5 million tonnes of food were wasted in 2018 post-farmgate, equating to roughly 15 billion meals with an estimated value of £19 billion and accounting for 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions[14].
  2. Achieving reductions in food waste is therefore essential in providing a fairer deal for farmers, in minimising the environmental impact of our food system and in meeting a range of our environmental and climate goals. Government must develop an ambitious food waste reduction strategy, which catalyses action across the whole supply chain including at the farm-gate.

Targeted support for those in need - short term

  1. A crucial element in addressing household food security will be interventions aimed at supporting those most in need. While everyone should have access to the food they need to live healthy lives, access is far from equal. The UK ranks as one of the most food secure nations globally. Yet, we have the highest rate of reported food insecurity in Europe, with 2.2 million people recognised as highly food insecure in 2018[15]. High levels of food insecurity are coupled with increasing rates of obesity and dietary ill-health linked to the overconsumption of ultra-processed foods[16]
  2. In the short term to medium term,  the Government can support those most in need by implementing some of the recommendations from the National Food Strategy and increase the value of healthy start vouchers in line with inflation, enabling more families to enter this scheme. The coverage and eligibility for free school meals should also be expanded . We also support the calls from Sustain to improve the Household support fund and to continue its delivery beyond 2023. 

Avoiding flawed solutions

  1. Designing appropriate policy solutions aimed at easing the impact of food price inflation is crucial in addressing the shocks that are currently being experienced within the UK’s food system. In designing these it  is important to avoid simple solutions which will perpetuate the issues being faced. At a time of uncertainty and volatility in the food system, it would be easy to respond by setting aside environmental concerns, doubling down on intensification, and aiming to increase UK self-sufficiency in food. However,  an input-dependent intensification of farming is  not a route to food security.
  2. Delivering a system that makes nature friendly farming mainstream is integral to solving current challenges. The transition to ELMs is an important step in the right direction and although there  is uncertainty as new programmes are tested and rolled out. farmers are adaptable and innovative - given a clear and fair set of expectations about what agriculture needs to deliver for the UK, the sector will respond.

 

Question 4. How are the rising cost of living and increasing food prices affecting access to healthy and nutritious food?

  1. Access to healthy nutritious food is far from equal, with a significant proportion of the UK population experiencing problems accessing healthy, affordable food. Often access to healthy food is precluded by a lack of financial resources, with recent research highlighting that the poorest 20% of people would need to spend nearly half of their disposable income to meet the costs of the Government’s own dietary recommendations, compared to just 11% of disposable income for the top 20%[17].
  2. Healthy foods cost significantly more than less healthy options, meaning that many do not gain access to the types of food which are crucial in supporting healthy lives. Ultimately this contributes to  significant health inequalities between the  affluent and the less well off.
  3. Such issues will be exacerbated during the current cost-of-living crisis which has seen food inflation rise to 9.3% - this will inevitably lead to increased demand for food banks and other forms of food aid. See our response to the previous question for interventions which could help alleviate some of the worst impacts.

Question 5. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:

The resilience of food supply chains?

  1. The Government’s Food Strategy policy paper has little mention of measures aimed at building the resilience of food supply chains and is therefore unlikely to have any tangible impact in this area. Similarly there is no overarching strategy aimed at building more resilient, sustainable or equitable supply chains within the UK’s food and farming sector which is a missed opportunity. However, the Government’s Food Strategy did recognise the value of establishing local food partnerships which in many cases have brought a wide range of stakeholders together to tackle issues within local food economies.

The agri-food and seafood sectors?

 

  1. The food Strategy recognises the opportunity for public sector food and catering to act as an exemplar in supporting local sustainable food production and has suggested whether Government buying standards for food and catering services should be applied mandatorily across the whole public sector. Within this, there is an aspirational target for 50% of food to be produced locally or to higher environmental standards. If implemented this could play an important role in providing markets to support local sustainable food production.

 

  1. Although the strategy has some positive elements, such as the commitment to produce a land use strategy and to explore mechanisms for better data sharing across the food system, it does little  to promote more diverse, healthy diets and food production.  In these respects it represents a missed opportunity to put the sector on a more sustainable footing and to support people to gain access to healthier food and make more informed food choices.

 

And access to healthy, nutritious food?

 

  1. The food strategy missed an opportunity to commit the Government to ambitious measures aimed at tackling dietary inequalities, or addressing the overconsumption of ultra processed foods.

 

  1. The refusal to expand eligibility thresholds for free school meals, holiday activity and food programmes means that 800,000 school children living in food poverty will remain unable to access this support. We support the calls of Sustain to increase the threshold for these schemes as a first step and to follow the lead of Scotland and Wales in transitioning to the universal provision of school meals over time.

 

  1. The strategy has no clear plan to increase the local production and availability of diverse fruit and vegetables via support for farmers to introduce horticulture onto their land, supporting infrastructure and more dynamic procurement systems.

 

Question 6. Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?

  1. A narrow focus on increasing domestic food production at all costs will not make us more food secure. The UK already has relatively high levels of self-sufficiency for many of our staple agricultural products. On a net basis (excluding exports) the UK produces over 100% of the wheat and barley we consume, 90% of wheat, 80% of oilseeds, 70% of potatoes and 60% of sugar beet. By volume we also produce roughly the same amount of meat, milk and eggs as we consume. UK production of fruit and vegetables is less strong - around 50% of consumption for vegetables and only 16% for fruit.

 

  1. Overall, the UK produces around three quarters of consumption of foods that can easily be grown here, and 60% of all foods. Whilst there are strong arguments for increasing UK fruit and vegetable production, in general food security should be achieved by balancing domestic and imported production - concentrating too much production here could make us vulnerable if the UK is hit by extreme weather and we do not have a diversity of global food sources to fall back on.

 

  1. An ill conceived push to increase self-sufficiency could result in further environmental degradation, which would serve to further undermine food security in the long term. For example, through further biodiversity loss, increased GHG emissions, damage to soil health and water quality.

 

  1. Instead of viewing the relationship between farming and food security through the lens of self-sufficiency alone, we need to take a broader view based around increasing the resilience of the UK’s agriculture and food system and whether what we produce is making a contribution towards improved human health and nutrition. Within this, considerations around biodiversity and climate must be central.

 

 

Question 7. How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be struck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?

  1. Food Security is broadly defined as being achieved when  “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” On this basis, achieving food security has focused on four key dimensions[18]:

 

  1. Availability: When there is an adequate supply of food, determined by the level of food production, stock levels and net trade

Access: When all people have economic and physical access to food

Utilisation: When food provides a sufficient level of energy and nutrition to meet physiological needs

Stability: The ability to access sufficient food at all times. Access to food should not be compromised by sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity)

 

Recently, there have been growing calls to incorporate the additional dimensions of sustainability and agency within the formal definition of food security[19].

 

Sustainability: Food system practices that contribute to long-term regeneration of natural, social and economic systems, ensuring the food needs of the present generations are met without compromising the needs of future generations

Agency: Individuals or groups having the capacity to act independently to make choices about what they eat, the foods they produce, how that food is produced, processed and distributed, and to engage in policy processes that shape food systems

 

  1. Achieving genuine, long-term food security depends on meeting these interconnected dimensions. Ensuring we manage our land in a way which helps restore biodiversity and to adapt to and mitigate against climate change is therefore crucial in delivering long term food security. Without healthy soils, rich biodiversity and a stable climate our ability to produce enough food for everyone will be severely compromised. Approaches may vary in different parts of the country, but delivering food production in a way which helps achieve nature and climate goals must be recognised in all situations.

 

  1. The Government’s land use strategy can play an important role in influencing land use decisions which seek to maximise co-benefits and avoid unnecessary trade-offs. The implementation of the “Three Compartment Model[20]”  provides a comprehensive framework that will ensure that land throughout England delivers what it is most capable to provide, while balancing demands such as food production, nature restoration, climate mitigation and adaptation. In practice this will include a mix of high output sustainable food production in more productive areas, where land is used regeneratively to benefit nature and optimise yields; to lower productivity systems that blend low output food production with high quality environmental outcomes; to approaches where land is managed primarily for nature’s benefit.

 

  1. The successful development of a land use strategy can also play an important role in targeting actions under the full suite of ELMs, ensuring that schemes are deployed to meet their intended environmental outcomes, thereby securing value for money.

 

September 2022


[1] https://ca1-eci.edcdn.com/Food-farming-fertiliser-March-2022-ECIU.pdf?v=1648124498

[2] India slashes wheat output estimate by 4.4% as heat-wave dents yields | Reuters

[3] ‘The soil is as hard as rock’: Farmers reel from China heatwave as food inflation looms - CNA (channelnewsasia.com)

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021-introduction

[5] https://foodfoundation.org.uk/initiatives/food-insecurity-tracking

[6] https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/timeseries/czbj/mm23

[7] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2015.1740 

[8] https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/11373-british-farmer-switches-to-no-till-to-save-money-on-rising-input-costs

[9] https://ca1-eci.edcdn.com/Levelling-Up-Farming.pdf?v=1661027191

[10] Delaying ELM would halve its carbon savings by 2035 » Green Alliance (green-alliance.org.uk)

[11] Food security and UK crop-based biofuel use » Green Alliance (green-alliance.org.uk)

[12] Scientists Expose Devastating False Carbon Accounting for Biofuels (i-sis.org.uk)

[13] future_of_feed_full_report.pdf (wwf.org.uk)

[14] Nature-Friendly-Farming-Network-Rethink-Food-Report-Phase-1_DIGITAL_LR_final.pdf (nffn.org.uk)

[15] https://www.fao.org/3/I9553EN/i9553en.pdf

[16] e027546.full.pdf (bmj.com)

[17] New data shows food insecurity major challenge to levelling up agenda | Food Foundation

[18] al936e.pdf (fao.org)

[19] Food security and nutrition: building a global narrative towards 2030 (fao.org)

[20] Land sparing to make space for species dependent on natural habitats and high nature value farmland | Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (royalsocietypublishing.org)