Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN)  Written evidence FPO0089)

 

About NFFN

 

The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) is a farmer-led independent organisation, established in November 2017, uniting farmers across the UK who are committed to managing their land for wildlife and public goods at the same time as growing and providing safe, healthy and nutritious food. We come from a range of backgrounds big and small, organic and conventional. We are passionate about ensuring our countryside is productive and bursting with wildlife. We hope to highlight that farming and nature can go hand in hand.

 

Because of our values and collective experience, the NFFN believes that UK legislation and associated funding mechanisms must help farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish.

 

Committee Questions:

 

  1. What would a sustainable farming system look like? Does this tally with the Government’s view?

 

Nature is the most efficient system for farming businesses. Building a farming business model that complements and enhances natural processes will ensure the long-term sustainability of farming and our natural environment. The more we work against nature or try to control naturally occurring aspects of our land, the more costly it will be for farming and our health.

 

To ensure sustainable farming methods we need to see support in legislation and funding. To this end, the NFFN welcomes the public money for public goods approach in the Agriculture Bill, with a more sustainable balance between nature and food production. Hundreds of farmers are already leading the way on sustainable farming, and the NFFN tackles the perception of ‘farmers vs environment’.

 

The shift towards a nature friendly approach is not just good for wildlife but is key to the long-term survival of farming, delivering broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes. Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce food into the future. 

 

We are also pleased to welcome additions to the Bill to include soil health as a public good, as well as payments for regenerative and agroecological approaches, measures that are essential to nature and climate friendly farming practices. 

 

The NFFN believes that government should demonstrate leadership and make real commitments to support sustainable, nature friendly and climate-friendly UK agriculture. All government departments should ensure that their procurement processes prioritise buying local food direct from UK farmers where possible, giving preference to those with high standards of environmental sustainability and animal welfare. 

 

The recent COVID19 pandemic has highlighted the need to support short, local supply chains and more information about how NFFN famers have met this challenge, as well as current examples of sustainable farming practices, is available in our timely report: Feeding The Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers Are Responding To Covid-19

 

 

  1. Do you have any examples of innovation where farmers have produced environmental benefits? Could any of these be scaled up?

 

The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) supports over 1,300 farmers across the UK that are working around the clock to produce nutritious food while delivering benefits for the environment and reversing wildlife decline. 

 

From restoring vital field margins, species-rich grasslands and wildflower meadows, to agroecological farming practices (reducing pesticide use and soil damage) and creating new habits, like ponds and wetlands on farms, NFFN farmers have been part of a significant shift in UK farming towards more environmentally and sustainable farming methods.

 

You can read about many of these farming practices, including diverse approaches in different farming models and approaches across the country in our report: Farming for our future: The nature friendly climate solution we urgently need

 

Many of these farming practices can be rolled out across different locations and part of our work is sharing this information between farmers, so that best practices are learnt by as many farmers as possible. Indeed, we are passionate believers that peer-peer support and education is crucial to supporting farmers to effectively make this transition to more sustainable farming methods.

 

 

  1. What is your view on the Environmental Land Management scheme proposed in the Agriculture Bill? Would you envisage any beneficial changes to that or to the Environment Bill?

 

The Agriculture Bill sets a new vision for balancing food production in our landscape with conservation. To achieve this change, farmers and especially new entrants to the sector must be supported through the change. It is important that farmers can influence the design of new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) to ensure that it works in practice. 

 

ELMS should adopt a whole farm approach which balances the demands of food production, environmental sustainability and farm business viability. They must be flexible enough to allow variation appropriate to different landscapes, regions and types of farm. 

 

Profit and productivity can be increased by an environmentally sustainable approach. Profit margins are increased by turning over less productive areas of land to nature and encouraging pollinators. Likewise reducing livestock numbers on less productive areas of land improves the yield from the land and ensures long term productivity. 

 

The NFFN welcomes the provisions in the Bill to increase fairness and transparency in the supply chain. These will allow farmers to be more active in managing their land and producing according to need and demand in order to secure a fair reward from the marketplace. Society should support farmers to create a better system by encouraging them to use the best technology and providing more information to allow them to make targeted improvements to their land management plans. 

 

The NFFN believes that productivity and environmental goals are not mutually exclusive but go hand in hand. The environmental goals in the Bill must not be undermined by additional clauses on food production – we would like any productivity payments to be conditional on meeting environmental goals. This will ensure that long-term food security is not undermined by short-term productivity goals which harm the land and environment. 

 

To achieve long term food security, the Agriculture Bill should also set a robust baseline of environmental standards for land management for all, even those who choose not to engage with any environmental land management schemes to receive financial support. This baseline should aim to raise current standards and keep land in ‘good heart’ for future generations. A strong regulator is needed to enforce these standards. 

 

The NFFN supports calls for greater certainty about long-term funding under the Bill. We welcome additions to the Bill that require Ministers to establish a multi-annual financial assistance plan, but we would like to see these plans strengthened. 

 

 

  1. What barriers exist preventing further progress on environmentally friendly farming methods?

 

The Government has put forward an Agriculture Bill. This is an important moment to set the future direction of farming policy. This is a critical time for agriculture policy in the UK. Decisions made post-Brexit could ensure that British farming secures a sustainable future and does far more to help nature to survive and thrive at the same time as helping farmers deliver safe affordable food. 

 

We remain concerned that future trade deals could undercut the high standards set by UK farmers. NFFN would strongly support additions to the Bill to ensure that trade deals promote high standards for environment and food and protect farmers and the public from products which do not meet the high standards of UK agriculture. Agreeing trade deals with high standards will mean UK farmers who manage their land in a sustainable way, sequestering carbon and providing a countryside bursting with wildlife will be championed and supported, rather than undermined by cheap, damaging imports. 

 

The risks posed by a model that allows environmentally sensitive farmers in the UK to be ‘undercut’ by cheap, damaging imports are numerous and could see the loss of many of our most environmentally beneficial farmers.

 

 

  1. How could public health considerations be more effectively embedded into agricultural policy? What would be your key policy ask from central Government to help ensure that a healthy and sustainable diet can be accessible to everyone?

 

The ability to access affordable, healthy food is paramount to supporting local communities and the overall health of our nation. The NFFN believe that by developing a framework that properly supports nature-friendly famers, we can significantly benefit the health and well-being of our citizens – in terms of physical, mental and dietary well-being.

 

We would welcome a greater emphasis on short, local supply chains that will promote and reward farming practices that produce fresh, seasonal food and rebuild the vital connections between farms and people.

 

  1. How much guidance or support is provided to producers to help ensure farms and farming methods can be environmentally sustainable? How could this guidance or support be improved? How could progress towards environmental goods be more effectively measured?

 

If we use a three-pronged approach from government, the consumer and from farmers themselves we can create the change we need to see. Government needs to incentivise and fund nature-friendly and sustainable agriculture. The consumer needs to be encouraged to create the demand and farmers need to be supported to understand the benefits of farming in a way that is good for nature and the environment, and ultimately their farm! Now, there is a lack of awareness of the impact that industrial farming is having on nature, soil, air, water and animal welfare.

 

A sustainable food supply chain in the UK has never been more crucial to help farmers provide healthy and sustainable food, avoid food waste and protect wildlife and the environment. We therefore need to see change across the food production sector, to enable and support nature-friendly famers and their work.

 

Additional Notes

 

The NFFN works closely with several different farming and environmental partners, and we are supportive of the priorities and recommendations made by both Greener UK and LINK in their submissions to Government regarding the Agriculture, Trade and Environment Bills.

 

28 April 2020