International Agriculture News

Brexit is a chance to save UK small farms

Your article (Clean, green New Zealand is a lie – and a warning for Britain’s countryside, 4 December) highlights the huge opportunity Brexit has presented us to create a new agriculture policy that will restore the natural environment, as well as help the farming industry to become more financially resilient and environmentally sustainable.

The removal of “subsidies” following the New Zealand model is not the route to achieving this. Public funding is critical to farmers’ livelihoods – without it, roughly half of farming is uneconomic. Those likely to suffer the most are small- to medium-sized farms already struggling in very tough markets. A fifth of English farms have disappeared in the past 10 years, and the rate is fastest amongst the smallest.

Almost a third of farms under 50 hectares vanished between 2005 and 2015. Farm size diversity is key to sustaining rural communities through jobs as well as protecting distinctive local character. It is also crucial to maintaining England’s world-renowned landscapes and diversity of food.

We are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a farming policy framework and new funding model that will support all farmers, rural communities and economies if we are to create the diverse, thriving countryside most of us want to see.

• It is unfair of you to reduce Michael Gove’s record as environment secretary to “presentational gimmicks” (Editorial, 5 December). Few environmentalists regarded Mr Gove as a natural soulmate when he was appointed, but his short time in office has been, on the whole, hugely impressive.

The UK stands to lose vital environmental protections when we leave the EU. These must be replaced. We need to carry into UK law the environmental principles (polluter pays, the precautionary principle etc) that underpin policy; and we need a strong, independent watchdog to replicate the beneficial role now played by the European Court of

Justice and the European Commission in holding governments to account for their environmental practice. There is a long way to go, but Michael Gove gets this, as he gets the need to address the rising tide of plastic pollution and the alarming erosion of soil quality. What we now need is a much stronger green narrative from other parts of government, not least on housing and transport, and an unequivocal commitment to match and then exceed current EU environmental standards.

Shaun Spiers
Executive director, Green Alliance

Source The Guardian