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Jeremy's Blog 22nd July 2022: Rural Land Management for the Future

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 21st July 2022

Now is a time to prepare for the future. While farming’s common response is to point to uncertainty for delay and remaining as we are, now is when to improve businesses and build in resilience ahead of the post-BPS world. Earlier planned change is likely to be more effective; hiding from it risks later radical change, whether from public policy or the marketplace.

Improving the business is likely to be consistent with environmental gains. Productivity grants aid the technology and automation that can help any kind of farming while, with society’s environmental expectations, a way to look at the schemes being developed in each part of the United Kingdom is as options that can help with what may before long become mandatory. Much would anyway be consistent with better, more profitable businesses. Renewable power and efficient water storage, management and use will be business necessities for many. Others will see offers or pressures for water retention and flood mitigation.

Whether England’s regulatory baseline or Welsh national minimum standards, the law’s requirements of farms, from slurry storage and pollution to chemical use and animal welfare, will rise. Whoever is the next Prime Minster, the Environment Act is there, its biodiversity, water, air and other targets will be set and the new Office for Environmental Protection will uphold them. The Climate Change Committee’s Progress Report 2022 castigates agriculture’s “glacial” progress.

This week’s record temperatures hint at futures when we might dread heat; the imperatives for change will become more imposing. 2019 saw 75,000 acres of wildfire; February saw moorland fires in Snowdonia. Not only will the hedgerow trees to shade livestock in future need to have been planted but both law and markets may simply require carbon sequestration, mitigation and adaptation, perhaps more radical control of peatland, upland and lowland.

The reasons for offering this year’s grants for improved slurry storage and spreading in England, Wales and Scotland are the same as for the law to require higher standards. The proposal under the Environment Act is for a 40 per cent reduction in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment water pollution from agriculture by 2037, in parallel with air quality concerns. The impact of high input prices on businesses may yet achieve more than policy.

Similarly, the growing pressure to reduce pesticide use and the prospective SFI standard for integrated pest management match the reducing chemistry available to farmers, especially for minority crops.

Where England’s SFI 2022, Northern Ireland’s Soil Nutrient Health Scheme or Scotland’s Preparing for Sustainable Farming offer help with soils, they should be looked at seriously. SFI 2022 may not yet suit all but, as explored at this week’s CAAV soils event, there are benefits to soil improvement from yield and resilient pastures providing fodder to holding water against drought and erosion.

The clocks of change for farming and land use are ticking and should be heard in all areas. Scotland’s climate change driven Vision looks for “culture change”. Wales and Scotland propose strong conditionality for payments. DEFRA’s business-minded Food Strategy is now out and the land use framework comes next year. It is time to look to the business so that it earns its keep.

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