Nothing makes more difference to our natural environment than farming. It can enhance and enrich it or damage and degrade it. Farming uses almost three quarters of the land in England and farmers are its custodians, producing food for people today and protecting the land for the next generation.
As the government’s Future for Food, Farming and the Environment consultation closes today, I have written in The Times about the Environment Agency’s support for Michael Gove’s key proposals.
The Environment Agency plays a central role in regulating farming in England and we work closely with farmers to tackle the root causes of pollution and provide support to enable environmentally sustainable, and profitable, farming.
However, agriculture remains one of the biggest sources of serious pollution incidents and bad farming is a slow-motion environmental catastrophe. The Environment Agency responds to around 700 pollution incidents on farms each year.
My article sets out three principles to help us achieve the government’s ambitions for a green Brexit as we withdraw from the EU’s common agriculture policy (CAP).
Better incentives to protect and enhance the environment
We welcome the government’s proposal to pay farmers for delivering environmental benefits, “public money for public goods”, rather than how much land they farm.
We want to improve the environmental standards of farm assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor, to ensure supermarkets only source produce from farmers who farm sustainably.
There has been a recent shift in public opinion on single-use plastics now people are aware that they are contaminating our rivers and seas. I believe consumers would also want to support farmers doing their best to protect the environment. The public should have that option with all food clearly labelled demonstrating the environmental impact of the source farm.
Stronger penalties for damaging practices
We want to see stronger disincentives for environmentally damaging practices. Farmers who harm the environment should lose their government grants. There should be tougher penalties, including higher fines, for serious pollution or repeat offenders.
Simpler, more effective regulation
We support a modern, risk-based approach to regulation which rewards good behaviour through lower regulatory charges and fewer inspections for farms who establish a good environmental track record.
We should be grateful to farmers for what they do to improve and enhance the environment. This consultation provides a once in a generation opportunity to inform the shape of future policy. You can read our full response here including our key priorities towards ensuring a more sustainable future.