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Now the UK has left the EU's agricultural schemes, the government should seize the opportunity to transform farming to protect the environment and secure the livelihoods of farmers, according to a new IPPR report.

Instead of the current farm subsidies that support the status quo, IPPR argues that the new system the government is developing should better encourage and reward farmers for taking responsible action that cuts pollution and enhances our natural landscapes.

In the UK, agriculture contributes at least 10 percent of greenhouse emissions and is the leading cause of biodiversity loss. Farmers will need to be supported to play a leading role in the UK's net zero ambitions, but earlier this month it was revealed that the environment department had no plans for how to lower farming emissions yet.

As well as the climate and nature crises, farmers are facing their biggest upheaval in 50 years as the UK leaves the EU payment schemes and forges new trade deals. The sector is also grappling with a rapidly ageing workforce. The think tank argues that now is the opportune moment for the government to support farmers to face these multiple challenges with a new deal for farming.

To ensure all policies are fair to farmers and rural communities, the government must actively involve them in shaping the transition to a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable farming future. IPPR's proposals for a fair transition include:

  • Financial support – The government's plans for paying farmers for managing their farms in a way that benefits the environment, such as planting trees and hedgerows to capture carbon, managing soil better, improving biodiversity and preserving key species and animal breeds, must be clarified and improved. There is a clear risk that as currently proposed, the scheme would only support business as usual. Financial support schemes need to be designed to be accessible to the majority of farmers, but with sufficient incentives to progress and meet even more ambitious environmental targets. Plenty of advice, training and support should be provided to help farmers plan for the future and meet more ambitious targets.
  • Rural life – Support communities with more investment in housing, clean transport options and ensuring superfast broadband connections.
  • Future farmers – Support more young people and people from more diverse backgrounds to get into farming by encouraging community ownership of farms and land sharing schemes when existing owners retire.
  • Trade - New trade deals should set high standards for animal welfare and the preservation of nature. They should also protect British farmers by not allowing unfettered access to UK markets for food produced to lower environmental standards.

Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission says, 'Farmers will need to play a vital role if the UK is to reach net zero, but right now farms are making the climate crisis worse.

'If farming is to be at the vanguard of the battle against climate change and for the recovery of nature, then responsible farming must be profitable, it has to offer good livelihoods for farmers and workers, and for farms of different types and sizes. To see this realised, the government must step up to support current and future farmers through the many changes they are facing.'

Fraser Hugill, farmer and independent farm advisor, based in North Yorkshire says, 'My take home message from the report is a need to make better connections between farmers and consumers so our supply chains reward nature and climate friendly farming. Government must provide a fit for purpose environmental scheme that supports greener more equitable farming that is not undermined by exporting our environmental responsibilities to other parts of the world.'

Marcus Nyman, senior research fellow at IPPR and senior policy officer at RSPB says, 'With over 70 per cent of UK land used for farming, agriculture will have a critical role if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate and nature crises or meeting the UK's ambition to be a world leader on the environment. But the more we ask UK farmers to deliver, the more we should be supporting them along the way – through public money, advice and support, and what we buy in the weekly shop. That's not only fair but also in all of our interests.

'Making the best use of our land – whether for growing food, capturing carbon, restoring habitats or a combination of all three – can't be done without putting farming communities at the heart of our plans.'

For more information about IPPR think tank visit their website, HERE.

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