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A future system to support UK farmers
that benefits the public

In a new paper, the National Trust explore what 'public money for public benefits' actually means for the future of British farming after Brexit.

June 2017

The need for change

Brexit now offers the opportunity to create a fundamentally different model to drive a different strategy for land; one that addresses imbalance and achieves a thriving, healthy countryside delivering multiple benefits for society. We need the countryside to also provide services like clean water and healthy soils, and the benefits to our well-being that contact with nature brings. In turn, these services can play a key role in securing a prosperous rural economy, ensuring the future viability of farming, and the sustainability of food production.

Currently under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), some £600 million a year gets spent on ‘Pillar 2’ rural development schemes in the UK, delivering public benefits like wildlife and heritage. In contrast, some £2.5 billion goes on ‘Pillar 1’ subsidies, which is based on how much land you happen to have. The large disparity in support between the two approaches continues despite growing evidence of environmental degradation resulting from decades of intensive farming and climate change effects.

But to change how decisions are made on the ground, we need to take a broader view of what land is for and what we fund to achieve it.

Where do we go from here?

We believe farming and land management can become more sustainable and remain productive whilst restoring nature and providing wider public benefits. Putting public benefits and environmental delivery at the heart of a replacement for the CAP will help shape effective and efficient policy design, whilst helping to secure a strong, healthy and viable agricultural sector.

A system will be needed that optimises the use of public money in delivering public benefits, aligning the needs of farmers and need for food security with good social and environmental outcomes: the more a farmer delivers for society, the more support they get.

But future investment in green infrastructure and wildlife-friendly farming will need to be supported by a combination of public subsidy and private capital, making it profitable and rewarding to manage land sustainably for both private and public benefit. A new policy framework should therefore also encourage new ‘natural markets’ and incentivise private sector investment in environmental restoration to complement and enhance the impact of public funding.

In summary, our recommendations for government are:

  • Keep investing from the public purse to secure a long-term future for farming by protecting the land and nature on which it depends, and safeguard the countryside’s beauty and heritage which draws in people to visit and enjoy it.
  • Start from the principle of public money for public benefit as the justification and most equitable means to achieve taxpayer value.
  • Public benefits in this context should be defined as goods and services that would not otherwise be provided by markets, or as compensation for farmers and other land managers for income foregone and other costs from changing their approach to land management.
  • Improving the environment should be the focus of any public funding, given the existing market failures and scale of need, whilst recognising the crucial role to be played by farmers and other land managers. This will provide a strong economic, social and environmental return on investment.
  • Although public understanding of the CAP and the potential public benefits from replacing the CAP is low, there is strong support for protecting and enhancing the environment.
  • Include a combination of different mechanisms and wider policy levers to help farmers adapt to and capitalise on a new policy environment.
  • Support the development of new environmental markets which would pay for products that go beyond but complement top quality food production, helping secure additional private funding for farming and land management.
  • Commit to long-term thinking and engage farmers in the journey: move to a system which buys results and sets a destination, not just activity. As part of this, we would like to see farmers and land managers given a clear end date and support with any transition.

We believe that farmers will continue to have a critical role producing safe and sustainable supplies of food, but they will also have a crucial part to play in improving biodiversity, protecting vulnerable natural resources upon which our economy depends, caring for our landscape and heritage, looking after the welfare of livestock, and helping address new and growing challenges like climate change and flooding. Farmers should be rewarded for this role and we believe this justifies continued public funding.

Read the National Trust's full paper here.

Marcus Gilleard

Senior External Affairs Adviser, National Trust

Find the National Trust External Affairs Team on Twitter @NTExtAffairs

Aspects of this blog appeared on the National Trust website. The opinions expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.