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We need an ambitious 25 year plan for
food and farming

The government’s forthcoming 25 year plan for food and farming represents a great opportunity to look ahead and ask what we want from the future food system. The 25 year time-frame means looking beyond this government, or the next round of CAP reform, and considering how agriculture will adapt to dramatic changes – from new technology to climatic change.

April 2016

The government has decided to develop two separate 25 year plans - one for food and farming and another for the environment – and there have been worrying signs that thinking about these plans is not as joined up as it should be. We need an ambitious vision for agriculture, which recognises farming’s dependence on the environment and its impact on it. Taking better care of the natural environment must be central to the future of farming and this plan is a chance to embed longer term thinking. Without clear leadership from the government, industry is unlikely to take up the baton and ensure an environmentally sustainable future for food production.

Agriculture is intricately linked to the natural world, with farmland covering 69% of land in England. It’s one of the main ways that humans interact with the natural world and the way land is managed is having a huge impact on wildlife and the countryside. At the same time farming depends on the environment to produce fuel, food and fibre, drawing on resources such as soil and water. Both of these relationships are now under pressure: the natural services upon which farming depends are breaking down, with implications for future food production, as well as severe knock-on effects for the rest of nature.

Wildlife and Countryside Link has published a vision for farming that is better for nature, for our land and livestock and for people. Our vision Farming Fit for the Future also calls for farming and food production which is fair to farmers and resilient enough to cope with the changes and challenges that lie ahead. This means taking into account the multiple services that farming should promote, from healthy food and sustainable economies to functioning ecosystems and a diverse farmed landscape rich in nature.

We want every farm to play its part in restoring wildlife, addressing climate change and promoting healthy soils and rivers, wetlands and other habitats. We know that many farmers are well aware of the importance of nature and share the frustration of civil society organisations that the current policy framework and market do little to reward those who farm with regard for nature. For this to change, we need a new sense of direction and purpose in food and farming policy. This isn’t the time for farming policy to retreat into silos with a narrow focus on increasing production and exports, or for ignoring links between agriculture and key issues such as flooding and climate change. It’s time for a focus on combined solutions to interrelated challenges to help achieve a farming sector that is truly fit for the future.

Abi Burns - Chair of Link's Agriculture Working Group

Senior Agriculture Policy Officer, RSPB

Find the RSPB on Twitter at @Natures_Voice

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership