The National Sheep Association (NSA) fears the proposed new Agriculture Bill, introduced into Parliament today (Wednesday 12th September), does not go far enough to recognise the breadth or depth of public goods already being delivered by sheep farmers throughout the UK.
The association welcomes the seven-year transition period, but says the period spent evolving to a new system must take the agricultural industry in the right direction.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “Having a transition period is one thing, but we need confidence we are transitioning to something that is workable and viable. NSA welcomes the concept of farmers being paid for the public goods they provide, but such an approach must recognise what is already being done for animal health and welfare, soil, air and water quality, countryside management and public access – and, absolutely vitally, food production.
“Maintaining the provision of nutritious, quality food is in the public interest and we don’t believe this can be achieved by leaving it to the vagaries of a purely profit-driven marketplace. Farmers would prefer to be in a position where they are not reliant on support payments, but market mechanisms and many farms structures just do not allow for that at the moment.”
In light of the information released by Defra today, NSA is reiterating its calls for an average baseline payment to recognise what UK agriculture is already delivering. Mr Stocker explains: “If a new public goods model is going to work, the interpretation of those public goods needs to be far wider than just environment and access – and there needs to be a simple model to allow the majority of everyday farms to benefit, rather than having to do even more than the great work already being done. We believe an average baseline payment in recognition of the broad public value of productive farming, which can be further built on via optional schemes, is in the long-term interest of society.”
NSA says significant work has already been done to measure the existing levels of public good delivery, including a sheep-specific research programme operating across Europe and involving several UK partners (iSage). Results from this work should be used to provide an evidence-based approach to a baseline payment.
Mr Stocker concludes: “Today’s commitment to a seven-year transition period is very welcome, but seven years is not very long when you consider the scale of the change being proposed and the adjustment farm businesses will have to make. We only have one opportunity to get this right, and NSA urges the Government to look at what agriculture is delivering now, protect it and build on it. NSA keenly awaits the full Agriculture Bill and the detail and clarity that will come with it.”