Paying the price for food production: the dilemma of Britain’s declining farmland

How can we maintain food production while still ensuring a thriving natural environment? We discussed this question with an expert panel and audience at our event on 7 December, 2017

  1. The example of a hypothetical scheme in the Anglian River Basin was given to demonstrate how farmers could be paid for environmental improvements via a new market. This was the subject of our report Protecting our assets, produced with the National Trust. The event's panel members were: Will Andrews Tipper, head of natural environment at Green Alliance and author of the report; Mat Roberts, group director of sustainability strategy at Interserve; Liz Lowe, sustainability manager at Coca-Cola Great Britain; and Chris Clark, businessman and farmer at Nethergill Farm.
  2. The discussion was chaired by Patrick Begg, rural enterprise director at the National Trust.
  3. Will Andrews Tipper introduced the findings of his report.
  4. @AndrewsTipper: Really restoring nature means working at catchment scale. Our latest report shows how #markets4nature can work in intensively farmed lowlands, not just the uplands. And it works by redirecting money we already spend from hard infrastructure to better farming.
  5. Constructive debate at the #markets4nature @GreenAllianceUK conference with @AndrewsTipper on options to improve ecosystem services delivered from farming in the UK. https://t.co/GnJnqZoucC
    Constructive debate at the #markets4nature @GreenAllianceUK conference with @AndrewsTipper on options to improve ecosystem services delivered from farming in the UK. pic.twitter.com/GnJnqZoucC
  6. #markets4nature @GreenAllianceUK Thought experiment based on place with nitrate groundwater issues due to fertiliser use. Instead of build new treatment works, change practices. move from winter wheat to cover crops and move to winter barley: for 15 years over 1,000 ha...
  7. Will Andrews Tipper said that food companies should have the incentive to participate in this market as they needed to ensure resilience in their supply chains and also to fulfill their corporate responsibility.
  8. #markets4nature @GreenAllianceUK Gov can help by: regional integration of governance for land use and water; new financial incentives (tax breaks for business?); new responsibilities for private landowners.
  9. East Anglia has over half of the most productive farmland in England. Ecosystem payments need to work while maintaining food production in this area. If #markets4nature can work here, they can work anywhere. Here's how the numbers stack up: https://t.co/zWgMbqu2Dj
    East Anglia has over half of the most productive farmland in England. Ecosystem payments need to work while maintaining food production in this area. If #markets4nature can work here, they can work anywhere. Here's how the numbers stack up: pic.twitter.com/zWgMbqu2Dj
  10. Panellists then discussed the ideas and answered questions from the audience:
  11. Chris Clark of Nethergill Farm offered his perspective as a farmer:
  12. Chris Clark, Nethergill Farm: The farm business model is fundamentally flawed: farm leadership has demanded production, not profit. We need to persuade farmers that part of their job is to be land managers. #markets4nature
  13. Liz Lowe of Coca-Cola said her company supported this idea for a market as they needed to protect sustainable water sources, reduce water use and replenish supplies; and they also buy their sugar beet from East Anglia.
  14. Liz Lowe, @CocaCola_GB: It's clear something has to change. We're working in East Anglia because sustainable sources of water are the beating heart of our business. #markets4nature
  15. Lovely to hear about 'remeandering' rivers at our #markets4nature launch this morning. Really sparks the imagination about what we could do to improve nature.
  16. Mat Roberts of Interserve said his company looks after the whole Ministry of Defence estate on Salisbury Plain and so had a big stake in better land management. He said that the government should be attracted to this market concept as a way of cutting water bills and supporting farmers.
  17. Mat from @InterserveNews: There is an abundance of capital available for #markets4nature. Lots of people want secure, long-run investment. If we can get the contracts right.
  18. #markets4nature @GreenAllianceUK @matroberts Laying out that policy blockers - CAP - are getting out of the way. Time is now to get scale and pace. Also cultural barriers - need to ensure farmers not disenfranchised (pub test to be passed - “I am still a farmer”!
  19. Mat from @InterserveNews: to get to #markets4nature at scale, we need lots of collaboration, which means detailed, long term contracting. Business is good at this, and can bring these skills to farmers and land managers.
  20. #markets4nature question: why not focus more on insurance? Answer: insurance is geographically fragmented, and FloodRE is prevented by legislation from investing in flood resilience (which should be changed).
  21. #markets4nature panel agrees that tenancy agreements for 10 years exacerbate soil loss, and excessive production. Long term tenancies alongside long-term ecosystem payments could go hand in hand to restore nature.
  22. Challenge from our #markets4nature audience: how can you get to the minimum scale needed? (1000ha). @AndrewsTipper replies that we will have to trial the idea to know, but changes to @Ofwat rules could make it much easier.
  23. Q: Could #markets4nature cut pesticide pollution? A: We didn't focus on this because it looked like renting an environmental benefit that should be delivered through regulation. Not clear what long-term change paying conventional farmers not to use pesticides would change.
  24. Liz Lowe called on other companies to join and help scale up the model.
  25. Liz from @CocaCola_GB: we're encouraging our farm partners to choose better cover crops, build silt traps, and preserve soil on their farms. But it is a slow process - and we need more corporates to join us, even though it's a long game. #markets4nature
  26. #markets4nature @GreenAllianceUK @wwf_uk @theriverstrust @LizLowe23 Loud call for more businesses to join in, such as @Tesco who are starting to contribute. Need business to help scale up...
  27. @GreenAllianceUK @nationaltrust Best of all, vegan options at the post-panel buffet — a delicious first to the best of my knowledge! #markets4nature
  28. New report adds more substance to idea of paying farmers to deliver environmental benefits on (& off) their land; good for agriculture, business, nature, people & places #markets4nature #sustainability @nationaltrust @GreenAllianceUK  https://t.co/nSIV8YgaiP https://t.co/enYI4FFeoQ
    New report adds more substance to idea of paying farmers to deliver environmental benefits on (& off) their land; good for agriculture, business, nature, people & places #markets4nature #sustainability @nationaltrust @GreenAllianceUK  https://www.green-alliance.org.uk/protecting_our_assets.php.php  pic.twitter.com/enYI4FFeoQ
  29. Great to be at #markets4nature today and hear thought-provoking ideas for a farming system that delivers for everyone as we leave the EU @michaelgove @GreenAllianceUK
  30. Further reading: