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State of Nature report highlights tensions facing UK farmers

16/09/2016

The publication of the ‘State of Nature’ report this week has once again highlighted the ongoing pressure and tensions facing UK farmers, says James Spreckley, head of LoddersAgriculture and Landed Estates team.

“The report suggests that it is farming practices over recent decades which have adversely impacted the U.K.’s wildlife,” says James.

“Whilst it is true that post-war, government policy was to encourage productivity almost at any cost, this has changed over the years. Increasingly, farmers embrace their role as custodians of the countryside, working hard to establish and maintain habitats for wildlife.  We know first-hand that very many of our farming and landowning clients embrace this responsibility at their own cost, motivated by their own passion for the countryside, and it seems unfair to overlook this, not least when they are also expected to operate in a challenging economic environment which takes no account of this role.”

James believes it is also important to recognise that farms are businesses too: “Ultimately, farmers must produce a financial return from their assets if they are to survive. Despite this, many farmers and landowners choose voluntarily to invest both time and money in improving conservation and the biodiversity of their land, but for others, taking land out of production can directly challenge the viability of their businesses.”

To date, this cost to the farm business has in part been recognised through the financial support provided under various agri-environment schemes generally funded through the EU. “However, with Brexit on the horizon, the future of such schemes and the financial encouragement for farmers is uncertain, despite the government recently committing to fund at least some schemes for the next few years,” says James.

See farming productivity in context

“Farming productivity must be seen in the context of global markets and a culture which focuses very much on the ultimate price for the consumer, both of which, not unreasonably, encourage increased efficiency of production and competitiveness. Famers have invested large sums of money in modern equipment that enable them to reduce the use of pesticides and minimise any adverse effects of agriculture as they run their businesses.

“But with farmers increasingly expected to fulfil this role of ‘Keeper of the Countryside’, a long-term strategic approach to how they and their businesses are properly compensated and encouraged, needs to be developed. Such a strategy has to take account of other significant issues such as concerns over food security and the need for more housing, and related infrastructure such as HS2, all of which have the potential to affect the natural environment.

Post Brexit UK

“As the government works-up its plans for a post Brexit UK, balancing these apparently conflicting limbs of public policy to produce a strategy that works for all, will be a challenge but one farmers will, as always, rise to.”

Founded nearly 230 years ago, Lodders has always worked with farmers, family businesses, landowners, rural communities, real estate and property owners.

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Get in touch

For more information on any agriculture related issue, please contact James Spreckley on 01789 206166.