Agricultural practices can reduce water quality, degrade soils and cause biodiversity loss. This in turn can disrupt natural processes that support food production. Environmentally sustainable agriculture seeks to reduce environmental damage and restore such processes. This POSTnote summarises associated land management options, agricultural policies and the constraints imposed by a new trading environment.
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CAP was conceived to address two main concerns: assuring an adequate domestic food supply and sustaining rural communities. The majority of land in the UK is farmed (70%) with farmers receiving direct payments based on the area of agricultural land they farm. On average, payments make up 50-60% of farm income. CAP reforms have made attempts to address environmental damage from agriculture by paying farmers to manage farmland for environmental benefits through voluntary agri-environment scheme (AES) agreements. More recently, famers have been required to implement environmental measures in order to receive a proportion of their direct payment.
Government has previously indicated that it is considering moving towards making payments for public goods. This would involve expanding UK agricultural policy to encompass a number of environmental targets. These may include measures to achieve targets on natural capital – the elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people. Appropriately designed measures may also help farmers adapt to climate change, increase energy efficiency and reduce their exposure to volatility in prices of fertilisers, pesticides, labour, energy and other costs.
Key points in this POSTnote include:
- Environmentally sustainable agricultural measures seek to minimise environmental damage and use resources and energy more efficiently.
- What measures succeed will depend on the environmental and agricultural context. The measures may also require farmers to work together across a landscape.
- The EU Common Agricultural Policy was not conceived to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture.
- The UK is introducing new agricultural policies following withdrawal from the EU. One objective is to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture.
- Future trade treaties and agricultural policy will shape farmers’ income and land management decisions. This will have direct consequences for the environment, such as affecting the level of payments that can be made to farmers to deliver environmental benefits.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
- Professor Alan Swinbank, University of Reading*
- Professor Simon Potts, University of Reading*
- Professor John Marsh, University of Reading*
- Professor Wyn Grant, University of Warwick
- Dr Diane Mitchell, National Farmers Union (NFU)*
- Sam Durham, National Farmers Union (NFU)*
- Thomas Lancaster, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)*
- Geoff Mackey, BASF
- Lord Cameron of Dillington
- Stuart Knight, NIAB*
- Ron Stobart, NIAB*
- Professor Guy Poppy, University of Southampton
- Professor Stephen Darby, University of Southampton*
- Professor Gail Taylor, University of Southampton
- Caspar Donnison, University of Southampton
- Professor Michael Winter, University of Exeter
- Professor Brett Day, University of Exeter
- Jonathan Baker, Country Land & Business Association*
- Patrick Begg, National Trust
- Professor Simon Blackmore, Harper Adams University*
- Dr Tom MacMillan, Soil Association
- Caroline Drummond, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF)
- Dr Bill Parker, ADHB
- Dr Peter Sutton, Syngenta
- Professor Charles Godfray, University of Oxford*
- Stephen Jacob, BASIS-REG*
- Dr John Holland, Game & Wildlife Trust
- Alice Johnston, Bayer
- Professor William Sutherland, University of Cambridge*
- James Petts, Natural England
- Giulia Cuccato, Government Office for Science
- Kathleen Kelliher, DEFRA*
- Dr Barbara Smith, Coventry University
- William Andrews Tipper, Green Alliance
- Mark Sinclair, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures
- Professor Johnathan Leake, University of Sheffield
- Professor Duncan Cameron, University of Sheffield
- Max Dafforn, Intelligent Precision Farming
- Dr Jonathan Carruthers, Royal Society of Biology (RSB)*
- Professor Richard Pywell, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)