Health & Harmony: the future for food, farming & environment in a Green Brexit

The Brightspace Foundation has responded to the Defra consultation on the future of farming and the environment: "Health and harmony: the future for food, farming and environment in a Green Brexit."

We have welcomed the shift away from direct payments towards supporting the delivery of environmental outcomes, and also that greater focus will be given supporting farmers who deliver "public benefits" alongside growing food.  It is, however, with the proviso that growing food should be a profitable enterprise; we gain nothing if farms are not economically viable businesses.

In our response, we have raised concerns about the lack of a holistic approach within the consultation.  In many cases, the respondent is asked to rank the top three desirable outcomes out of a menu of choices, without any attempt to explore the synergies between them.  For example, one of the questions asks people to choose between improved soil health, improved water quality, climate change mitigation and so on.  Yet soil health is a pre-requisite for achieving improved water quality, not an either/or in competition with water quality.  Or to put it another way, you won't get improved water quality without having good soil health.

We suggested that a more holistic approach should be used, such as that embodied by Herefordshire's Sustainable Route Map.  The Route Map monitors a variety of indicators, and helps us focus on those which are failing.  It seeks to understand how each factor makes a contribution to a better outcome, but also acknowledges that better outcomes depend on multiple factors being realised. It is flexible enough to respond to local circumstances since it is locally focused, but gathers data that can be used to contribute to national programmes.

Defra were also keen to know how farmers and land managers could work with others to deliver environmental outcomes.  We responded by promoting the work of Farm Herefordshire, a collaboration between twelve organisations within the county, working together to improve soil management in order to improve water quality in the Wye and the Lugg. Farm Herefordshire works because we have agreed seven key messages and all of us are involved in promoting these messages.

Post-Brexit will be a difficult time for farmers and we want to ensure that in the transition to whatever comes the environment, public good and profitable farming are able to develop hand in hand.