Unsustainable farming practices are adding hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the cost of UK food production, according to a new study which calls for government policies to restore the environmental health of farmland.
The report by Green Alliance found the impact of current farming practices on soil health alone creates almost £250m of extra costs each year, mainly through increased fertiliser and tillage costs. It stated that the additional costs of dealing with the consequences of issues like water pollution and biodiversity damage, such as the loss of vital pollinators, mean the true figure will be even higher.
The study concluded that new government policies are needed to increase private sector investment in restoring the environmental health of farmland. Suggestions include providing tax relief on capital investments in environmental restoration on farmland, and brokering a sustainable food pact that brings together UK food businesses in a precompetitive collaboration to reduce environmental problems.
Green Alliance said that while the vast majority of environmental protection policies are currently targeted at farmers and land managers, it makes economic sense for all levels of the food sector to invest in the health of the land on which it depends.
“By running down our natural environment we have actually made our food sector more vulnerable and less resilient,” said William Andrews Tipper, head of sustainable business at Green Alliance. “Many within the sector recognise it is in their interest to move towards a more sustainable system, but they will need support from government to make it happen.”
The study echoes concerns raised by the UK government’s own Climate Change Committee, which has said that urgent policy intervention is needed to mitigate the risks to food security from climate change. Defra, however, has claimed that the UK food supply chain performs consistently well in the face of regular climatic tests.