One in two farmers agree with the principle of “public money for public goods”, with younger producers the most supportive (56%).
However, a third are currently taking no environmental action to address problems on their farms. They blame a lack of access to capital (41%) and uncertainty over agricultural policy caused by Brexit (41%).
The survey of 500 farmers in England, conducted by Wildlife and Countryside Link, also showed low levels of satisfaction with current agri-environment schemes (26%).
Farming, farm animal welfare and the environment have all suffered for years under current agricultural policy and its funding structure, alongside an increasingly concentrated market putting downward pressure on farm-gate prices, the WCL report reads. “This has incentivised unsustainable, intensive food production which has led to environmental degradation and poor conditions for many farm animals, which in turn have damaged farm productivity and profitability.”
However, the research shows farmers recognise the need to better protect the environment and improve animal welfare. Issues like drought and flood from climate change are affecting 40% of farmers, second only to increased costs and reduced profit margins (51%).
Only 28 countries in the world have lost more nature than the UK, said Helen Chesshire, senior farming advisor at Woodland Trust and chair of WCL’s agricultural group. Just 14% of rivers are classed as healthy, and in some parts of the country it is estimated there are at best 40 years of fertile soils left. It is also unquestionable that agriculture has played a big role in environmental degradation in England, she explained.
Farming accounts for 10% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions and 88% of ammonia emissions, contributing to wildlife loss, climate change, and public health issues. Chesshire said: “If we are to reverse this downward spiral, it is essential that government incentivises our farming sector to become more sustainable and humane, and our findings show that farmers are supportive of that direction of travel.”
The Agriculture Bill, awaiting its next stage in Parliament, is a “once in a generation opportunity to fix our broken farming system”, WCL said, and “putting the environment at the core of public funding for farming is key to delivering public goods”.