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Farmers ‘will go bust’ without cash boost to help them work with nature, farmer group claims

PUBLISHED: 15:22 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:14 08 October 2020

David Lord of Earls Hall Farm near Clacton-on-Sea   Picture: JUDITH TOOTH

David Lord of Earls Hall Farm near Clacton-on-Sea Picture: JUDITH TOOTH

© Judith Tooth

Farming can alleviate many of society’s present ills – but the industry will need a post-Brexit cash boost to achieve that, a group of nature-friendly farmers say.

Nature-friendly David Lord's farm in Essex  Picture: DAVID LORDNature-friendly David Lord's farm in Essex Picture: DAVID LORD

David Lord – who farms 740ha along the north Essex coastline at Earls Hall Farm near Clacton-on-Sea – wants to see a much greater emphasis on environmentally-friendly agriculture as the Agriculture Bill – which will set the stage for post-Brexit farming in Britain – returns to the House of Commons.

David – who is on England’s Nature-Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) steering group – is calling for a long-term government commitment to a “simple, pragmatic and well-funded scheme”.

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But he and other farmers like him fear farming businesses will go bust – putting food security at risk – unless the UK government is prepared to balance food production with climate-friendly methods.

“If I am under financial strain in the short term, I could farm much more cost-effectively by ignoring nature. To keep farming in a nature friendly way, I need financial support via payments for delivery of public goods and protection from food imports produced to lower environmental standards,” he said.

A wind turbine turns as crops are harvested at David Lord's farm in Clacton-on-Sea  Picture: DAVID LORDA wind turbine turns as crops are harvested at David Lord's farm in Clacton-on-Sea Picture: DAVID LORD

“Farming has the potential to alleviate many of society’s ills, including sinking carbon to arrest climate change, managing habitat to reverse biodiversity decline and producing healthy foods to combat obesity. To do this, society has to own the problems it creates and fund the solutions.”

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Farmers need baseline standards for minimum environmental delivery to provide a structure they can then build on, he said.

Alongside verges, flower-rich margins and wild bird seed plots, David has moved to a no-tillage system on his land – which means he doesn’t plough it up, causing less damage to the soil.

Field margins at David Lord's farm in Essex  Picture: DAVID LORDField margins at David Lord's farm in Essex Picture: DAVID LORD

NFFN said evidence gathered for its Nature Means Business report – looking at 43 farm businesses – showed lowering inputs and farming with nature makes businesses more profitable and resilient, and that polls show the public supports wildlife-friendly farming methods.

But its research found when farm businesses reach a point where more inputs – like fertilisers and medicines – are needed for their crops, farmers will degrade natural assets and profitability can suffer.

Farms obtain maximum returns by moving away from a high productivity farming system to a balance of farming with natural assets, it said.

NFFN chairman Martin Lines said: “The survival of all farming businesses depends on a healthy environment. This report demonstrates that unless farming policy raises environmental standards and helps farmers transition to nature friendly approaches, future food security and the agriculture industry are at risk.”


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