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Post-Brexit, ministers can finally give British farmers essential freedom to innovate

Even if there is a red sky tonight, I doubt this will give farmers across the country much delight. With the Russo-Ukrainian war having raised food security up the agenda, whilst forcing prices on fertiliser, animal feed, and fuel to spike, farmers are facing new challenges and pressures.


Max Anderson | CEN's Senior Communications Manager

Fortunately, England’s new Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) – an undersold Brexit benefit – are providing the flexible, financial support and autonomy that has led to fewer farmer protests here than elsewhere in Europe and Wales.


This doesn’t mean English farmers aren’t still struggling. And innovation in farming methods, which could allow the farming industry to respond to these challenges, are being bogged down in unnecessary red tape.


We should trust and empower our farmers to pioneer new techniques and harness new technology, just as they have done for generations, not only to overcome these pressures but to move to more sustainable and nature-friendly methods.


Looking back at the history books, we can see how innovation has consistently helped farmers overcome challenges.


As we entered the Industrial Revolution, there was a grave issue of feeding a rapidly expanding nation; in 1850, the UK’s population had nearly tripled in just 100 years. It is hard to imagine how our nation could have remained fed without innovative new methods and technology, such as Jethro Tull’s seed drill or new thresher machines, let alone become the biggest industrial power in the world.


During World War Two, German u-boats made importing food to the UK an unreliable and dangerous feat. With a shortage of both food and manpower, the Government turbocharged innovation and productivity for the farming industry through the War Agricultural Board, which provided grants for almost 50,000 tractors for farmers, doubling pre-war numbers. This allowed the sector to keep our country – and our soldiers – fed.


However, we should remember that more is not always the answer. The pursuit of maximum production has had some disastrous effects on British wildlife. During the war and beyond, for example, the government subsidised farmers to remove hedgerows. This led to an estimated 10,000 miles of hedgerows, which were homes for native birds, insects, and animals, being destroyed. (Not to mention that thriving local biodiversity can, in most circumstances, actually boost field yields and productivity.)


Although u-boats are no longer roaming the English Channel, Britain’s food security is a pressing concern once again as global tensions continue to rise, on top of national targets to protect and restore 30 per cent of land and sea land for biodiversity by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.


Fortunately, these aims work together, with new sustainable practices that boost biodiversity also improving yield and, therefore, our food security.


We can already see how new farming methods like direct drilling have helped improve both yields and biodiversity. Direct drilling means farmers no longer need to plough their fields, preventing local nature from being disturbed whilst saving them both time and money on fuel. They are also no longer up-ending the soil, which releases carbon trapped below the surface, thereby improving soil health and boosting yields.


This is a clear example of how innovative farming methods can be both sustainable and improve food security. Unfortunately, red tape is still stopping farmers from harnessing innovative, sustainable, and productive farming methods. But, outside the EU, the UK should be free to dictate its own agriculture regulation, and trust and empower our farmers and unleash farming innovation.


The Government could start by lifting regulations on drone usage for farming. Harmful pesticides can damage biodiversity and their run-off can pollute our rivers. Pesticides do play an important role for farmers, but we should try to cut their usage.


By cutting red tape on drones and allowing them to be used beyond visual line of sight as soon as possible, drones can precisely apply pesticides to particular areas in need. This will both reduce unnecessary damage to the local environment, whilst saving farmers money on pesticides and fuel for machines.

Furthermore, drones can also help farmers monitor their crops remotely, again helping to increase yields and cut food waste.


Novel techniques as well as innovative technology can also boost farm productivity sustainably. Outside the EU’s bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy, ministers have the freedom to design attractive and simple schemes that make it easier for farmers to take up new sustainable practices.


Ministers should use any underspend in the Environmental Land Management (ELM) budget to promote innovative nature-friendly farming methods such as mob grazing.


Mob grazing differs from traditional grazing, as livestock instead intensively graze smaller portions of a field before being moved on. Longer rest periods between grazing allows for longer and healthier grass growth. This helps improve soil quality, gives local wildlife the chance to thrive, and improves animal health. .


In a land-based industry such as farming, it is of course right we monitor new technologies to make sure they do not harm humans, animals, or our environment. But, red tape has, for many farmers, gone too far and stopped them from cutting costs, being more productive, and decarbonising.


The Government should allow the farming industry to do what it has always done, and harness new technologies and methods to overcome the new challenges the UK is now facing.

First published by ConservativeHome. Max Anderson is the Conservative Environment Network's Senior Communications Manager.

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