The Future Of Food And Farming

Agreement Reached By Farmers And Environmentalists


Consesus food and farming partner organisations Consensus food and farming partner organisations

Pasture for Life has signed a declaration on the future of food and farming, along with a broad alliance of farmer and environmental groups which came together at the beginning of the year during two Oxford farming conferences. Why is this so significant? Signed by a number of key organisations, this agreement creates a firm alliance between farming and conservation – very different to where we were just a few years ago – and a consensus for working towards nature-friendly farming that will improve people’s health, support farmer livelihoods, enhance rural areas and restore nature.

How we produce enough food for the country while taking nature and rural livelihoods into account has divided opinion, therefore reaching a consensus with so many groups and interests on the future of food and farming is a real achievement. Signatories include large environmental groups such as WWF and the RSPB, farming organisations including the Soil Association and the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission, as well as the National Trust and Eating Better among others that have joined this landmark alliance.

A Message From Our Executive Director Jimmy Woodrow

“When I joined Pasture for Life three years ago, conventional wisdom was that the large conservation organisations were ‘anti’ farming and focused on reclaiming land for nature: a ‘land sparing’ approach that would see farming intensify. While there are no binaries in this area, and habitat restoration remains an important land use strategy, this alliance of farming and conservation groups, brought together by the RSPB and Soil Association, is an important signal that this is no longer the case and that farming with nature remains our best hope if we’re to solve the joint climate and biodiversity crises. There have been some key milestones that have paved the way to this point, and some key developments in our understanding of farming systems, including: Tim Benton’s Chatham House report comparing land sharing and land sparing strategies and Jevons’ paradox; WWF’s report Land of Plenty; the close relationship between RSPB and the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and; growing understanding of the positive role played by ruminants in our landscapes and realisation that intensive pigs and poultry systems (that make up 85%+ of total production) are not only directly degrading Britain’s ecosystems like the River Wye but also consume vast amounts of grain, putting pressure on land use.

At Pasture for Life, we’ve been involved in this and building on some long-standing relationships with the conservation sector. Our relationships on the ground are and always have been excellent with the Wildlife Trusts and National Trust, with many Pasture for Life farms grazing their land and reserves, and members involved in running county-level Wildlife Trusts. We’ve been taking this up a gear recently with our new mentoring programmes and work on certification with the National Trust, and look forward to continuing this on the back of this declaration.

WWF’s Land of Plenty, alongside Feeding Britain from the Sustainable Food Trust and the UK-focused IDDRI report all point to there being an overwhelming case for ruminants in a sustainable food system in the UK. These grazing animals occupy an important ecological niche as converters of biomass to food, fibre and fertility and you don’t tend to find land managers, even the most ardent rewilders, making a case to remove them from our landscapes. What’s needed is for management practices to improve and Pasture for Life sets the benchmark for this as well as how to get there: farmer to farmer knowledge exchange. The low input Pasture for Life approach, and our strong community of practice, epitomes farming with nature and makes Pasture for Life excellent partners for not only conservation organisations but also the academic community looking to learn more about this way of farming. The biodiversity case studies we are building on our website exemplify this and we’re currently working on a larger economic study to support the evidence that farming for nature is good business.

The hope is that more mainstream farming organisations will join the consensus. The mood music in this regard is good: the rising cost of inputs is focusing all farmers inputs; there’s a growing recognition that yields need not suffer from a regenerative approach, and; recognition from larger farming businesses that nature is an ally. But there remains work to do, in particular on the future role for businesses that have fuelled, in one way or another, the green revolution. This last bit of the puzzle is likely to be the most challenging.”

Overview Of The Alliance’s Vision

  1. To work with nature not against it – Restoring the environment and preventing farming’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and providing an adequate and healthy food supply are not mutually exclusive. Space for nature alongside food production is essential for the health and productive capacity of the land.
  2. To break dependency on artificial inputs and fossil fuels – Reduction in pesticide and herbicide usage for the health of the soil, waterways and wider environment, with farming using natural processes while at the same time reducing business costs for farmers.
  3. To restore the soil – Food production starts with healthy soil, this will mean an ongoing role for livestock to build soil fertility alongside changes to tillage, a wider range of crop rotations and practices such as cover cropping.
  4. Innovation in the right direction – Technology should be harnessed towards improving the food and farming system rather than magnifying existing problems, while investment should go to regenerative farming practices that build on tried-and-tested traditional husbandry.

What’s Needed

For this vision to be realised will require; proper public investment in public goods; well-regulated and aligned private and public finance; level regulatory playing field for all farm businesses to protect the natural environment; setting high environmental and welfare standards for trade; making the most of land with a strategic approach to land use to match farming practices to the carrying capacity of the land; achieving healthy diets.


Read the full declaration

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