1/8/2022

Is the EU one step ahead? Or not!

By Henrietta Appleton, GWCT Policy Officer

2 minute read

The EU has announced a temporary derogation from rules on crop rotation and maintenance of non-productive features on arable land for the claim year 2023 in response to the impact of the Ukraine Crisis on food supplies. At the same time it has also announced a new strategy to reduce pesticide use. This has the potential to reduce crop yields – we need look no further than recent events in Sri Lanka to see how rapidly that type of approach can collapse a food production system.

In our “The impact of rising farm inputs is yet to bite” blog we expressed concern that the focus on the cost of living did not yet reflect that policies undermining domestic food security would only compound this problem. That is not to say we should abandon moves to improve the environmental sustainability of food production in the UK; we pointed out that there are ways of achieving both such as improving resource use efficiency. But these are longer term measures; the EU derogation acknowledges that a short-term solution is needed.

The short-term impacts need to be considered in the context of wider agricultural and environmental policy changes which are having an impact on how land is managed. Whilst we were never fans of the EU 3-crop rule to encourage crop rotations as part of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions standards, this and non-productive features on arable land were designed to facilitate improved soil health and on-farm biodiversity and so will have limited the amount of land available for cereal production.

In the same way in the UK the focus on ‘public money for public goods’ measures such as tree planting, bioenergy and solar energy production, 30 by 30 and ELMS are encouraging more extensive production to support biodiversity and increasing the prospects of agricultural land being taken out of production.

Farmers are faced with the economic decision of whether to focus on food production or to take advantage of Government funding available in support of these policies which de-risk farm businesses from weather and input shortages, combined with the effects of Brexit and Covid.

Government needs to look at short-term initiatives to increase the land under production without compromising longer term environmental ambitions as well as optimising resource use and efficiency. A starter for 10 could be to follow the EU’s example and for one growing season remove some cross-compliance obligations on land growing key crops such as cereals as well as balancing fertiliser usage with individual crop needs.

Another could be to allow farmers who have entered land into tree planting schemes to delay by a year or to allow farmers in Countryside Stewardship due to put whole fields down to pollen and nectar mixes to delay drilling for a year and plant cereals instead.

In conclusion it is important that plans to improve the sustainability and resilience of our food production systems are not derailed by the current pressures and that any short-term measures are not seen as being knee-jerk reactions. A carefully thought through package of derogations could improve domestic food security in 2023 without compromising longer term ambitions.

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