Government consults on eco-friendly farming

by Michael Smith

Following EC plans to scrap payments for farmers who left fields uncultivated to avoid over-production Government is looking for views on ways to protect biodiversity on agricultural land.

Until recently farmers could claim subsidies for set aside land as part of Europe's efforts to control food production.

This had the additional bonus of providing important habitats for wildlife and reducing pollution from pesticides and fertilizers.

But the latest CAP health check has scrapped these subsidies, removing the cash incentive for farmers leaving fallow land.

However, with the current problems as regards to food production and the need to produce more local foods maybe farming needs to take a new approach.

Habitats can still be created by leasing field margins, as always were in the older days, as they were needed for the turning of a span of horses, for instance, and also hedges could be reintroduced to protect crops from the effects of adverse weathers. Our old ones knew what they were doing with all those shelter belts of hedges and woods.

Recently Environment Secretary Hilary Benn announced the publication of a consultation paper looking at how Britain might avoid losing the environmental and biodiversity benefits.

It will also seek views on introducing wider buffers alongside water courses to protect water quality from run-off, how best to promote hedgerows and how to encourage farmers to take a more active role in managing soil quality and erosion.

Mr Benn emphasized the need to strike the right balance between reducing burdens on farmers and ensuring that the natural environment - on which farming depends - is maintained.

And while Mr Ben may emphasize those above needs, let's face it, as I have said before, in the olden days farmers did exactly that for they knew very well that they depended on a healthy environment. Only when Agri-Industry came in with fertilizers and the intensive farming during, and especially after, World War II we started having problems and then there was a time when we even had an overproduction of foods and that was why the European Union was giving subsidies for leaving land fallow.

Mr Ben said: "Farming is hugely important, not just to produce the food we eat but also to maintain the landscape which we hold so dear and on which our ability to produce food in the future depends.

"We stand ready to support an industry-led way of doing this if it can deliver what's needed, with industry-wide ownership and leadership.

"Farmers do much to help already, and we need to ensure that the environmental benefits of set aside are not lost amid regulations.

"That's why it's important that we get views from all interested parties so that we can protect and enhance natural wildlife habitats without hindering farmers."

What we need, in the same way as a new approach to the economy in general, is anew approach to farming. This approach, in fact is a trip back to the future, so to speak, in that we must concentrate – and let's ignore the EU demands as to exports and such – on producing food in our farms first and foremost for the people of our own individual countries.

So much is said as to “local foods” now that we best start and do something about it, and we have the chance to do so.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009