Defra called to publish impact assessment of farm policies to avoid “sleepwalking” into food crisis

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Conservative MP Julian Sturdy, chair for the APPG on Science and Technology in Agriculture, has called for Defra to publish material on the impact of its Environmental Land Management (ELM) and Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) policies, to see evidence that their strategies are maintaining national food production levels.

He wrote in an article for Science for Sustainable Agriculture how the question he tabled for Parliament reiterates understanding the reasoning and impact behind their scheme, such as paying farmers not to use approved insecticides and limiting use to below optimum productivity levels.

“I am concerned that the policy emphasis on lower-yield farming practices such as these will inevitably take its toll on our domestic food production capacity, and increase our dependence on imports,” he said.

“I am equally concerned that other ELM policies which support the loss of productive farmland to ‘landscape-scale recovery’ schemes are not framed within a coherent land use strategy, or with a clear vision of how national food production will be maintained.”

Mr Sturdy noted that the response from Defra did not give mention of an impact assessment, or offer sources of evidence and data.

“The government’s approach appears to be based on NGO-inspired greenwash and wishful thinking,” Mr Sturdy continued.

“According to Defra, a reduction in overall farm output as a result of taking land out of production ‘is likely to be offset by long term improvements in soil health and pollinator abundance, which will support increased yields’. No doubt that’s what the environmental NGOs who designed many of these SFI schemes would have us believe, but where are the facts, data, evidence for this?”

He also criticised other conclusions, such as how reduced fertiliser and pesticide use would lead to “lower input and higher productivity”, noting that assessments have been conducted by the EU into its Farm to Fork Strategy, which includes similar approaches to those taken in the UK.

“The UK government, by contrast, has no such evidence base or impact assessment to consult,” he said. “Instead, Ministers appear to have adopted a ‘fingers crossed’ approach.

“That’s why I am urging Ministers to publish a full ex-ante impact assessment of ELM and SFI policies on agricultural productivity and domestic self-sufficiency in food. It is vital that we adopt a clear-sighted, evidence-based approach to the development and implementation of future farm policies. Otherwise, we may risk sleepwalking into a food crisis,” he said.

Defra has been approached for comment.

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