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How can we define the future of farming?

What steps can we make to help define what the future of farming looks like? Simon Crichton, Head of Food, Farming and Trade at Triodos Bank UK, outlines some of the steps we can take to make sure we have a sustainable, fair farming system that works for everyone and the environment.

“At Triodos Bank we support the environment by lending money to organisations that support the planet and produce food through low impact farming systems”

 

Brexit has ignited a debate on food and farming; as the UK begins to identify how systems will look outside the European Union, it’s become crucial to have this discussion and ensure that food production is working for farmers and growers, as well as the environment and society.

At Triodos Bank we only finance organisations that support the planet and produce food through low impact farming systems.

Farming has always had to look to the future to plan harvests, livestock or many other factors, so it’s essential that these benefits are calculated with a long-term perspective. As a society, we need to consider where we want UK food production to be in 20 years and what we can do to help support that. At Abergavenny Food Festival, Simon outlined a few steps that could be taken to help create a robust, sustainable food system that delivers for society as a whole.

Public money for public good

The public benefits of organic farming for the environment have been well documented by independent research over decades. They include more wildlife and biodiversity, healthier soils and carbon storage. Subsidy support for farmers could reflect their commitment to protecting these ‘public goods’, through practices such as agroforestry. This will ensure that farming is supporting wider society and can also help build longevity into our food systems. For example, the health of soils is absolutely crucial, not only to ensure the growing power of our farms, but in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere (helping to diminish the effects of climate change) and providing flood protection.

Procurement

The procurement of food in the public sector – such as in schools, hospitals and care homes – holds great potential for change. The food served in these settings can help to signal the values and priorities of the government, and can encourage behaviour change by sending a strong cultural message. This is particularly true when we consider the support that can be offered to UK farmers by bringing them into these crucial domestic supply chains.

Education

Early and explorative education can be the bedrock to a healthy understanding of food. This can span from understanding food systems and where food comes from, to knowing what to do with it and how to eat healthily, but economically. Projects such as the Soil Association’s Food for Life initiative– a schools programme designed to introduce children to healthy food and educate them on where it comes from – are fantastic initiatives that help equip the next generation with the understanding of farming and food production.

“Farming with a purpose and telling that story to people can help enliven the connection between the farm and the fork.”

We need to look at the full system

As the term agriculture suggests, food and farming reaches much further and has impact outside of the supermarket and the dinner table. It also forms the backdrop to our leisure activities and social events and creates jobs while playing a major role in the economy. While organic farming may be more labour intensive, and so is often more expensive at the till, it’s important to look at the implications of our growing methods. Studies such as the True Cost of Food go some way in starting to identify and incorporate the real costs associated with intensive farming, whether for health, the environment or society.

How we spend our money

Households in the UK spend less on food (as a percentage of household income) than any other country in Europe. Reasons for this are varied, but it could be an indicator that we’re not as connected with our agriculture and food as some of our European counterparts. As shoppers we’re able to dictate the direction of change through the choices we make at the checkout. By buying, or not buying, we’re sending a clear message about the world we want to see and the products we want our food systems to deliver. We want high animal welfare and health for ourselves and the environment, but when we get to the shelf, do we actually make that choice?

What underpins these approaches is the reinvigoration of our connection with farming and the land from which we produce food. We need to return to the cultural element of agriculture and enjoy, not only the food that we grow, but the process of growing, harvesting and appreciating the land. Farming with a purpose and telling that story to people can help enliven the connection between the farm and the fork.

At Triodos Bank we’ll continue to finance and champion the farmers and organisations that farm sustainably, for society and the environment. We believe that there are a number of reasons for shoppers to choose organic, but there are also benefits and opportunities for farmers who want to.

Case study
Riverford Organic Veg

South Devon Organic Producers grow organic vegetables to supply Riverford veg boxes. They felt it was wholly inefficient to have lots of machinery to grow veg, so they created a growing organisation and gave control to the group and the programme to ensure that they were farming efficiently on a cooperative model. As a group they become more robust and were able to deliver a varied range of great quality produce.

 

Case Study
Better Food Company

Bristol-based Triodos customer, Better Food Company, could source organic veg wherever they like, but they’ve chosen Community Farm, just south of Bristol. In doing that, they’re paying a little more per kilo, but they’ve made this choice, not only because they have local, good quality food, but they know that Community Farm invite people from Bristol to receive vocational training or wellbeing programmes. This helps to reinforce the cultural and social impact of farming.

What do you think of "How can we define the future of farming?"

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Barbara Penny 3 weeks ago

Great. In my case you’re preaching to the converted. It I do believe more people need to put their money where their mouth is

Roderick Leslie 3 weeks ago

We need to take a step back from seeing it just as farming – since 1947 farming has successfully made an exclusive and dominant claim to the countryside with increasing collateral damage. We need first to be looking at what we want from our land, not just farming. Apart from anything else, there is the potential to find most of the money we need to support the countryside – the cost of flooding and diffuse pollution alone – caused to a large extent by intensification of farming – may be as much as 2/3rds of the current subsidy budget.

Because if we want to produce food in Britain there will need to be continued support: if you believe in real free market globalisation (which I don’t, and nor does the USA where its farming is concerned) north-temperate agriculture is uneconomic , not just because of higher labour & land costs, but simply because growth rates in the warmer south are so much higher. What that means is we have to take choices about how much food we want to grow in the UK, and how. Your point about how little we spend on food is spot on – Government and farmers together have got themselves in a bind over cheap food, which we need to move away from. Whilst food security as a reason for continuing intensive farming is rubbish, we’ve made the mistake of abandoning domestic farming in the past , and should not make it again – we need a new farming that doesn’t cause massive collateral damage and whether or not you believe organic to be part (I do) or all of the answer, systems that better balance inputs, production and damage to other values are crucial.