The Future of Farming, a 2-day conference [1] on 27-28 April, organised by the Sustainable Food Trust [2] is taking place at a crucial time in the final week of Defra’s Health and Harmony command paper consultation.

Keynote speakers including the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove MP, and President of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters, will set out their approaches to the development of a unique agricultural policy for the UK.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said, “We need to have agriculture and environmental policies that not only co-exist but also complement one another. A future system of public money for public goods must help, rather than hinder British farmers.

“Through our consultation, we are working hand-in-hand with industry to adopt leading sustainable practices that deliver tangible benefits to our soils, rivers and air.”

Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust said, “We warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to support farmers who deliver public goods and the key principles set out in the command paper. We believe the nation will be best served if area based payments for farmers are retained, but in future made conditional upon the use of farming practices which conform to the principle of public money for public goods. This will create a sound business case for a nationwide transition towards more sustainable production. To achieve this, during a transition period, support payments could be graduated to reflect the extent of the public goods achieved and withheld from those who degrade natural capital or pollute the environment.

The Sustainable Food Trust believes that the lion’s share of post Brexit agriculture support should be given to farmers in this way, rather than through the enlargement of environmental stewardship schemes which risk perpetuating the separation of nature conservation and agriculture. If we get the balance right, farming could enter a new chapter, reversing the long term declines in biodiversity and soil health and building a resilient food system which will provide healthy food for the nation in the face of accelerating climate change.”

In other sessions, Andrew Sells, Chair of Natural England and Dieter Helm, Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, will be among those considering how progress towards more sustainable food production could be monitored with a new set of harmonised metrics, applicable to all farms, regardless of their approach or enterprises; while a panel of leading entrepreneurs will discuss new models for local food marketing.

Joel Salatin, arguably America’s most famous livestock producer, will give the keynote presentation on day two. Against the backdrop of increasingly vociferous campaigns against red meat and grazing animals, Joel will explain why grass and livestock have been critically important to his success in building soil carbon and fertility. Joel will provide inspiration to UK farmers where more than two-thirds of farmland is under grass for sound environmental and agricultural reasons. This will be followed by a panel discussion on the links between soil, plant and animal health.

On Saturday afternoon, the rapid disappearance of small abattoirs in the UK [3] will be addressed in a session chaired by Professor Tim Morris, a member of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. The Government has invested large amounts of public money encouraging farmers to diversify into on-farm meat processing and marketing, but this depends on the availability of a local abattoir that will allow meat to be returned to the farmer. Without local abattoirs there can be no local meat, for which there is a rising consumer demand.