New research outlines economic windfall opportunity for post-Brexit farming

A new sustainable land management model that could direct millions of pounds towards farming methods that reduce flooding, restore wildlife and enhance clean water has been proposed by the National Trust and the Green Alliance.

Named the Natural Infrastructure Schemes, the model would create groups of farmers to develop best practice methods for climate-resilient farming which would then be sold to water companies and public authorities.

The two organisations have today (28 September) released a new report to outline how these schemes would promote efficient farming practices and generate extra revenue as the UK formalises an exit plan from the European Union (EU).

The Green Alliance’s policy director Sue Armstrong-Brown said: “The old CAP subsidy-and-grant approach is inadequate to deal with the pressures on land and the realities of farm economics. The potential market for environmentally-beneficial farming could be worth millions – far more than the £400million available to farmers through government agri-environment schemes.

“We need to make farming part of the way the environment is returned to health, and that means making good environmental management pay.”

With organisations facing high revenue costs due to poor water quality and flooding damage, the report claims that the schemes would enable companies to save money while improving produce and restoring the environment.

The Green Alliance calculated that river flooding and water contamination costs £2.4bn annually to water companies, authorities and infrastructure operators. Promoting new practices that alleviate just a quarter of these costs would release £120m for each of England’s 100 catchments during a 20-year scheme, the report noted.

For the next 12 months, the Green Alliance and the National Trust will work with landowners and businesses to prepare for the inauguration of the Natural Infrastructure Schemes pilot in the UK.

The National Trust’s rural enterprises director Patrick Begg said: “Farmers should be paid fairly for producing great food in a way that supports the long term health of our farmland. The Natural Infrastructure scheme is about creating a market for services from farming that today go unrewarded – reducing flood risks, improving water quality and creating homes for wildlife, while at the same time opening up new revenue opportunities for farmers.”

Common sense policies

The new report follows on from the National Trust’s claims in August, which called for any replacement to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to revolve around restoring the UK’s natural environment.

The proposals called for the basic income support system of subsidies to be scrapped and for farmers to be paid out of public funds only for environmental services such as flood prevention, wildlife and nature protection.

Today’s report echoes the calls made by more than 80 organisations in July, to adopt “common-sense” food, farming and fishing policies in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Before Theresa May’s cabinet shake-up, the now ex-Environment Secretary Liz Truss vowed to make Britain a global leader in sustainable farming by announcing improved flood defences, increased agricultural investment and greater risk-response capabilities.

Matt Mace

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