Prince Charles: Small family farms must be at the heart of a sustainable future | Agriculture

The Prince of Wales called on small family farmers across the UK and around the world to come together in a cooperative movement using sustainable farming methods, and to put their plight at the center of environmental action.

Small farmers in the UK and EU face their biggest upheavals in over a generation, with the loss of farm subsidies and new post-Brexit trade deals in the UK, and reforms radicals of the EU’s common agricultural policy that will be announced. week in Brussels.

Writing for the Guardian, Prince Charles urged small farmers to come together to deal with coming shocks and move to a low carbon economy: “There are small farms in the world that could come together in one. global cooperative committed to producing food based on high environmental standards… With the skills of ethical entrepreneurs and the determination of farmers to make it work, I would like to think that it could offer a very real and hopeful future .

Agriculture is undergoing a “massive transition” and the needs of family farmers must be taken into account, the prince said.

“For me, it is essential that the contribution of small family farmers is properly recognized – they must be a key part of any just, inclusive, equitable and just transition to a sustainable future. To do this, we need to ensure that UK family farmers have the tools and the confidence to face the rapid transition to regenerative farming systems that our planet demands, ”he said.

Analysis of agricultural data for the Guardian showed that small farmers already faced an increasingly difficult future, before the shocks of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The EU lost a large number of livestock farms in particular, with 3.4 million between 2005 and 2016, the latest year for which full data was available.

At the same time, the number of cattle on the farms has increased on average, a clear sign of an intensification of the sector.

John and Mary Atkinson on their small farm at Nibthwaite Grange, in the English Lake District
John and Mary Atkinson at their small farm in Nibthwaite Grange, in the Lake District, an area where many farming families have been forced to leave. Photograph: Dom Bush / The Guardian

In the UK, a quarter of livestock farms, or 45,500 farms, were lost in 12 years from 2005 to 2016. This loss was part of a longer term trend for all farms, with more than 110 000 farms abandoned out of the 319,000 farms in 1990.

Many farmers have warned that Brexit could hasten the loss of small farms, as UK markets open up to lower-cost imports from outside the EU that previously faced farm duties. customs and other obstacles. The government has gradually introduced new support to farmers, based on payments for the provision of public goods such as tree planting, wildlife protection and soil maintenance, but it is still unclear how. these will work in practice.

Ministers also announced a consultation last week on granting lump sums to farmers who want to retire, along with support for people who want to get into farming but cannot afford it. However, some farmers fear that the program will encourage a further exodus of small farmers.

The Prince of Wales has long been a proponent of sustainable agriculture and earlier this year launched Terra Carta, a 2030 roadmap for businesses to move towards a low-carbon, eco-friendly future. ‘environment. He said this could provide a model for farmers who come together in cooperatives to reach consumers who are increasingly interested in buying locally and from small producers.

“These [small] farmers are some of the hardest working and most innovative small businesses and in many ways we depend on them far more than most of us will ever know, ”the prince wrote.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, echoed his point: “We wouldn’t want to see a loss of the traditional family farm. We would lose the culture and the heritage of this country, where 70% of the population is involved. Eighty percent of the land is cultivated and where it is expected that at the end of every farm track there will be a family. Our national identity is built on this. “

Britain’s small-scale farmers are increasingly worried about what Brexit will mean for them, with the government’s approaching trade deal with Australia causing widespread unrest. Many farmers told the Guardian they were alarmed at the impact an influx of cheap meat and other produce could have on small farmers and the British countryside.

Liz Lewis, who with her husband, David, cultivates 650 hectares (1,600 acres) in north Wiltshire, including a beef herd producing 100 calves a year, said: ‘These will be curtains for small ranchers. . There are already a lot less. It won’t happen overnight, it will be a slow burn, but in a few years you will see it.

She warned that the UK landscape would be transformed, as happened in the US, into widespread industrial agriculture with a green veneer. “It’s sad for the younger generation – it’s really hard to see how they can make any money unless they step up, going for big feedlots. [of the kind common in the US], “she said.” You have to imagine what the countryside will be like 10 or 20 years from now – it won’t be what we’re used to. There will be more trees, but behind those trees there will be farms. industrialized.

Tim Ashton, in north Shropshire, said the impact of the loss of small farms was already evident, even in the most rural areas. “What we see around us is social cleansing. Local people cannot afford to live here and small farms are disappearing. There’s a lot of gentrification going on – you’d expect to see this in Cornwall or the Cotswolds, but now it’s even happening here.

Consumers would also lose out from the decline of small farms, said Ruth Hancock, a self-proclaimed “newcomer” who has faced many obstacles in establishing herself as a small farmer. She said: “We are at great risk of creating a two tier food system similar to the United States, where we might end up having a few small organic producers to supply the concerned and affluent citizens. Meanwhile, the vast majority have to settle for imports at the lowest common denominator because they cannot afford to buy better or understand the difference. “

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Our historic plans for a renewed agricultural sector will transform the way we produce food and support English farmers. Through these changes, rather than paying farmers and landowners for the amount of land they manage, we will pay them for environmental and animal health and welfare results. We are phasing out the current subsidy, the basic payment scheme, gradually and gradually. This means that initially those claiming smaller grant amounts will have a smaller reduction in their payments when we make the first reduction later this year. “

Data research for this coin by Kunal Solanky

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