Our monthly series, Your Questions Answered, collates questions from Wicked Leeks readers and puts them to our expert team of writers and contributors. Submit your question for consideration by commenting on this article.
Ask: What support can government offer to support regenerative farming?
Joyce Costello via Facebook.
At Wicked Leeks, we spend a lot of time discussing and writing about the benefits of nature-friendly farming, including regenerative, organic and agroecology. But it’s sad to say these environmentally friendly approaches are still very much in the minority. So, what could the government do to propel them into the mainstream and support those who already do it?
Instead of answering this question ourselves, we put it to the farming community on Twitter and they told us what they thought would help.
Suggestions ranged from doubling the budget for farming (£3 billion was earmarked to support farmers post-Brexit), described as a “pittance” to secure healthy food and environment, to giving one-to-one advice.
Current subsidies offer money to farmers to set aside land for nature conservation and biodiversity. However, this does nothing to change the way they farm, and intensive food production can just continue alongside. Farmers recommended a ‘whole farm approach’ to reward integrating environmentally friendly practices into food production as well conservation, including reducing pesticides and fertilisers.
Beyond subsidies, farmers say research and development could play a huge role in making regenerative farming more profitable and productive, making a compelling case for farmers to switch. This has been sorely lacking to date, as corporate agrochemical companies, like Bayer and Syngenta, have replaced government-funded research, developing products to make industrial farming more efficient.
Another farmer said that the concept of ecological farming needed to be ‘sold’ to farmers and recommended that the government hire a team of salesmen to convince farmers that it’s possible and viable. That said, switching your entire farming approach is a huge change and can be financially risky, as others pointed out. They say the government needs to provide more resources and opportunities for farmers to come together and share their experiences so they can learn from each other.
However, it’s hard to convince farmers to change their methods when unregulated labelling mean that unethical producers, claiming that they’re ‘farm fresh’ and ‘grass-fed’, can undercut truly regenerative producers. Some farmers said they want government to provide more transparent labels on how food is produced, rewarding the farmers who already produce at a high standard, incentivising those who need to improve and empowering consumers to make informed purchases. Labelling can have a huge impact as the case of free-range eggs shows; purchases increased from 31 per cent to 60 per cent due to a clear labelling of ‘eggs from caged hens’.
Greenwashing is usually possible through a lack of close relationships between producer and consumer. If we knew how our food was produced, there might be no need for labels. In a sense, this is where a lot of the problems in food and farming originate. Farmers said there is a need to develop direct links to consumers and cut the middlemen out to gain a higher price and keep a higher percentage of prices. While not something government can perhaps help with directly, they can certainly help promote or support these alternative and more farmer-focused routes to market.
Jack Thompson, staff writer, Wicked Leeks