Commercial-scale farming is crucial to the future of a sustainable post-EU UK agrifood chain, argues a group of the country’s progressive farmers. But emerging agricultural policy seems to favour environment over food production.

The Commercial Farmers Group has published Commercial Farming: Delivering the UK’s new Agriculture Policies to coincide with the second reading of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords. The report says that commercial agriculture has the potential to solve sustainability challenges; generate employment; and boost the post-pandemic economy.

Fewer than 10% of farming businesses currently produce over half the UK’s agricultural output, notes Suffolk pig and arable crop producer James Black. “These businesses are also ideally-placed to stimulate local economies, support wider industries and address pressing problems such as use of finite resources, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and biodiversity decline.

“However, they can only do this if allowed the chance,” he warns. “Too often, commercial farmers are being systematically ‘written out’ of emerging policy in the rush to push environmental enhancement above all else.”

Areas where commercial farming could help improve future farming policy include using resources efficiently with fewer emissions; providing land and capital to invest in renewable energy technologies; and delivering land improvement and biodiversity projects. Such projects could stimulate wider rural development while raising the Gross Value Added contribution from the food and drink sector.

The report lists three policy areas to help this process. Sustainability recognises the positive role of technology and modern farming systems in improving the sustainability of food production and the environment. Smarter regulation is needed, with emphasis on earned recognition and evidenced outcomes rather than “mindless compliance with process”. Lastly, increased and better-directed funding for applied research, development and extension will increase agricultural productivity and mitigate changing climate.

Mr Black wants commercial farmers to be seen as the solution, not ‘the enemy’. “With their efficiency based on evidence-based decision making and best practice, they structure their operations to make optimal use of their natural resources – and where they are already engaged in delivering public goods, they do so with accountability towards the outcomes. In short, they can quickly bring about change through capability, data, scale and technology to meet changing market demands.”

UK farmers should be ready and willing to compete with food imports, he concludes, provided there is clear labelling identifying differences in production standards.