Shropshire farmers are coming up with the "public goods"
There’s no doubt that the future of agricultural support is changing.
One phrase we keep hearing is "public money for public goods." But what does it really mean? It’s vital that we know what we might expect, and what might be expected of us.
We recently met on Shropshire’s Plowden Estate with a range of land managers and owners, conservation professionals, foresters, sporting interests and government representatives to discuss what this might mean for land management in future. And yes, there were local farmers taking part with a great deal to contribute.
Despite constant rain throughout the day, the subject proved extremely topical and generated some highly informed and lively discussion between those present.
It soon became clear that any new environmental scheme will need to be underpinned by a whole farm plan, which will audit and identify the existing and potential natural capital – the "public goods" a farm provides.
Of course, many landowners and land managers are already managing the land in such a way as to protect the natural capital. The argument is being made that the new scheme should reward protecting what’s already there, as well as looking to provide additional natural capital and ecosystem services.
In line with the Lawton principles of ‘Bigger, Better, More, Connected’ landowners will be encouraged to work at a landscape scale. This could be at the level of a single farm or estate, but is far more likely to involve working with neighbours, something to start considering now.
Bringing together a wide range of expertise is key to achieving results that benefit biodiversity, protect the landscape and provide an income for the landowner.
Visiting a larger estate really proved useful as we could see a wide range of issues in a day. Our host Roger Plowden emphasised that the management of the estate has been a team effort, requiring skills from a wide range of additional experts with specialist knowledge. These experts can of course be used on a greater scale on neighbouring holdings, making the supply of those public goods a far more cooperative and efficient effort.
The future seems bright if we have a well designed, well supported and, importantly, farmer-led environmental land management scheme including more who are keen to provide the public goods we keep hearing so much about, and who want to take an active role in protecting our landscape and wildlife.
It’s important that we familiarise ourselves with the way support is going, and how we, together with our neighbours can remain successful in an industry that is under so much pressure from outside factors.
Look around you – Shropshire farmers and landowners are already ahead of the game.
Mark Riches, CLA Midlands regional director