Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (A35(a))


  There is an increasing acceptance that agriculture needs to have greater regard for the environment. It is important that the protection of natural resources (water, land and air) is recognised and addressed within any overall strategy.

  Agriculture has significant environmental impacts on soil, water and air. Protection of natural resources is fundamental to both sustainable development for the UK and sustainable agriculture. Failure to protect these key resources is clearly unsustainable. Available evidence suggests that the cost of current agricultural practices to natural resources could be in the range of £1.3 billion annually.[25] These costs are conservative due to the exclusion of the cost of loss of amenity and recreation, habitat and biodiversity value and some health impacts.

  If best available techniques were implemented to address the environmental problems, reductions in these costs of around £0.3 billion in the short term, increasing to £0.5 billion in the longer term are achievable.

  More environmental legislation from Europe is already in the pipeline and the costs of implementing and complying with this will be substantial. To prepare for and meet these requirements urgent action needs to be taken to raise the environmental performance of all farms.


  Good Farming Practice (GFP) should be the standard all farmers are expected to meet as part of their normal business practice. If all farms were to adopt GFP most environmental impacts would be manageable. However, even though many farmers and land managers support measures to protect the environment, in practice, standards generally fall well below this level for the following reasons:

    —  lack of awareness and acceptance of the environmental impacts by those within the industry, leading to lax environmental management;

    —  difficulties in measuring performance because a number of different definitions of GFP currently exist;

    —  technology and knowledge transfer from the Government to the farming industry has been patchy.

  The DEFRA Codes of Good Agricultural Practice do not provide a clear definition of GFP (and were not designed to do so). Additionally the Codes are not particularly well known or adopted. Practices in the industry need to change quickly if European obligations are to be met.

  In priority locations, measures more stringent than GFP need to be adopted, to achieve the environmental outcomes necessary to meet site specific European obligations such as the Habitats Directive. Farmers going beyond GFP should be seen to be delivering public goods above and beyond their social responsibilities. In theory, greater public goods may be delivered on any farm. In practice, because money is limited, Government investment on farms should occur where the net benefits are highest.


  Whilst action on farms is needed urgently, in the short-term this action could be driven most effectively by non-regulatory, knowledge transfer and grant-supported approaches. The Agency believes that the way forward is to:

    (a)  Define clearly what is meant by GFP, determining what are basic responsibilities and what public goods society should pay for

    (b)  Provide mechanisms limited to an initial time period to enable farmers to raise performance to meet GFP standards, and where necessary, European obligations

    (c)  Provide mechanisms to take action against poor performers

    (d)  Pay farmers to deliver genuine public goods.

  Our suggested strategy consists of two phases separated by a review point.

    —  Phase I—A transitional, non-regulatory phase in which all farmers are proactively helped to bring their farms up to GFP, whilst farms in priority areas are taken beyond GFP to protect specific catchments or habitats. The infrastructure, training and advice needed to achieve this should be grant-supported. There may also be a need for support for capital investments. The Agency's proposed Environmental Management System for Farms could provide the basis for this phase.

    —  Review point—Depending upon the progress made towards performance targets in Phase I, decisions can be made as to whether and what hard regulatory action is required to guarantee the required performance levels in Phase II.

    —  Phase II—Hard regulatory approaches should be adopted as necessary to tackle under-performing farms. No further grant-aid should be provided to bring farms up to the basic level of GFP. Some continuing support will still be needed for those farms delivering public goods.

  This approach is illustrated by the diagram in Annex 1.


  The Agency's proposed Environmental Management System for farms (EMSF) is key to this approach. It will enable farmers to:

    —  Undertake a site-specific audit and environmental impact assessment of the farm

    —  Use the audit as the basis for developing and implementing environmental management into business planning

    —  Demonstrate that GFP is understood and is being met

    —  Identify delivery of public goods

  For Government and the regulator this means both better environmental performance and cost-effective, better regulation, allowing effort to be concentrated on poor performers.

28 February 2002

25   Agriculture and Natural Resource Problems: Benefits, Costsand Potential Solutions-Environment Agency draft report. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 6 November 2002