Modern Farming and the Environment

Under the Agriculture Bill, farmers will receive rewards proportionate to environmental benefits and the sustainability of food production.  Collaborative working on projects will be encouraged where there is a common goal.  I fully appreciate that agriculture is devolved and future policy in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government.  However, it benefits from UK-wide investment, and a large part of Scotland’s market for agriculture produce is the rest of the UK.  Echoing the National Farmers Union, we need to ensure that our farmers are the first-choice suppliers in the UK and are competitive elsewhere.  I ask the Minister, when he is promulgating policies, to continue to help farmers to achieve the dual aim of improving the environment and securing high-quality food production.

In response, the Minister said "My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) represents a great farming area.  When I was studying agriculture at university, we went on a field trip to Ayrshire, and I am very jealous of its mild climate, brought to it by the gulf stream.  It is clear that food production and the delivery of environmental objectives are not mutually exclusive; there is a synergism between those two goals, and we need to deliver them in parallel.

 

 

3.21 pm

Bill Grant (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock)

 

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) for securing this important debate. Amazingly, agriculture occupies more than two thirds of the UK landmass, and more than 60% of farmland is permanent grassland and common rough grazing. Almost a third of the UK’s forests and woodlands are on farmland. Those trees provide shelter and shade for livestock and a habitat for wildlife, as do hedgerows and dry-stane dykes—or stone walls—which have been introduced and, it should be remembered, maintained by farmers.

 

It must be appreciated that not all wildlife is welcomed by the farming community, as some birds attack newborn lambs and some mammals, such as badgers, potentially carry diseases transmissible to cattle. The introduction of beavers would not necessarily be welcomed by all in agriculture. However, pollinators such as bees are to be encouraged, as they are crucial to a healthy environment. Insect pollination of UK crops is estimated to be worth around £600 million per annum. Farmers are the custodians of much of the natural environment, which most of us enjoy responsibly, in accordance with the countryside code, but there are some foolish and selfish members of the public who are still irresponsible in allowing unleashed dogs to chase or in some cases worry and attack sheep, in particular. Also, fly-tipping takes place on agricultural land. Both those types of behaviour are totally irresponsible and unacceptable.

 

Access to the natural environment has the potential to enhance our health and wellbeing, and so does the nutritious food that UK farmers produce for us on a daily basis. Management of soil is crucial to that food production, and I am pleased to say that the rich Ayrshire soil is renowned for producing the famous potatoes that we up north would call “Ayrshire tatties”. Local quality produce, with its traceability factor, is popular at the regular farmers markets. However, that has not always been the case. Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, who was a poet and a farmer and, I am sure, an environmentalist, wrote critically of the heavy clay soils at his father’s farm at Lochlie, and the soil of his own farm at Ellisland, as being simply worn out. Thankfully, science and research have assisted with soil improvements over the centuries. Farmers are more aware of the soil types of their acreages and how best to farm soil as a carbon storage area to mitigate climate change and lock in greenhouse gases. It is to be hoped that in doing so they will take account of the UK Government’s 2019 clean air strategy, as agriculture is responsible for about 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Farmers are undoubtedly innovative, and they are enthusiastically embracing the use of artificial intelligence, and diversifying. In East Ayrshire, an Ochiltree dairy farmer’s milking parlour epitomises the new approach, with its use of robotics and laser technology. I was pleased to note that animal welfare was at the top of the scale there, and at the forefront of the business plan. Educational visits by local school children to the farm are encouraged, to enhance their understanding of farming and the environment.​

 

Under the Agriculture Bill, farmers will receive rewards proportionate to environmental benefits and the sustainability of food production. Collaborative working on projects will be encouraged where there is a common goal. I fully appreciate that agriculture is devolved and future policy in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. However, it benefits from UK-wide investment, and a large part of Scotland’s market for agriculture produce is the rest of the UK. Echoing the National Farmers Union, we need to ensure that our farmers are the first-choice suppliers in the UK and are competitive elsewhere. I ask the Minister, when he is promulgating policies, to continue to help farmers to achieve the dual aim of improving the environment and securing high-quality food production.