A Sector in Turmoil, but with an Optimistic Horizon: A First Glance at Agriculture
The Agricultural Sector faces one of the most disruptive transitional periods since the second world war. Government policy changes have been announced, but many are yet to come directly into action. The Basic Payment Scheme is receding, and with it the financial safety net beneath many AgriBusinesses. Coupled with these shifts in policy was Europe’s worst drought for 500 years, low rainfall and unprecedented temperatures; all a reminder that underlying this period of transition is an ever growing awareness of the need to sequester carbon, monitor our water retention and river systems, and bring sustainable land management to the forefront of conversation.
Understandably, many in the sector struggle to know where to turn next. Solutions to some of these issues- despite their abundance- can be difficult to implement at scale, with clarity on how best to move forward with the government’s new ELMs hard to come by. Moreover, the emerging Natural Capital market, which holds the key to financially incentivising nature based solutions, currently represents risk as much as it does reward. As a result, the industry would be forgiven for wondering quite how planned the Government’s “Agricultural Transition Plan” truly is.
But if the sector is in a period of change, it is also one of innovation. My first week at the Land App showed a dedicated team right at the centre of these issues, receptive to the difficulties Agriculture is facing and pushing innovative solutions. Collaborative technology can harmonise traditional metrics – food production, crop yield and market success – with the newer demands introduced by this period of change: conservation, biodiversity net gain, landscape recovery and carbon capture. Defra’s “Future Farming” blog tells us that “Food is still the primary purpose of farming, and always will be”. As it goes on to recognise, however, to achieve resilient and sustainable production (and consumption) “then farming and nature can and must go hand in hand”. Deconstructing the binary divide of extractive agriculture versus re-wilding opens up a conceptual horizon in which nature and biodiversity are a valued and constitutive element of the food production process. Increasingly, this overlap is set to provide the bedrock on which the future of Britain’s land use is to be built.
Ideologically, then, people across the sector begin to look toward similar visions of the future. But the question for many remains: how is this to be achieved? It remains problematic that phrases such as ‘Biodiversity’ and ‘Carbon Capture’ lie within the abstract umbrella-term of ‘Sustainability’. Turning such abstractions into a workable reality is no mean feat. Yet it is at the intersection of Data, Agriculture and Technology that truly exciting innovation is being born. The Land App takes these three pillars to create an empowering and novel platform that places land users in collaborative conversation. Farming of the future demands introducing environmental solutions ‘at scale’. But as with all collaborations, individuals lie at its heart. Helping these people work constructively together is a key stepping stone to restoring the land that sustains us all.
Agriculture has long been, and will continue to be, defined by different voices and agendas. Up to a point, land can sustain some of these demands. Though as climate ‘change’ verges on ‘crisis’, and policy casts much of the status quo to the roadside, it acts as a critical reminder that land is finite. The longer our own infrastructure rests on the destruction of nature, the more precarious our position becomes. Nebulous though emerging policy changes may be, at their core lies a goal which increasingly, we must all strive to achieve. Ultimately, these shifts leave many in the sector at a crossroads, with each path not quite clear enough to take with any certainty. Such transition, though, sets out a positive roadmap defined by conversation, collaboration and innovation. The future of land use is increasingly to be navigated together. An optimistic horizon indeed.