A 86-page report co-authored by our CEO Marcus Link with Tony Greenham has today been published by the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission.
“Farming Smarter: the case for agroecological enterprise” sets out the business case for agroecology at a farm level and the policy-level vision required to allow farm businesses to transition to this model with confidence.
Link and Greenham consider how farmers can transition to smarter approaches at pace and scale, analyse what hinders change from being adopted more quickly, and map out the landscape and frameworks for assessing the effectiveness of agroecological approaches.
Farming Smarter is intended as an overview of the thinking and principles behind agroecological approaches to agriculture and land management. It explores the economic argument for regenerative farming and confirms that there is no need for a trade-off between profit and nature in an agroecological system.
The report reinforces the view that many farmers are ready for change but need clarity of vision from policy makers for a joined-up food and farming system that will allow them to transition with confidence. The business case for agroecology at a farm level is fast emerging.
Current business models are fragile and questions are growing about the climate resilience of intensive agriculture in the face of evidence of extreme weather events (NFU Harvest Survey data for 2020 reports the smallest harvest since 1981 and yields down 15-18% across key crops). Unsurprisingly given these factors, farmers are changing their mindsets and re-ordering farming systems – but they need policy changes that help them to succeed. Farming Smarter navigates this territory and provides a useful summary of the economic case for agroecology.
The report identifies three specific actions in the UK that would help it grasp the potential of agroecology:
1. Research and knowledge dissemination
There is an urgent need for relevant research; in particular, more robust methods are needed to measure and quantify ecologically meaningful outcomes, and further research is needed into the most efficient approaches and combinations of approaches in different ecoregions of the UK.
2. Investing in agroecology at pace and scale
There is a shortage of appropriate finance for some viable business propositions. Even where external finance is available, or transition to agroecology can be financed from internal business cash flows, to achieve change at necessary
pace and scale requires a significant mobilisation of a range of forms of capital including equity and debt.
3. Supporting the agroecological entrepreneur
The nature of agroecology is knowledge intensive and requires an appetite for innovation and risk that would be greater enhanced by robust business support including training, mentoring and effective diffusion of knowledge. The challenge posed by the large cohort of farmers at retirement age should be grasped as an opportunity to back a new generation of agroecological farmers.