The House of Commons is set to undergo its first virtual voting procedure today (13 May), with MPs given one last opportunity to amend the Agriculture Bill which is designed to safeguard agricultural processes and the natural environment.
MPs will meet virtually to discuss the Agriculture Bill as part of a parliamentary session later on today.
The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs' (Defra) Agriculture Bill was introduced 16 January, confirming the Government's plans for rewarding farmers that make environmental improvements and safeguarding green standards post-Brexit.
Parliament discussions have been curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic and the parliamentary recess, but MPs will discuss the Bill as part of a new virtual voting process.
In its current iteration, the Bill includes measures that will see farmers and land managers rewarded financially for work to improve air and water quality; boost soil health; implement flood mitigation and adaptation measures; improve access to the countryside or bolster animal welfare.
Payments under this incentive scheme will be rolled out over a seven-year period starting in 2021, replacing some of the existing Common Agricultural Policy’s incentive schemes. The Bill includes a promise for the pot of funding allocated for this purpose not to dip below current levels.
At a global level, agriculture is known to be both one of biggest contributors to global GHG emissions (generating 11% of humanity’s output annually) and one of the sectors most exposed to environmental and climate risk.
The Wildlife Trusts has called on MPs to ensure that the Agriculture Bill rewards farmers for reforming practices to protect nature and contribute to combatting the climate crises, rather than the current system of paying them for owning land.
“We know that coronavirus has made people value nature more than ever; polls also suggest people have been worried about access to food. You can’t have food security without nature being in good shape – you can’t grow food without pollinators or healthy soils,” Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts said.
“It’s vital that we recognise the important role farmers could play in nature and our climate’s recovery – this Bill could mark a watershed, a shift towards a green renaissance which would be good for the economy too. MPs must not be swayed by the ‘return to business as usual’ lobby.
The Wildlife Trusts is calling for money to be funnelled towards farmers that are restoring hedgerows and wildflower meadows, creating wetlands and protecting soils to capture carbon and sustain future harvests.
Elsewhere, the Bill introduces a new requirement for the UK Government to regularly report on food security to Parliament. Given that around half of the food consumed annually in the UK is imported, Brexit has repeatedly been flagged as a potential threat to food security, alongside environmental issues.
The first report to Parliament is expected to be produced this year and to cover issues such as supply chain resilience and global food availability.