A more supportive, flexible and incentives-led approach to farming regulation has been recommended as part of wide-ranging review into the UK farming sector published yesterday. (Thursday 13 December).
The final report by Dame Glenys Stacey, concludes that current regulation of the farming sector – with its one-size-fits-all rules-based approach – is far too inflexible and that leaving the EU provides the opportunity to do things differently.
The report recommends a new independent regulator that would be supportive of farmers’ individual circumstances. This means local advisers would be able to visit farmers to discuss issues such as biosecurity, soil quality or animal welfare, rather than turning up to impose an automatic sanction.
The report observes that the regulator should work alongside farmers – to “do with” rather than to “do to” in order to ensure high standards.
Commissioned by Environment secretary Michael Gove in February, the report also recommends better use of technology.
Dame Glenys commented: “As things are, farmers are subject to a number of pernickety and sometimes nonsensical rules. There is little practical advice or guidance given to ensure compliance. Instead, automatic financial penalties have become the norm when at times they are unfair.
“The large majority of farmers want to farm responsibly but some need guidance, advice and support to do that. A regulator should provide that, and explain why any change on the farm is needed. Yes, sometimes swingeing sanctions are justified, but more often, more is achieved by a more supportive approach.”
Gove added: “Dame Glenys and her team have done excellent work on this comprehensive review into farm regulation and inspections, drawing on what works best in other sectors.
“It’s clear that current regulation isn’t working as it should. We commissioned this report because leaving the EU gives us the opportunity for a fresh and modern approach – one that is less onerous for farmers and also helps us to deliver on our environmental ambitions.”
NFU president Minette Batters said: “Dame Glenys Stacey’s review sets an ambitious agenda for the future regulation of British farming. Her recommendations have the potential to deliver a regulation and inspection regime that is not only fit for purpose, but also promotes a culture where regulators and farm businesses work together.
“This is one part of the change needed, alongside an Agriculture Bill focused on agricultural purposes and agricultural land, that will assist farming to become more productive, profitable and sustainable in the future.
“Any new system must restore confidence in our regulatory system, support farm businesses and allow them to continue producing safe, traceable and affordable food for the nation.”
The government will respond to the review in the New Year.