A more supportive, flexible and incentives-led approach to farming regulation has been recommended as part of wide-ranging review into the sector published today (Thursday 13 December).
The final report by Dame Glenys Stacey, concludes that the current regulation of the farming sector – with its one-size-fits-all rules-based approach – is far too inflexible. 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, offering them practical advice, guidance and helping to incentivise good practice.
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. In other words, the regulator should work alongside farmers – to “do with” rather than to “do to” in order to ensure high standards.
The report, which was commissioned by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in February, also recommends better use of technology. For instance, through satellite data and drones to monitor field margins and other public goods that the land manager is contracted to deliver.
Changing the balance between ‘on foot’ and remote surveillance would make inspections more efficient for the regulator and less burdensome for the farmer.
Dame Glenys Stacey said: “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.
“There is so much scope to regulate more effectively, by harnessing technology and local knowledge. A strong regulatory culture brings many opportunities – from getting on top of systemic issues such as animal diseases, to improving plant health and our environment under the new farming system.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “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.”
The government will respond to the review in the New Year.
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 to assist farming to become more productive, profitable and sustainable in the future.
“The primary recommendation is to establish a single regulator in place of five Defra bodies and local authorities. This would be a major change in how regulation is delivered. To be successful it will be crucial that the Agriculture Bill is committed to agricultural land and food production. A new regulator should be able to incentivise a new domestic farm policy. While we applaud the aspiration it must not be rushed; time is needed to detail how this system would look, how it is funded, its governance and what the impact would be on farm.
“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.”