Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 9th July 2020.
My Lords, I support Amendment 40, to which I have put my name. It talks about financial assistance for establishing and maintaining agroforestry systems. I also support Amendment 84, which lays out what agroforestry actually means. I feel slightly guilty about this, because having pointed out on our first day in Committee the problems of this being a Christmas tree Bill that everybody wanted to hang a bauble on, here I am with a cherished bauble, because agroforestry systems have major benefits.
I should declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. Combining trees and farming is a very long-established system. Trees are a crop in themselves, but in combination with agriculture they also help nature, combat climate change and protect water, as well as being good for soil protection and animal welfare. For example, sheep with access to shelter belts of trees produce bigger lambs and suffer less ewe and lamb mortality. I offer my support to this amendment to probe and explore with the Minister how the Government will ensure that agroforestry might receive public funds under the terms of the Bill, since it undoubtedly delivers public goods.
Amendments 42 and 97, to which I have also put my name, seek support for agroecological practices. The case for that has been laid out admirably by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, so I shall not go on at length at this stage in the evening. Agroecology uses ecological principles to ensure farm productively while conserving natural resources, and takes into account the wider social and environmental context as it affects farmers and rural communities. Farms are seen as ecosystems and integrate the whole range of public goods that the Bill pursues to help join-up the various purposes in a much more systematic way.
I believe that nature-friendly farming is central to farming’s long-term survival. To give just one example, we know that, in many places in the UK, soils have been impoverished to the extent that they will support only a limited number of future harvests. Agroecological farming protects the future sustainability of soils, including their biodiversity, while delivering food. It was heartbreaking to hear the figures for the reduction in organic farming and food that the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, laid out so vividly. Can the Minister tell us how farms and land managers who want to implement agroecological principles will be supported from the funding schemes under the Bill and how more farmers and land managers can be encouraged to do so?