"Best practice, ideas and innovation" in agriculture under discussion in new UK wide forum announces Environment Secretary George Eustice

The first meeting of a new forum aimed at sharing issues which face the agricultural sector met this week.

Northern Ireland Executive Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots was at the inaugural event.
Northern Ireland Executive Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots was at the inaugural event.

The UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP) had its inaugural meeting at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester to discuss water quality with a range of experts setting out the challenges and discussing solutions for improving water quality across the agriculture sector.

Launching the new partnership, Environment Secretary George Eustice said it would provide a way to share UK-wide best practice, ideas and innovation as well as tackling some of the common challenges agriculture is facing.

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“We are bringing together farmers, farming unions, environmental groups, agricultural colleges and associations so that we can tackle practical challenges together,” he said.

“From enriching our soils and reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture, to how best use technology and science to boost our food production ambitions.”

While agriculture is a devolved policy, UKAP will involve England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with Northern Ireland Executive Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots, inset, attending the event.

Mr Poots thanked Mr Eustice for the invitation. “Our agriculture sector has shared issues across the United Kingdom so I hope that this forum provides a platform for collaboration and information sharing from all parts of the UK in the future,” Mr Poots told the partnership.

Future meetings will discuss topics such as the role of science and agri-tech in supporting food production and solutions to reduce pollution and carbon emissions in the sector.

Mr Eustice said sustainable agriculture has a “vital” role to play in helping to solve many of the most pressing issues the world faces such as biodiversity decline, meeting net zero targets and growing the food to feed an increasing population.

“UKAP will provide a platform for academics, experts, industry players and farming stakeholders to share scientific knowledge and best practice to learn from each other to identify innovative solutions to common problems.”

Comment: George Eustice, Secretary of State for the Environment

A year into implementing our new agricultural policy, we have made great progress in working in partnership with farmers and stakeholders to design the new system.

We’re moving away from the arbitrary land-based subsidies and top-down bureaucracy that epitomised the EU era and incentivising farmers to farm more sustainably alongside profitable food production, creating space for nature and enhancing animal welfare.

On Thursday, we took a leap further in our ambitions to work collaboratively with the sector. I want to make sure that experts and stakeholders across the whole of the UK have a suitable space to come together to address shared challenges such as ways to enrich our soils and reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture, or how to best harness technology and scientific knowledge to support our food production ambitions.

And with more than two million hectares of farmed land spanning across Yorkshire & the Humber and in the East Midlands alone, opportunities for making a positive impact are plentiful.

That’s why I was in Gloucestershire to launch the UK Agriculture Partnership, to share UK-wide best practice, ideas and innovations.

The partnership is open to academics, industry bodies, levy bodies, agricultural colleges, associations and ministers across the UK. Through the partnership, I want to make sure that practical challenges faced in farming across Yorkshire and the East Midlands, as well as anywhere else in the UK, are addressed in a collaborative way.

I want to bring all of the relevant actors together to shape our priorities.

Thursday marked the first of our meetings, focussed on water quality. All parties took the opportunity to share experiences and best practice to support policy innovation, and I hope that we can replicate the things that work well.

For example, in England we are almost doubling funding in our Catchment Sensitive Farming programme, a partnership between Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency. It provides free advice to farmers to help them reduce water and air pollution.

We are now rolling it out to all farmers in England, including here in Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

More broadly on the importance of sharing best practice, in areas such as Yorkshire effective soil management, tree planting, and peatland restoration are all playing a key role in reducing flood risk along the Aire, Calder, Don and other rivers.

We have many strengths in this region and across the whole of the UK, and it is my hope that this UK-led initiative will expedite learning, knowledge-sharing and practical solutions to shared challenges.