104: How will the Agriculture Act impact sustainable farming?

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The Agriculture Act has been regarded as the first landmark piece of post-Brexit legislation by the UK Government. Passed in November, the act sets out how farmers and land-owners in the country will be rewarded for adopting sustainable food production practices.

What impact will it have, and how is the act viewed by farmers and land-owners? Will the new legislation change farming and food production for the better? We’ve assembled a panel to discuss these points and more. Joining host Stefan Gates are Professor Jane Rickson, Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation, Cranfield Soil and AgriFood Institute, Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming, Food and Farm Policy, Sustain, Emily Norton, Head of Rural Research, Savills UK and Mark Coulman, Chair, Tenants Farming Association.

About our panel

Professor Jane Rickson, Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation, Cranfield Soil and AgriFood Institute

Professor Jane Rickson has over 30 years’ experience of research, consultancy and teaching in soil and water engineering, specialising in soil degradation processes and sustainable land management. Her work has focused on better understanding of soil functions and their role in the delivery of ecosystems goods and services, including water regulation, agricultural production and carbon storage. She uses multi-disciplinary approaches to integrate fundamental and applied land resources science at a range of spatial and temporal scales.

Her work is directed at Research Councils, industry, farmers and policy makers. Recent projects include: Development of a Soil Management Information System (AHDB); Better understanding of the soil protection landscape (Defra); Developing a conceptual framework for a soil impact metric for agricultural and commodity supply chains (Institute for Sustainability Leadership, University of Cambridge; CISL); Review of the England and Wales soils evidence base (Welsh Government); Provision of research to develop the evidence base on soil erosion (Committee on Climate Change, Adaptation Sub Committee); and The total costs of soil degradation in England & Wales (Defra).

Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming, Food and Farm Policy, Sustain

Vicki Hird is an award winning author, expert, strategist and senior manager who has been working on environment, food and farming issues for over 25 years. As part- time Sustainable Farm Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, Vicki manages the farm policy and related campaigning and provides comment and guidance on these issues.

Prior to this role, she was director of Campaigns and Policy At War on Want. Previously she was the Senior Campaigner heading up the Land use, Food and Water Programme for Friends of the Earth and Policy Director of Sustain. She was Policy Director of Sustain, 1999 – 2004 and has been an expert consultant for NGOs and institutions (including for RSPB, WSPA, The Sustainable Development Commission, Greenpeace, The Plunkett Foundation and HEAL). She has launched many major food and environment campaigns, from local to global in scope, has blogged frequently and published numerous reports and articles on the sustainability of food systems and published Perfectly Safe to Eat? (Women’s Press 2000).

She has an academic background in pest management and is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and the RSA. Vicki is on the board of Pesticides Action Network, and the Keo Foundation, was chair of the Eating Better Alliance and has sat on numerous government advisory groups over the years. She also runs an independent consultancy undertaking campaigning and research.

Emily Norton, Head of Rural Research, Savills UK

Emily heads up the Savills UK Limited Rural Research team, guiding the creation of insight and analysis into rural policy, data and benchmarking for Savills and its clients across the U.K. She consults for clients and government on rural policy and corporate strategy, with a particular focus on rural asset investment and strategic sustainability and climate response. Emily is a director of the Oxford Farming Conference for 2021-2023 and a Nuffield Scholar 2018.

Mark Coulman, Chair, Tenants Farming Association

Mark Coulman has been a TFA member for over 20 years, serving as East Midlands Regional Chairman, National Vice-Chairman and now Chairman on the retirement of James Gray in March 2020. Having graduated in Agriculture and Food Marketing from Newcastle University, and undertaken consultancy roles and sales and marketing roles within the agricultural software industry, Mark returned to the family farm in 1993, succeeding as tenant in 1997. Farming 235 hectares of arable land, cropping wheat, rape, sugar beet, peas amongst other things, as well as flower growing which diversified into a successful flower import, packing and distribution business.

Mark has managed several diversified businesses and believes in the ability of farmers to be successful entrepreneurs. Currently, the farm is involved in developing a care & social farm enterprise, providing opportunities for adults and children dealing with challenges to improve their health and well-being. The opportunity to develop this offer within the public money for public good framework is a particular interest. Mark is a firm believer in the ability of the tenanted sector to deliver successful, sustainable farm businesses which both produce quality food and environmental sustainability for the good of the wider rural community.

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