Five key factors driving seismic change in our farming landscape

A farmer ploughing his field at Bayfield

The shift from EU direct subsidies to post-Brexit environmental incentives is a major driver of change in East Anglia's countryside - Credit: Antony Kelly

The last six months have ushered in some tumultuous changes for East Anglia's farming landscape. Here are five of the key driving factors:

1- Subsidy phase-out: The post-Brexit shift away from EU subsidies towards green incentives is part of the most significant change to agricultural policy for more than 50 years. At the end of November, the government announced how it will phase out the current Basic Payment Scheme, based on the amount of land farmed, and replace it with a new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which will instead reward farmers for work to protect and enhance nature. The seven-year-phase-out starts this year, but the new scheme is still under development - adding urgency to farms' pursuit of alternative, eco-friendly income streams.

Farm shop food in a basket

The coronavirus lockdown sparked a huge rise in demand for local food from Norfolk's farm shops - Credit: Archant

2- Covid-19: The continuing pandemic has brought many challenges, not least the outbreaks at meat processing factories which, allied to post-Brexit export problems, prompted a huge surplus of pigs on the region's farms at the start of the year, bringing the sector to crisis point. But there have also been some positives from the pandemic. The resulting surge in demand for local food sparked expansions for farm shops and online delivery services, and prompted a greater awareness and appreciation of farmers and the nation's food security. The relaxation of lockdown has also brought more people into the countryside, offering more opportunities for farmers to engage with the public - but also generating issues ranging from littering, trespass and livestock worrying.

Wheat growing in a parched Norfolk field

Volatile weather and potential droughts are recurring concerns for East Anglia's farmers - Credit: Archant © 2011

3- Weather: The weather has always been farming's greatest liability, and its increasing volatility has been evident this year, ranging from the deluges and floods around Christmas, through to one of the driest Aprils on record, prompting concerns for arable crops and grass for livestock, while late frosts have put fruit and vegetable growers two weeks behind schedule.

Turkeys on a Norfolk farm

Thousands of Norfolk turkeys had to be culled following bird flu outbreaks at the end of last year - Credit: Matthew Usher

4- Diseases: The return of bird flu prompted the culls of thousands of Norfolk turkeys and ducks at the end of last year, prompting a mandatory housing order for free-range and back-yard flocks which only ended last month. In the arable world, virus yellows had a devastating impact on the sugar beet crop in the absence of now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides, which previously killed virus-carrying aphids. The rising risks, coupled with low beet prices, have prompted some growers to abandon this staple East Anglian crop for good.

Dairy cattle on a Norfolk farm

Livestock is a key contributor to agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions - Credit: Matthew Usher

5- Climate targets: Last month, the government set a new target to cut carbon emissions by 78pc by 2035, while the National Farmers' Union wants to be "net zero" by 2040. The increased consumer interest in climate-friendly food has prompted retailers to follow suit - with Morrisons recently pledging to be the first supermarket completely supplied by "net zero" British farms by 2030. All of this could potentially have a fundamental long-term impact on how food is produced in East Anglia.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus