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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Reward farmers who help fight climate and nature crisis, urges IPPR think tank

  • Ministers must establish ‘new deal’ for farmers in a post-Brexit settlement that secures livelihoods and the natural environment, says report
  • Farmers are key to addressing the climate and nature crises but at the moment agriculture is the leading cause of biodiversity loss
  • Government must support farmers to navigate multiple challenges: Brexit, new technology, ageing workforce and environmental impacts
  • Report comes as leaks reveal environment department does not have a plan to meet targets for lower emissions or support farmers through transition

Now the UK has left the EU’s agricultural schemes, the government should seize the opportunity to transform farming to protect the environment and secure the livelihoods of farmers, according to a new IPPR report.

Instead of the current farm subsidies that support the status quo, IPPR argues that the new system the government is developing should better encourage and reward farmers for taking responsible action that cuts pollution and enhances our natural landscapes.

In the UK, agriculture contributes at least 10 per cent of greenhouse emissions and is the leading cause of biodiversity loss. Farmers will need to be supported to play a leading role in the UK’s net zero ambitions, but earlier this month it was revealed that the environment department had no plans for how to lower farming emissions yet.

As well as the climate and nature crises, farmers are facing their biggest upheaval in 50 years as the UK leaves the EU payment schemes and forges new trade deals. The sector is also grappling with a rapidly ageing workforce. The think tank argues that now is the opportune moment for the government to support farmers to face these multiple challenges with a new deal for farming.

To ensure all policies are fair to farmers and rural communities, the government must actively involve them in shaping the transition to a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable farming future. IPPR’s proposals for a fair transition include:

  • Financial support – The government’s plans for paying farmers for managing their farms in a way that benefits the environment, such as planting trees and hedgerows to capture carbon, managing soil better, improving biodiversity and preserving key species and animal breeds, must be clarified and improved. There is a clear risk that as currently proposed, the scheme will only support business as usual. Financial support schemes need to be designed to be accessible to the majority of farmers, but with sufficient incentives to progress and meet even more ambitious environmental targets. Public money shouldn’t be used to fund farms that aren’t providing a benefit to the public. Plenty of advice, training and support should be provided to help farmers plan for the future and meet more ambitious targets.
  • Rural life – Support communities with more investment in housing, clean transport options and ensuring superfast broadband connections.
  • Future farmers – Support more young people and people from more diverse backgrounds to get into farming by encouraging community ownership of farms and land sharing schemes when existing owners retire.
  • Trade - New trade deals should set high standards for animal welfare and the preservation of nature. They should also protect British farmers by not allowing unfettered access to UK markets for food produced to lower environmental standards.

Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“Farmers will need to play a vital role if the UK is to reach net zero, but right now farms are making the climate crisis worse.

“If farming is to be at the vanguard of the battle against climate change and for the recovery of nature, then responsible farming must be profitable, it has to offer good livelihoods for farmers and workers, and for farms of different types and sizes.

“To see this realised, the government must step up to support current and future farmers through the many changes they are facing.”

Fraser Hugill, farmer and independent farm advisor, based in North Yorkshire, said:

"My take home message from the report is a need to make better connections between farmers and consumers so our supply chains reward nature and climate friendly farming. Government must provide a fit for purpose environmental scheme that supports greener more equitable farming that is not undermined by exporting our environmental responsibilities to other parts of the world."

Marcus Nyman, senior research fellow at IPPR and senior policy officer at RSPB, said:

“With over 70 per cent of UK land used for farming, agriculture will have a critical role if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate and nature crises or meeting the UK’s ambition to be a world leader on the environment. But the more we ask UK farmers to deliver, the more we should be supporting them along the way – through public money, advice and support, and what we buy in the weekly shop. That’s not only fair but also in all of our interests.

“Making the best use of our land – whether for growing food, capturing carbon, restoring habitats or a combination of all three – can’t be done without putting farming communities at the heart of our plans.”


Luke Murphy and Fraser Hugill are available for interview


David Wastell, Head of News and Communications: 07921 403651 [email protected]

Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798 [email protected]


  1. The IPPR paper, A Fair Transition for Farming by Marcus Nyman, Ali Plummer and Luke Murphy, will be published at 0001 on Thursday 13 May. It will be available for download at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request
  3. The cross-party IPPR Environmental Justice Commission was created in 2019 with the aim of working with people across the UK to develop policies and ideas that will tackle the climate crisis and restore nature as quickly and fairly as possible. The commission is co-chaired by Hilary Benn MP, Laura Sandys and Caroline Lucas MP, leading politicians from the Labour, Conservative and Green Parties. Find out more here:  
  4. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.