New research shows how to include more farmers in the design of new environmental policies

A new paper explores how government policy-makers can include a wide range of farmers in the design of new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, using different engagement strategies to work with individuals who may be harder to reach.

Green farmland and fields stretch out in the distance. In the foreground a man is covering some hay bales with black plastic
The Regather Farm in the Moss Valley
  • The study highlights the need for skilled intermediaries to support farmers through the post-Brexit agricultural transition and help mitigate the impact of Covid-19
  • Researchers outlined recommendations for how policymakers can improve methods of engagement, including internet connectivity and accessible resources
  • The research was led by the University of Sheffield, in partnership with the University of Reading

Rresearch released today (30 March 2022), led by Dr Ruth Little from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography, found there are multiple reasons why farmers might be reluctant to engage with policy-makers. 

These include negative past experiences, a lack of time, a lack of interest, as well as perceived scheme bureaucracy, age, lack of trust, and bad internet access. 

Researchers outlined a series of recommendations for how policymakers can improve methods of engagement so that a wide range of farmers can be included in the design of new policies for agriculture and environment. 

These include improving rural broadband, working with trusted people, ensuring that engagement benefits farmers, and making sure forms of engagement like written consultations are accessible to those with disabilities and limited free time. 

The recommendations apply not only to the UK but also to other countries planning similar changes to environmental policies on farmland. 

Researchers also found that farmers are more likely to support and implement new policies on their farms if policymakers include a wider range of farmers in the design of new environmental policies, concluding that this will help deliver benefits to the environment.

Dr Ruth Little, Lecturer in Human Geography and member of the Institute for Sustainable Food, said: “This is the biggest change in agricultural policy in over a generation. ELM could be transformational in terms of paying farmers to produce environmental benefits; but it needs to be well designed to deliver agricultural sustainability in terms of economic, social and environmental gains. Our research provides important insights on making the development of ELM as inclusive as possible, to ensure a sustainable future for both agriculture and the environment”.

Dr David Rose, Associate Professor at the University of Reading, who led the writing of the paper published today said: “Latest figures suggest that ​​39% of farmers do not understand Defra’s future vision, 54% do not have the right information for business planning, and 47% of holdings are not positive about their future in farming. Our research provides tangible actions for Defra on how to help those ‘harder to reach’ farmers who may be least confident about their future and know the least about how to make a successful transition.”

Dr Paul Hurley, a Senior Research Fellow from the University of Southampton and a lead author of the project reports and manuscript, said: “The research identified the value of engaging and listening to a broad range of farmers, and the dangers of not doing so. Amidst a landscape of uncertainty - Covid-19, Brexit, a climate emergency and geopolitical tensions - we saw how important it is that policymakers get it right, for current and future generations and for environmental sustainability.”

Jessica Lyon, Environmental Policy Consultant at ICF and former Research Associate at the University of Sheffield, and a lead author of the project reports and manuscript said: "A commitment from Defra to engage farmers in agricultural policy development is laudable, but time and resource is required to ensure that engagement is wide-reaching. 

“Online digital platforms are an example of a tool that can increase engagement levels for some but act as a barrier for those with poor internet connectivity and less confidence with digital platforms. Care here is needed to ensure that some aren't left behind during this agricultural transition period."

Read the paper in full

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