Findings from trials of a new integrated method for auditing sustainable farming practices will be officially unveiled at the Suffolk Show next week.
The Suffolk Farm Sustainability Study has been co-ordinated by Neil Ridley from Otley College using an appraisal model developed by chartered surveyor Nicholas Woolley from Freckenham.
It was developed by Mr Woolley – helped by funding from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Environment Agency. Three pilot studies were conducted – focusing on farming, rural estate management and brownfield site planning and redevelopment – and the results indicated that the concept was sound.
The Environment Agency hopes to introduce the estate management system on its own estates and the planning concept is being used by a district council in its Local Plan Review.
The “Farm Sustainability Audit” (FSA) formed the basis for the trial sustainability audit in Suffolk, which was sponsored by Mr Woolley’s firm, Woolley & Company, and the Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trust, closely linked to Otley College.
Funding for the study was also provided by English Nature, the Government office for the East of England, FWAG (the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group), the Environment Agency, ADER (Agricultural Development in the Eastern Region) and the Suffolk Development Agency.
With European support payments likely to become increasingly linked to environmental issues, Brussels is already showing interest in the FSA concept, says Mr Woolley.
Potentially, farms failing to comply with sustainability targets could find their entitlement to support payments eroded or lost.
The FSA approach also fulfils many of the objectives of the recent Curry Report on the future of food and farming policy as well as Government’s desire for a “whole farm management audit”, he adds.
Under the system, the issue of farm sustainability is split into six areas – economy, aesthetics, design, natural resources, infrastructure and public welfare. Each is sub-divided so that sustainability is measured in 64 categories.
Although the results of the pilot will not be unveiled until next week, they have been disclosed to the six Suffolk farmers who participated and the study’s supporting organisations.
There was recognition at this meeting of the desirability of having a single system capable of meeting requirements for information to minimise red tape.
Introducing an accepted measure of sustainability was considered helpful for the image of farming and the information gathered may help to improve financial performance in some areas.
It was felt the sustainability audit would allow for future reform of the support payment structure – taking into account positive results already achieved by environmentally-conscious farmers.
Concern was expressed that the form used in the pilot study contained ambiguities and that it could become cumbersome if it was made all-embracing.
Most tellingly, people expressed fears that, regardless of the merits of the system, it offered no solution to the problem of high UK standards encouraging the import of cheaper produce from overseas where the same standards did not apply.
Mr Woolley said though he would not expect farmers to take up the programme voluntarily, he believed the concept had the potential to ease the burden of form-filling.
Early indications were that the NFU and the Country Land and Business Association viewed the model as being more “farmer friendly” than other audit systems, he added.
East Anglian Daily Times | 1 June 2002June 1st, 2002