Small emergency loan programme

Providing critical funds to the food sector during the Covid-19 crisis

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of our globalised food system and our reliance on long, just in time supply chains. This has led to a big increase in demand for local food but many agroecological producers and community food businesses have had to stop taking on new customers due to lack of resources, staff and supply chain difficulties.

We want to try and do something to help these organisations through this crisis, both ensuring that they are able to survive, but also helping them to meet growing demand by developing new routes to market and scaling their operations for the long term.

LEAP’s offer

We are offering the following funding for a period of 3 months from 1st April 2020:

  • Small unsecured loans from £5,000 to £20,000
  • 3-month capital and interest holiday, followed by 12-month capital holiday
  • Interest rate: 5%
  • Term: 5 years and 3 months
  • Quick decision (we aim for funds to be paid to successful organisations within 14 days of application)
  • Arrangement fee: Waived while this offer is open.

No grant will be paid with these small loans. If you need more than £20,000 of funding please apply to the general LEAP programme (which provides a blended financial package of loans, grants and mentoring) in the usual way.


The focus for this funding will be on established community food businesses and agroecological growers and it can be used for anything that helps them navigate this crisis. The investment could be used for working capital to develop new routes to market or to scale up production to meet growing demand. It can be used for recruiting more staff, investing in IT and delivery vehicles, new processing facilities and equipment. We have set the following main criteria:

  • At least 50% of income must come from food and drink production or sales
  • Must have been established and trading for at least 3 years and have a turnover of at least £40,000
  • Must be constituted as a CBS, CIC, CLG, Coop or CIO. We cannot fund sole traders, partnerships or CLSs
  • We will look for evidence that you meet our enlightened agriculture and social impact criteria

Application process

We ask for the following basic information:

  • Brief description of the business
  • The amount required and what it will be used for
  • Last set of approved accounts
  • Most recent set of quarterly management accounts
  • Legal form of governance
  • Information on what the loan will be used for
  • Information on security of tenure
  • A brief social impact statement

To apply, please fill out this brief application form. We aim to reply within 24 hours with any follow-up questions, and will ask you to send us your last set of approved accounts and your most recent set of quarterly management accounts.

If you have any questions please contact us at

What happens after Covid-19?

There could be at least some silver lining in the horrible black cloud of coronavirus. It might prompt the general change of direction and of mindset of the kind that the world so desperately needs. But, says Colin Tudge, if we leave our future in the hands of governments, we will probably just continue to lurch from crisis to crisis.

The Weston A Price Foundation no less has issued a blog to say that the coronavirus epidemic is “A Total Scam” which the world is taking far too seriously — apart from President Trump of course who thinks it will go away if he ignores it and shouts at journalists. Covid-19, says Weston Price, is no worse than winter flu which is nasty and kills people but doesn’t warrant a potentially global shut-down.

This, very obviously, is nonsense. Some bona fide experts predict that covid-19 could infect 50-80% of the world population. Conservatively, that could be around 4 billion people. The death rate has been around 3% which, if things pan out as predicted, means a total tally of around 120 million; equivalent, almost, to the populations of Britain and France combined; almost twice the number who died in World War II, which was by far the bloodiest conflict in human history; about six times as many as died in the flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which killed more people than the battles of World War I. If that is not serious it is hard to see what is.

The British government has responded with what many see as commendable vigour but others, including President Macron of France, feel is too little too late. In the background lurks the spectral, somewhat alien figure of Dominic Cummings, more interested it seems in his conception of the economy than in the human condition or the state of the biosphere. The newly-appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has floated a £350 billion emergency fund with more to come. The latest government slogan in this age of slogans is “Whatever it takes!” As John Maynard Keynes pointed out, governments can always find money when they feel they need to. The response sounds heroic and is as the government points out, unprecedented. But then, covid-19 is itself unprecedented so of course the response must be too. We need to be asking — Is it enough? Is it in time?  Will the money go to the people who need it and deserve it most – before they go bust?

As always in times of crisis, farmers are in the firing line. As always, the devil is in the detail. Thus a farmer friend of ours relies as many do on a holiday rental – farmers need to diversify these days if they want to earn enough to stay in business, and actually produce food. But people are cancelling bookings and disaster looms. More broadly, over the past 40 years of neoliberalism successive governments of all parties have been proud to tell us that Britain’s economy is above all globalised; firmly plugged in to the one grand global market. Accordingly, we import about half of our food and a great deal of the feed for our increasingly industrialised livestock. It’s cheaper that way and therefore more profitable and profit is seen as the sine qua non. Some governments, including the present one and Tony Blair’s “New Labour” government of the 1990s, seriously wondered and wonder whether we should farm in Britain at all, since so many foreigners have more sunshine and cheaper labour, and are happy to economise on safety.

More generally, British governments are urban-based and are content to live in an abstract, idealised world and have no feel for farming. Quite simply, they do not take it seriously. ‘Twas ever thus. Globalised agriculture in embryonic form was already on the cards more than 200 years ago, when we were importing cotton wholesale from India and wheat from America. Then, the Napoleonic wars and the threat of blockade focused attention on the need to grow food at home. At least it did until the memory faded and Britain’s farming was again neglected – until World War I again showed the need for it. But by the 1930s agriculture was run down once more – until the awful shock of World War II and the Atlantic blockade. During the war and until around 1970 British governments again took agriculture seriously – although, with the munitions factories idle after the war and with technophilia riding high, agriculture was launched very firmly on the road to agrochemistry and industrialisation. Not wise. Still, for a couple of decades or so, farmers were valued, and helped.

Then, in the 1970s, with neoliberalism on the horizon, interest in farming faded again. Agriculture began to be seen simply as another way of making money – “a business like any other” – and not a very efficient one at that. Better (some said) just to let it go the way of Britain’s coal mines and steelworks. Relics from yesteryear.

The present pandemic, horrible though it is, will be finite. The virus will surely stay with us and the whole coronavirus group will surely throw up new variants, each needing to be dealt with, but the pandemic phase of covid-19 will surely run its course. Those of us who survive – by far the majority – will largely be immune, and although the expression “herd immunity” has somewhat fallen into disrepute of late, it is, in the end, what will do the trick. It’s the same with all infective diseases apart from the kind that have mastered the trick of hanging around, like TB and leprosy. More quick-fire pathogens whatever form they take generally induce immunity in those they don’t kill and so they run out of potential hosts and can no longer go on the rampage. So it is that epidemics of measles or small pox or plague run through vulnerable populations like wildfire until there’s enough herd immunity to make life difficult; and often these days (more often than not, if the money is well spent) better hygiene and mass vaccination can prevent further epidemic. We may hope that coronavirus will be hastened on its way some time in 2021 by an effective vaccine, and subsequently kept in check.

But – and it’s a huge “but” — horrible though the present pandemic is, it is not the worst of the world’s ills. It is dwarfed by far by the louring threats of global warming, mass extinction, general environmental degradation, rising numbers, global hunger, mass poverty, growing inequality, and huge, perfectly justified discontent, leading to personal misery, societal breakdown, and an endless succession of conflicts, including all-out wars – too many even for most governments to keep track of; all exacerbated by mass migration of people from the worst-hit regions to countries that on the whole don’t want them. All those problems will still be with us when the pandemic is past.

So although all sensible minds and economies are focused on the present crisis, we must also be thinking ahead. Beyond question, the pandemic will change the world. Future generations, at least for a few decades, will divide history into the time before coronavirus, and the time after, just as my parents’ generation used to speak of the time before the war and the time after.

Over the past few decades a succession of international conferences and learned reports, plus various individual scientists, popes, and archbishops, have been telling us that “we cannot continue with business as usual” — but then the world’s most powerful governments, including Britain’s, have in general carried on as before, usually without breaking step. Yet the present pandemic, if it takes hold in the way that seems likely, must – surely? – cause even the most intransigent governments to realise that they, and we, really do have to change our ways and our preconceptions. The present pandemic was not directly caused by global warming or mass extinction or industrial farming but it must bring home the point that present ways of doing things, on all fronts, leave the whole world horribly vulnerable. We need to calm things down; take the heat out of our lives; stop seeking to grow the economy and compete to be richer than anyone else; stop believing quite so ardently in the algorithms of high tech and global trade. We surely should not seek to become insular and self-centred in the style of Trump and Putin but we should certainly seek to become more self-reliant, and to focus afresh on the things that really matter – personal fulfilment, convivial societies, a flourishing biosphere.

This would be a transformation, a metamorphosis – and the key to it, the world over, is agriculture.  We need what I for some years have been calling “Enlightened Agriculture” aka “Real Farming” — rooted in the ideas of Agroecology (treat all farms as ecosystems) and Food Sovereignty (every society should have control of its food supply). More broadly, Enlightened Agriculture is rooted in the guiding principles of ecology and morality — as all human endeavours need to be. In practice it requires low-input farming (organic is at least the default position) with mixed farms (where feasible) with emphasis on agroforestry, usually in small-to-medium-sized units, with plenty of skilled farmers and growers, feeding primarily into local or regional economies. All nations should strive for self-reliance in food – at least producing enough of the basics to get by on – and exporting food only when the home population is well fed, and importing only what is truly desirable and cannot reasonably be grown at home. Such farming needs a corresponding cuisine – which basically means traditional cooking: “plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety”. There is no need for veganism on the one hand or ersatz meat on the other, which some see as panaceas, now bound in unlikely alliance.

In other words, we need agriculture that is almost diametrically opposite to the kind that successive British governments have been promoting for past 40 years – high-input, high tech farming on units as large as possible with minimum to zero labour, geared to the global market, and producing only what is most profitable.

So how in practice will the British government and other powerful governments respond when the covid-19 pandemic has run its course? Will they acknowledge that the world really does have to change, radically, at all levels – technical, economic, political, moral, and most broadly in mindset — and focus on what used to be called human values? Or will Boris, Cummings, Rees-Mogg, Gove and their cohorts, if they are still in power, endeavour, whatever they may promise to the contrary, simply to resurrect the status quo ante – high-tech neoliberalism with top-down control, masquerading as democracy?

I suspect the latter, for Britain’s governments since about 1980 have been one-trick ponies, technophilic and neoliberal. To them, that is progress; the trappings of a “developed” society. To them the status quo ante is normality, and normality is good and must be restored.

I become more than more convinced that we really cannot leave governments to manage the things that really matter: medicine, education, the biosphere at large, and above all farming. Governments are needed to dole out central funding but absolutely not to strategise and to micro-manage. Still less should we do what the present government and recent governments want to do, and hand responsibility to “the private sector”, which in practice means corporates. We need a new kind of economy, and new ways of governing ourselves. There are plenty of promising models out there and some encouraging precedents, which show that those models can work, given half a chance.

If this kind of idea emerges from the present pandemic – that we need a radical re-think, and that we cannot allow governments to do the thinking for us – then that would at least be considerable compensation for the present disaster.

Colin Tudge is currently writing a book to discuss the kind of changes that need to be made, and how. It should be published by the end of this year.

Crop diversity or intensive monocultural farming – guess which is better for biodiversity and climate change?

Here’s the abstract for this new study published in Nature March 18 volume 579pages 393–396 (2020)  Authors: J. Nicholas Hendershot, Jeffrey R. Smith, Christopher B. Anderson, Andrew D. Letten, Luke O. Frishkoff, Jim R. Zook, Tadashi Fukami & Gretchen C. Daily

Agricultural practices constitute both the greatest cause of biodiversity loss and the greatest opportunity for conservation1,2, given the shrinking scope of protected areas in many regions. Recent studies have documented the high levels of biodiversity—across many taxa and biomes—that agricultural landscapes can support over the short term1,3,4. However, little is known about the long-term effects of alternative agricultural practices on ecological communities4,5 Here we document changes in bird communities in intensive-agriculture, diversified-agriculture and natural-forest habitats in 4 regions of Costa Rica over a period of 18 years. Long-term directional shifts in bird communities were evident in intensive- and diversified-agricultural habitats, but were strongest in intensive-agricultural habitats, where the number of endemic and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List species fell over time. All major guilds, including those involved in pest control, pollination and seed dispersal, were affected. Bird communities in intensive-agricultural habitats proved more susceptible to changes in climate, with hotter and drier periods associated with greater changes in community composition in these settings. These findings demonstrate that diversified agriculture can help to alleviate the long-term loss of biodiversity outside natural protected areas1.

And the write up by Stanford University in Physics News (March 18 2020)

Crop diversity can buffer the effects of climate change

How we farm can guard against climate change and protect critical wildlife—but only if we leave single-crop farms in the dust, according to a new Stanford study.

The research provides a rare, long-term look at how farming practices affect bird biodiversity in Costa Rica. “Farms that are good for are also good for other species,” said Jeffrey Smith, a graduate student in the department of biology and a co-author on the paper. “We can use birds as natural guides to help us design better .”

By and large, the team found that diversified farms are more stable in the number of birds they support, provide a more secure habitat for those birds and shield against the impacts of climate change much more effectively than single-crop farms.

“The tropics are expected to suffer even more intensely in terms of prolonged dry seasons, and forest dieback under climate change,” said Gretchen Daily, director of the Stanford Natural Capital Project and the Center for Conservation Biology and a senior author on the paper. “But diversified farms offer refuge—they can buffer these harmful effects in ways similar to a natural forest ecosystem.”

The findings, published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, highlight the importance of farms that grow multiple crops in a mixed setting instead of the more common practice of planting single-crop “monocultures.”

“This study shows that climate change has already been impacting wildlife communities, continues to do so, and that local farming practices really matter in protecting biodiversity and building climate resilience,” said Nick Hendershot, a graduate student in the department of biology and lead author on the study.

Threatened in the tropics

Tropical regions are some of the most species-rich in the world, but they also face the to biodiversity. As their forests are felled to plant cash crops like bananas and sugarcane, the amount and availability of natural habitats have shrunk dramatically. Meanwhile, climate change has resulted in longer, hotter dry seasons that make species survival even more challenging.

“It’s the one-two punch of land-use intensification and ,” Hendershot said. “Wildlife populations are already severely stressed, with overall decreased health and population sizes in some farming landscapes. Then, these further extreme conditions like prolonged drought can come along and really just decimate a species.”

Until now, little had been known about how agricultural practices impact biodiversity in the long term. This study’s researchers used nearly 20 years of meticulously collected field data to understand which birds live in natural tropical forests and in different types of farmland.

“It is only because we had these unusually extensive long-term data that we were able to detect the role of diversified farmlands in helping threatened species persist over multiple decades,” said Tadashi Fukami, an associate professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior author on the paper, along with Daily.

The varied agricultural systems at work in Costa Rica provided the research team with an ideal laboratory for studying bird communities in intensively farmed monoculture systems, diversified multi-crop farms, and natural forests. They compared monoculture farms—like pineapple, rice, or sugar cane—to diversified farms that interweave multiple crops and are often bordered by ribbons of natural forest.

Who’s there matters

Surprisingly, the researchers found that diversified farmlands not only provide refuge to more common bird species, they also protect some of the most threatened. Species of international conservation concern, like the Great Green Macaw and the Yellow-naped Parrot, are at risk in Costa Rica due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.

In intensive monocrop farmlands, these species are declining. But in the diversified systems the researchers studied, the endangered birds can be found year after year.

“Which species are in a given place makes a huge difference—it’s not just about numbers alone, we care about who’s there,” Daily said. “Each bird serves a unique role as part of the machinery of nature. And the habitats they live in support us all.”

Changing the paradigm

In Costa Rica and around the world, the researchers see opportunities to develop integrated, diversified agricultural systems that promote not only crop productivity and livelihood security, but also biodiversity. A paradigm shift towards global agricultural systems could help human and wildlife communities adapt to a changing climate, Daily said.

“There are so many cash crops that thrive in diversified farms. Bananas and coffee are two great examples from Costa Rica—they’re planted together, and the taller banana plant shades the temperature-sensitive coffee bean,” she added. “The two crops together provide more habitat opportunity than just one alone, and they also provide a diversified income stream for the farmer.”

ORFC in the field @ FarmED July 7 & 8 2020

We’re pleased to announce that the first ORFC in the Field will be going ahead on 7th and 8th July, in partnership with FarmED at their beautiful new venue in the Cotswolds.

The two-day event will build on sessions from this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference and dive deeper into the practical application of agroecology and regenerative farming techniques.

Participants will be able to choose from a number of field-based workshops including agroforestry design; growing, harvesting and utilising heritage grains; building and monitoring soil health; and creating and running a CSA. The full programme will be available shortly.

There will also be plenty of opportunity to share knowledge with others and to enjoy seasonal meals cooked by local chefs, including a celebratory feast on the Tuesday night. There will be plenty of music and poetry too!

There are only 100 places available for this inaugural event, which promises to be a dynamic follow-up to this year’s sold-out Oxford Real Farming Conference. We suggest you get in early and book your place now. There are also a few bursaries available – to find out more please contact

The price for two days of workshops and lunches is £125. The evening meal is £20 extra. Camping is available on site for a small fee, or you can look at the recommended list of accommodation options here.

“Regenerative Agriculture”: What does the term mean? And why is its use becoming so fashionable?

Colin Tudge in his recent blog has this to say of Regenerative Agriculture: ” . .  [A]lthough much that is excellent has been achieved in the name of Regenerative Agriculture the term implies that we are trying to restore something, which in turn implies that there was some past state that we should be trying to get back to. But what exactly is it that we are trying to get back to? When and where did the thing we are trying to get back to exist?”

This article by Nathaniel Johnson and published in Grist, March 12 2019, gives a useful overview of the origin and current use and purpose of the term – from the coining of “regeneration” by Bob Rodale in the 1980s to its multiple uses today. Thus it can be “a way organic and conventional farmers can work together on achieving environmental ends, rather than fighting over the means”;  “a move to make farms sop up carbon”; greenwash to attract customers who don’t like the term organic; or even he suggests it can carry an evangelistic message:  the “acknowledgement of having done wrong, and the promise of redemption”.

Keeping to farm practice. . .

Johnson makes the point that be it mob grazing, minimum tillage, rotation of crops and livestock, even for some the use of GM, at its heart – and to be applauded – is the concern to sequester carbon from the air into the soil i.e. help farmers tackle climate change.

But he can only lament the lack of scientific evidence backing many of the claims, some of which he reckons are quite wild!

A Matter of Vocabulary

Colin Tudge writes (February 15 2020):

I reckon it is worth making clearer than we perhaps do the meanings of particular expressions and why the terms that we favour – REAL FARMING, derived from ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE, and also FOOD CULTURE and BIOSPHERE are (not to put too fine a point on it) the best i.e., all the other terms that are now fashionable – “Sustainable Agriculture”, “Regenerative Agriculture”, and “Re-wilding”, though they have their uses, fail to capture the essence of what’s really needed; and the term “Environment” absolutely should not, as now, be used to describe the natural world.

Thus, ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE (EA) aka REAL FARMING very specifically means:

“Agriculture that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, forever, with food of the highest quality, both nutritionally and gastronomically, without wrecking the rest of the world”.
— and FOOD CULTURE is cuisine that is expressly designed to complement EA.

In practice, EA combines two key ideas:

  • AGROECOLOGY: individual farms should be designed as ecosystems and agriculture as a whole should as far as possible  contribute positively to the global biosphere; and
  • FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: which means in essence that every society should have control of its own food supply.

(I now reckon “”Economic Democracy” should be seen as a means to an end rather than as a core principle.)

Thus conceived, it seems to me, “Enlightened Agriculture” covers all bases: moral, spiritual, and ecological.

The other (more) fashionable terms, do not. Thus:

Sustainable Agriculture raises the question: what is it that is being sustained? It is possible, after all, to envisage systems of agriculture that are eminently sustainable and yet are sub-optimal – failing for example to provide the best possible food for the whole world population.

Similarly, although much that is excellent has been achieved in the name of Regenerative Agriculture the term implies that we are trying to restore something, which in turn implies that there was some past state that we should be trying to get back to. But what exactly is it that we are trying to get back to? When and where did the thing we are trying to get back to exist?

Re-wilding has its place –the world does need much more wilderness and some present-day farmland is hardly worth farming (at least by conventional means). But again re-wilding can lead to sub-optimal or positively inappropriate use of land and can indeed be deeply pernicious – a cloak for ideas that are positively harmful.

Thus, re-wilding implies that particular areas should not be used to grow food at all – which means that whatever farmland is left must become more productive (assuming we maintain present levels of production). This seems to justify high-tech, high-capital, industrial agriculture – very much at odds with the enlightened kind that the world really needs.

Re-wilding, too, often seems to be allied with veganism: the general idea being that livestock is a prime cause of the world’s ills. But Knepp – which is one of the most successful examples of re-wilding – uses domestic livestock (Longhorn cattle and Tamworth pigs) as substitutes for the original aurochs and wild boars. This is sensible. Big herbivores are key players in all continental ecosystems (though not on small islands which cannot support them).

In both cases re-wilding leads to a general strategy of land-sparing: some land exclusively used for intensive agriculture, some for a kind of wilderness, and some for cities and roads etc. In fact, the world does need as much wilderness as possible and does need to use some land exclusively for humans (my favourite example is the intensive care unit, free of pigeons and silverfish) but most land should be multi-purpose – an exercise in land sharing. Above all we need wildlife-friendly farms and wildlife-friendly cities – and both can be very wildlife friendly if we put our mind to it.

Footnote 1: Most big governments like Britain’s present shower favour land-sparing because they like high-tech, high-capital farming because their whole mindset is one of neoliberal technophilia (profitable techno-fixes as opposed to re-thinking and re-structuring). Hence they tend to favour re-wilding to fill in the gaps between intensive (inc “factory”) farms and as a sop to the “environmentalists”; and besides, land sparing is easier, ecologically and bureaucratically. Thus George Monbiot makes common cause with the extreme Right Wing. How ironic is that?

Footnote 2: “Environment” literally means “surroundings” and tends in practice to means state scenery and/or real estate; an entirely anthropocentric concept. “Biosphere” means “living world” of which human beings are a part.

11th Real Bread Week: February 22 – March 1 2020

An invitation from the Real Bread Campaign to join in Real Bread Week.

Its key aims are encouraging people to:
Buy Real Bread from local bakeries: Look for The Loaf Mark!
Bake Real Bread and share those skills with others

A particular focus this year is on the power that Real Bread making has to help people transform their lives.

This about raising awareness from the campaign organisers, Sustain:
“Disempowered women, people with learning disabilities, and prisoners are just some of the many people who’d previously faced challenges finding their place in the workforce but are now gaining skills for employment as Real Bread bakers.
Meanwhile, people who, for one reason or another, have had a tougher time than many of us are enjoying the therapeutic benefits of making Real Bread by hand. In many cases, they’re doing so in the mutually-supportive company of others.
Throughout Real Bread Week, the Real Bread Campaign will be throwing the spotlight via social media and a series of new articles on just some of the amazing enterprises and organisations helping to make this happen.”

And their campaign ask – “Raising dough” . . .
“Sustain, the charity that created and runs Real Bread Week is raising money so that the Real Bread Campaign can build on its work celebrating, connecting and supporting the people, enterprises and organisations behind the rise of Real Bread. You can help in one (or more) of these ways to ensure that more people can benefit from the employment, therapeutic and social opportunities of Real Bread making:
– Join the Campaign
Make a doughnation of £10 – £100 (or whatever you feel)
– Buy a t-shirt, mug, apron, recipe book or dough scorer

Details of bakeries, baking schools, Real Bread Week events and the whole shebang above can be found at:

Food, Futures & Ecological Restoration

From Barbara Heinzen, 29 January 2020

Recently, I received a link to a website promising a revolution in food production based on “advances in precision biology and an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software.” Not only would this new, plant-based industrial technology feed all future populations, it would make the cattle industry bankrupt and allow millions of acres to be reforested.

As a simple geographer, based on the Hudson River in the USA after decades in London, I read through this link with considerable skepticism.

Professionally, I have been doing futures work since the 1980s and this article struck me as a good example of extravagant thinking based on simple projections of some flashy new technology.  What it does not do is explore why this technology is likely to dominant or explore what might be needed (such as energy or regulations) to achieve that goal.  Nor does it look at the many social, economic & ecological factors that actually determine how we use land or raise the food we need.  Even if the premise were true — that we will all be eating engineered food in the near future —  what is to say that former agricultural land will return to forests, grasslands, wetlands or whatever is your favorite ecosystem?  It is just as likely to turn into suburban housing estates.  In short, this website reads more like technological propaganda than serious analysis.

For a long time, I have been preoccupied with how social-ecological systems change, first studying patterns in the developing world, and then looking at the challenge of shifting from an industrial model for society to an ecological model.  We are currently facing a massive systemic change where new technologies will be important, but they are not the only forces driving such change.  Values, crises, new necessities (like reducing greenhouse gases), experiments (like those in regenerative agriculture), formal and informal rules, as well as the accidents of history, have all been important in the past.  They are likely to be just as critical in the coming years.

I am now managing a smallholding of 20 acres on the Hudson River as an experimental environmental restoration project.  Our ‘livestock’ are the deer, the occasional bear and smaller animals like raccoons, various members of the weasel family, beaver (who refuse to accept any limits on their appetites), and two species of fox, red and gray.

We have made progress in the past eight years, but I am acutely aware that this work is currently a gift, employing whatever we can afford in finance and labour. What we need at places like this is not a new technology, but an economic system that rewards smallholders and others who are finding ways to support the natural world so that it will continue to support all of us.

These selected photographs of plants, animals, birds and butterflies found where the Hannacroix Creek enters the Hudson River, Coeymans & New Baltimore, New York were taken between January and December 2019


Agriculture Bill Committee Stage call for written evidence

Public Bill Committee

Call for written evidence: Agriculture Bill

Do you have relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Agriculture Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament?

If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration.

The Committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday 11 February 2020. It will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage, which is expected to be not later than 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020.You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

Aims of the Bill

The Government introduced an Agriculture Bill 2017-19 in the last Parliament which fell at dissolution in October 2019.

This Bill does several key things that the 2017-19 Bill did:

First: it provides enabling powers for Ministers to develop new farm support approaches in England. Direct payments to farmers are currently based on how much land is farmed. These will be phased out starting in 2021 over a seven year period. New schemes to pay farmers for producing ‘public goods’ such as environmental or animal welfare improvements will be introduced. New items have been added to the list of purposes in the previous Bill that can be given financial support, notably soil protection and improvement;

Second: it gives Ministers powers to intervene in agricultural markets in exceptional conditions, such as to provide farmers with financial support or operate public intervention and private storage aid schemes;

Third: it sets out measures to increase transparency and fairness in the supply chain for farmers and food producers. It does this by: introducing new requirements on collection and sharing of data; by placing fair dealing obligations on business purchasers of agricultural products; and by introducing new measures on Producer Organisations. However, this Bill has increased the reach of the fair dealing measures so that any business purchaser must comply and a wider range of people selling products can benefit from the provisions;

Fourth: the Bill includes measures on marketing standards and carcass classification. For example, to amend or revoke EU and domestic legislation or to set new standards tailored to suit UK agricultural sectors. New clauses are included in this Bill on certification of organic products. These are important for imports and exports as well as domestic sales;

Fifth: the Bill sets out provisions to enable the UK to meet its obligations under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. The WTO Agreement sets limits on how support that is considered trade-distorting a country may provide.

What’s new?

There are several additions to this Bill compared to the previous Bill. New measures include:

  • A requirement for Ministers to consider the need to encourage the production of food in England, in an environmentally sustainable way;
  • A requirement for Ministers to set out multi-annual plans about how they will use their financial assistance powers. The first plan will start in 2021 for seven years. Beyond that plans must be of at least five years’ duration;
  • A requirement to report on food security at least once every five years; and
  • Several varied measures in a new Part 4 on matters relating to farming and the countryside. Measures relating to agricultural tenancies, fertiliser regulation, identification and traceability of animals, and the Red Meat Levy are included.

How does this Bill apply to the UK nations?

The provisions on new farm support schemes mainly apply to England. Powers are included in a Schedule for Northern Ireland to enable preparation of replacement schemes. Some provisions in the Bill apply to Wales (for example to amend Direct Payments rules) but these are intended to be temporary. Notably provisions mirroring English provisions on new support schemes that were in the previous Bill have not been included in this Bill. Welsh Ministers intend to introduce this Assembly term a Wales (Agriculture) Bill. The Scottish Government introduced legislation in November 2019 which proposes to keep farm support approaches largely the same until 2024.

Aside from farm support, some measures such as those on food security and fair dealing in the supply chain apply to the four nations, while the various measures in the new Part 4 have different applications. Measures on meeting WTO obligations also apply across the UK. It is reported that the Scottish Government considers these matters to be devolved so intends to withhold legislative consent.

Follow the progress of the Agriculture Bill

The Agriculture Bill 2019–21 was introduced to the House of Commons on 16 January 2020. Second reading was held on 3 February 2020.

This Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee which will hold its first meeting on Tuesday 11 February 2020. Oral evidence sessions will be held on 11 and 13 February.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

Deadline for written evidence submissions

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration and possibly reflect it in an amendment. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it.

The Committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday 11 February 2020. It will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage, which is expected to be not later than 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

What should written evidence cover?

Your submission should address matters contained within the Bill and concentrate on issues where you have a special interest or expertise, and factual information of which you would like the Committee to be aware.

Your submission could most usefully:

  • suggest amendments to the Bill, with supporting explanation; and
  • (when amendments are published) support or oppose amendments tabled to the Bill by Members of Parliament, with supporting explanation

It is helpful if the submission includes a brief introduction about you or your organisation. The submission should not have been previously published or circulated elsewhere.

If you have any concerns about your submission, please contact the Scrutiny Unit (details below).

How should written evidence be submitted?

Your submission should be emailed to Please note that submissions sent to the Government department in charge of the Bill will not be treated as evidence to the Public Bill Committee.

Submissions should be in the form of a Word document. A summary should be provided. Paragraphs should be numbered, but there should be no page numbering. Essential statistics or further details can be added as annexes, which should also be numbered.

As a guideline, submissions should not exceed 3,000 words.

Please include in the covering email the name, address, telephone number and email address of the person responsible for the submission. The submission should be dated.

What will happen to my evidence?

The written evidence will be circulated to all Committee Members to inform their consideration of the Bill.

Most submissions will also be published on the internet as soon as possible after the Committee has started sitting.

Those making a submission to a Committee inquiry should note the following:

  • Committees publish most of the written evidence they receive on the internet (where it will be accessible to search engines).
  • If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must clearly say so and explain your reasons for not wishing its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish. If you wish to include private or confidential information in your submission to the Committee, please contact the Clerk of the committee to discuss this. The Scrutiny Unit (details below) will be able to provide you with contact details for the clerk.
  • A Committee is not obliged to accept your submission as evidence, nor to publish any or all of the submission even if it has been accepted as evidence. This may occur where a submission is very long or contains material to which it is inappropriate to give parliamentary privilege (see Guide for Witnesses for further information on parliamentary privilege).
  • Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a submission, in which case it should be clearly referenced, preferably with a hyperlink.
  • You should be careful not to comment on matters currently before a court of law, or matters in respect of which court proceedings are imminent. If you anticipate such issues arising, you should discuss with the Clerk of the Committee how this might affect your submission.
  • Once submitted, no public use should be made of any submission prepared specifically for the Committee unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee. If you are given permission by the Committee to publish your evidence separately, you should be aware that you will be legally responsible for its content.
  • Evidence which is accepted by the Committee may be published online at any stage; when it is so published it becomes subject to parliamentary copyright and is protected by parliamentary privilege.
  • Once you have received acknowledgement that the evidence has been published you may publicise or publish your evidence yourself. In doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee, and you should be aware that your publication or re-publication of your evidence may not be protected by parliamentary privilege.
  • Public Bill Committees do not investigate individual cases of complaint or allegations of maladministration.

Data protection

  • The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing.
  • The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act.
  • If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information please advise the committee team providing your full contact details.
  • For more information please see House of Commons Data Protection Information

Scrutiny Unit contact details

Telephone: 020 7219 8387
Address: Ian Hook
Senior Executive Officer
Scrutiny Unit
House of Commons
London SW1A OAA

From Seed to Peasant Bread: a three day course in St David’s with Nicolas Supiot

Nicolas has been a peasant baker in Brittany for over 20 years, growing, milling and baking landrace wheat and buckwheat using regenerative farming methodologies.

The course will last for three days from Monday January 12 – Wednesday January 15 2020.

Further information including cost and how to book can be found here

It will be hosted by Rupert Dunn of  who are growing, milling and baking with landrace wheat on the St Davids Peninsula.