Charles warns over survival of small farms

Britain is in danger of ripping “the heart out” of the countryside if it lets small farms go to the wall, the Prince of Wales has warned.

He believes the focus on producing plentiful and cheap food threatens the survival of smaller farms but optimism can be found in the wide-ranging efforts of high-profile figures such as England footballer Marcus Rashford and cook Jamie Oliver.

Charles spoke of the “hidden costs” of modern industrial farming in an essay for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Prince of Wales visits Derbyshire
The Prince of Wales speaks with local farmers at the Farming Life Centre at Blackwell Hall Farm in Buxton, Derbyshire (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

These may include damage to soils and major watercourses, emissions that add to global warming, along with the social and economic impact on local communities.

The prince told the programme: “The fact that these costs are hidden encourages us to ignore them; for example, our current approach is forcing many small family farms to the wall.

“If they go, it will quite simply rip the heart out of the British countryside and break the backbone of Britain’s rural communities.”

He said there must be support for a diversity of farms in order for there to be food that is healthy and produced in a sustainable way.

Charles said he is increasingly confident that a transition to more sustainable forms of agriculture can be achieved, and praised the work of high-profile figures.

Marcus Rashford FareShare Greater Manchester visit
England footballer Marcus Rashford visits FareShare Greater Manchester at New Smithfield Market (Fareshare/Mark Waugh/PA)

He told Today: “From field to fork, extraordinary work is being done to try and build a better food system for everyone – be it Jamie Oliver promoting education and a balanced diet, (businessman) Henry Dimbleby’s ambitions for safe, healthy and affordable food, or Marcus Rashford, whose mission off the football field is to tackle child hunger.”

The BBC noted that the Government has said it wants to support all farmers and the choices that they take on their own holdings.

Charles’s comments came ahead of the publication of the National Food Strategy, the first major review of Britain’s food system in more than 70 years.

The strategy was commissioned by the Government and is headed by Henry Dimbleby, founder of the Leon restaurant chain.

It is expected that Thursday’s report will explore the links between food production and environmental degradation, including climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the sustainable use of resources.

Jamie Oliver serves dinners to children – Leicester Square
Jamie Oliver serves up a healthy school dinner to pupils from Ealdham Primary School (Andy Butterton/PA)

It will also include recommendations for the Government.

The first part of the strategy was published in July last year and highlighted the connection between obesity, poverty and the UK’s high Covid-19 death toll.

Charles suggested there may be promising investment opportunities in innovative approaches to agriculture, and said he is working to link private investors with the pioneers of these new sustainable approaches to farming.

He added: “If we regenerate degraded soils around the world, we could capture as much as 70% of the world’s carbon emissions, so you can see farming can play a big part in protecting the planet.”

He also told the programme that “only by benefiting nature can we benefit people, and that will ensure the future of our living planet”.