The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) aims to retain the environmental benefits that were formerly provided by set-aside under the Single Payment Scheme in three key areas - resource protection, farmland birds and farm wildlife.
The industry-led voluntary approach, which was given government backing in July, is seen as the most viable alternative to retaining the environmental benefits that were provided by set-aside.
A network of "Beacon Farms" will be established across the country to demonstrate how the CFE will work in practice, as well as allowing growers to share ideas in backing the campaign.
NFU president Peter Kendall, who launched the campaign last week at his farm in Bedfordshire, said: "The alternative is having the regulatory option forced on us, which will no doubt bring with it more red tape and cost to farmers and growers.
"We all have a part to play in making sure this campaign works. All farms have wildlife, natural resources and farmland birds that need protecting and no one cares more for the land than our farmers, growers and landowners. They know that a healthy environment is vital for a sustainable future - one in which we can grow more but impact less.
"This campaign is all about the industry uniting to bring about change but we're also encouraging ideas and initiatives from any organisations that think they have something to offer.
"We have all been challenged by the secretary of state, who has shown belief in the farming industry, and it is now down to every single one of us to work together and deliver on our promises to secure and enhance the environmental management of farmland."
Environment secretary Hilary Benn commented: "The CFE is a testament to the determination of farmers, the Government and environmental organisations to work together to support and protect wildlife and biodiversity."
He added: "Two-thirds of England's farmers have so far put part of their land into an agri-environment scheme and the campaign's challenge is to build on this excellent start.
"And for those yet to join a scheme, we want to encourage them to take voluntary action that best fits how they farm, so they can support wildlife and protect water quality while continuing to produce food in a sustainable way."
The campaign is asking growers to renew their existing Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) agreements and choose at least one in-field option (if they are in ELS), retain and correctly record their current area of uncropped land and adopt at least one voluntary measure to meet the campaign targets.
The campaign unites key industry stakeholders - the NFU, Country Land & Business Association, Agricultural Industries Confederation, Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Linking Environment & Farming, Association of Independent Crop Consultants and Central Association of Agricultural Valuers - to work in partnership with Defra, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the RSPB.
Working at grassroots is seen as key and local liaison groups have been set up in target counties to provide tailored advice and guidance for growers - depending on the environmental challenges and opportunities in their areas.
A number of challenging objectives and targets have been set that must be met over the next three years to avoid the potential for future regulation.
- Double the area of key in-field ELS options (additional 40,000ha);
- Retain 179,000ha of uncropped land across England and improve the management of at least one-third of this land to support habitats for birds, insects and mammals;
- Increase the current national level of voluntary environmental management by at least 30,000ha.
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