Agriculture 'key in meeting net zero carbon targets'

| 24th October 2019
Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) calls on government for practical support for farmers transitioning to low carbon agriculture.

When it comes to tackling the climate emergency, farmers on the ground can react the quickest.

Agriculture could hold the key to tackling the climate emergency and meeting the Government's net zero goals, the head of an environment-focused industry body says, but political uncertainty is holding the industry back.

Read: The farms attempting to reverse wildlife decline

Martin Lines, chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said farmers had received "plenty of warm words" from the government but no long-term funding guarantees for projects to help them capture carbon and reverse habitat loss.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: "When it comes to tackling the climate emergency, farmers on the ground can react the quickest.

Rewilding

"We are calling for additional support and more money to direct towards those that can deliver the climate change mitigation opportunities."

Founded just two years ago, the NFFN has over 1,000 members and is growing all the time as more farmers look for cost-effective ways to combat issues such as declining soil quality and erosion.

But it is still tiny when compared to the rest of UK agriculture, which is comprised of an estimated 220,000 holdings operated by around 120,000 businesses and accounts for 70 percent of all land.

The NFFN thinks the quickest way to mobilise the rest of the industry to fight climate change is a clear system of payments for helping implement the Government's environmental policies.

Private projects such as rewilding farms and country estates have met with resistance from farmers, but the NFFN wants to see policy that empowers them.

Transition

"Many of the projects for rewilding are top down, if we can go from the bottom up and get farmers engaged and delivering, then things happen quickly," Mr Lines said. "Farmers don't like being told how to manage their farms or that they are doing things wrong."

The NFFN supports the Government's mooted £3 billion "public money for public goods policy" that would see farmers rewarded for projects such as carbon capture and flood mitigation.

But Mr Lines said political uncertainty - particularly the future of Brexit and the likelihood of a general election in the near future - is making farmers hesitate.

"We get many warm words from the Government but we know this Government might not be in place for the duration set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act - we need long term funding guarantees," he said.

In its latest report published on Thursday, the NFFN found 90 percent of its members think the industry is under-resourced to transition to sustainable food production at scale.

Capital

A further 54 percent did not trust the Government to deliver on the public money for public goods policy, while 49 percent did not think the £3 billion earmarked for the policy would be enough.

Accelerating climate change is also a barrier to investment as farmers are unsure how best to future-proof their businesses.

Mr Lines said: "Many are aware that the system they are farming in for the long term will not be sustainable, but they are unsure in which direction to go.

"We have the uncertainty of future funding but also we have the big uncertainty of climate change and the question of what kind of system we need to put in place."

He added: "We have limited amounts of capital investment available, and we need certainty and direction to invest our money and also the public's money in delivering the climate mitigation, the wildlife improvement and that future food security that we need."

Climate

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "We know farmers are crucially important stewards of our natural environment and have a key role to play in helping the UK reach our tough net zero target.

"That's why we're reforming agricultural policy and allocating millions to support our hard-working farmers for taking action that locks up carbon and cuts emissions.

"This includes a £15 million fund to invest in new innovative technology to help them meet the daunting job of feeding the nation while coping with the effects of our changing climate."

This Author

Tess de la Mare is a reporter with PA.

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