Different agriculture for the future of people, the planet and farmers
Phil Thompson, CEO of Balance the power, discusses the recent Glasgow summit on climate change, tiny profit margins, changing land use, and why he thinks it’s time to take a balanced approach in the quest for a carbon-free future.
The recent Glasgow Climate Change Summit provided an opportunity for world leaders to come together and discuss vital policies around the looming climate crisis.
However, despite 20% of global emissions from agriculture and land use, discussions around agriculture at COP26 were rare.
The UK’s agricultural policy, Environmental Land Management (ELM) programs, announced earlier this year, offer guidance, rewarding farmers for more sustainable farming practices as well as the reclamation of local nature and landscape on their lands.
These practices are positive for the environment and support the key role of farmers in the transition to a net zero future.
However, farmers are expected to work harder to maintain their practices while under continued pressure on income.
Very slim profit margins
Many farmers are already struggling to make ends meet, as Jeremy Clarkson’s 2021 farming series demonstrated, Clarkson’s farm, in which he made a large sum of £ 144 at the end of a full year of toil; small profit margins are normal in farming communities today.
the latest version of DEFRA, which covers UK farms in 2019-2020, reveals that grain farm incomes fell by 7%.
Net profits from general crops are down 21%. In addition, the profits of lowland grazing cattle have fallen by 25% in just one year.
The NFS states that almost 40% of all farmers currently depend on a Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), allocated on the basis of the area of land cultivated rather than how it is cultivated, to remain solvent.
However, the government is phasing out these subsidies and the environment is likely to become harsher.
So how will farmers be able to meet the daring ambitions of the ELM strategy and continue to live sustainably?
Changing land use
Under ELMs, “farmers will no longer receive payments for business activities such as growing crops or simply owning land, but for activities that contribute to the common public good.”
This includes things like:
- Restoration of nature;
- Woodlot management;
- Flood prevention;
- Soil improvement;
- Animal wellbeing;
- Carbon sequestration.
The situation is incredibly nuanced, but overall I am for the ELMs. Its introduction emphasizes the importance of making the land work in different ways.
On a more practical level, there must be a replacement to fill the void left by removing the BPS.
However, neither the ELMs nor the NFS recommendations for a rural land use framework include the development of green energy projects.
This is a huge loophole in the plans – and one that is certainly not going to take us any further down the road to net zero.
It’s time to take a balanced approach
Diversifying land to accommodate green energy projects is and will continue to be an integral part of a sustainable future, both in environmental terms and for agriculture itself.
More and more farmers are seeing green energy projects as a viable option that offers them the opportunity to ‘do their part’ for climate change and provide long-term financial security while enabling their families to survive. continue to work the land when they can. not otherwise able to afford it.
A 2021 farmer survey showed that 37% were already using part of their land for non-agricultural activities, including renewable energy.
Thanks to rapid technological advancements, it is possible to strike a balance between nature restoration and protection, food production through a transition to agroecology and management of other competing demands on the land.
However, any change in land use must be market driven and generate positive incentives rather than a constraint – and not come at the expense of a farmer’s profits.
A crop yield on 80 acres can generate around £ 48,000 per year. However, solar projects can generate at least as much income on the same land, potentially between £ 60,000 and £ 80,000 per year.
The income generated by these projects is guaranteed and does not require farmers to be supported by ELMs and ill-conceived, ultimately unsustainable subsidies.
It can be a real decision of the head and of the heart to diversify land that could have belonged to the family for years. It takes courage and an appreciation of the big picture.
But, as we collectively seek new ways to ensure a carbon-free future, the decisions landowners make for their lands are critical.
I hope the government will include green energy in the next white paper and in any future materialization of the rural land use framework, stimulating the necessary movement in this space and encouraging landowners to try a different kind of agriculture. . for the future.