More than 90 per cent of farmers believe they have a role to play in mitigating climate change, but only 62 per cent feel prepared to meet the industry’s net zero target by 2040, a Farmers Guardian survey has found.
Of the 114 farmers surveyed, 63 per cent cited a lack of understanding about available options as the main barrier to uptake, along with time, cost and a lack of guidance.
One farmer said: “Without a consensus on baselines in the industry, coupled with targets and incentives to achieve them, net zero will remain ‘blue sky’ thinking for many farmers.
“At the moment, there appears to be very little immediate financial benefits but an awful lot of potential costs.” Others told FG while they were keen to partake, there were too many options and opinions with no uniform process or metrics to follow, and called for a ‘clearer roadmap’ with the right tools and knowledge to help them on their net zero journey.
Will Dickinson, an arable farmer in East Anglia added: “Fertiliser, pesticides and fuel are the three biggest costs and contributors to my carbon footprint.
I have plenty of factors to look at but concise, consistent advice is hard to find.” For tenant farmers, a lack of authority to make improvements to the land was a further barrier.
“I only have the field for one year so can only make improvements to productivity, rather than the wider environment,” one tenant farmer revealed.
The survey also found 81 per cent of farmers were aware increasing onfarm productivity reduced greenhouse gas emissions, with 75 per cent planning to adopt more measures on farm, citing genetic improvements, min or no till and culling poorest performing animals.
A move towards renewable energy sources and additional planting of trees and hedgerows were also listed.
And there was plenty of optimism.
“Net zero is a vital ambition for our industry, given the climate crisis we face as a society and the moral imperative that all of us must face in playing out part,” said one respondent.
Charles Goadby, a mixed dairy farmer from Warwickshire, added: “We have been the easy targets for others to point the finger and given that farming will be one of the first to feel the effects of climate change, we should be leading the way and showing others how it should be done, both globally and other industries close to home.”
As Prince Charles warned the window for action on climate change was ‘rapidly closing’ as he addressed the opening of Climate Week held virtually this week, NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said every farm business had a unique part to play.
And with few industries able to store carbon in a natural process, Mr Roberts said carbon storage will have massive economic value once it is understood.
“We have already seen other people interested in farmland to offset their carbon footprints so it is important agriculture has a seat at the table and does not allow the rest of the supply chain to take advantage,” he said.
“Carbon sequestration is an inherent part of producing food so farmers must be the beneficiaries of the work they do to offset carbon.
“Measures will need to be developed to build that value into tenancies to ensure those farmers are able to benefit from their work as well.”
Livestock’s Long Shadow report. A United Nations’ report claimed livestock was responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Change Act created to tackle climate change, setting a long-term target for an 80 per cent reduction of emissions by 2050 against 1990 levels.
Committee on Climate Change (CCC) established. The first meeting of an independent advisory body responsible for recommending the five-year carbon budgets.
The Paris Agreement. The agreement aimed to limit greenhouse gas emissions ‘as soon as possible’ and keep the global temperature rise to below 2degC.
The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food recommended imposing huge taxes on meat and milk to reduce emissions and ‘save half a million lives a year’.
CCC warned parts of southern, eastern and central England could become ‘unviable’ for some farming activity due to the effects of climate change.
Report calls for tax on meat and dairy. An Eating Better Alliance report called on Government to explore all avenues to change people’s eating habits, including taxing meat and dairy.
The Clean Growth Strategy. Government announced a set of policies and proposals to deliver economic growth while decreasing emissions.
The UK’s third carbon budget is set at 37 per cent. A carbon budget places restrictions on the total amount of GHGs the UK can emit over a five-year period.
Government published its 25-Year Environment Plan setting out its goals for improving the environment within a generation and leaving it in a better state.
IPCC report recommends move away from eating meat. The panel recommended people move away from eating meat to stop global warming reaching a dangerous level.
NFU launched Net Zero by 2040 ambition. NFU president Minette Batters launched industry’s Net Zero by 2040 ambition at the Oxford Farming Conference.
EAT- Lancet recommends lower intake of animal products, with the aim of reducing consumption of red meat by 50 per cent. The report was later torn apart.
Offshore Wind Energy Revolution. Government announced £40 billion would be spent on infrastructure during the next decade to deliver 30GW of offshore wind.
CCC recommends new emissions target for UK, setting a net zero emissions goal for 2050 to keep the global temperature increase under 1.5degC.
Myles Allen, a professor from the University of Oxford, said a 20 per cent drop in methane emissions would cause global cooling.
IPCC describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Panel also recommends policy to reduce meat consumption.
NFU hits out at BBC’s Meat: a Threat to our Planet?, saying it was the latest attack from the media which singled out red meat production as a leading cause of climate change.
Year of Climate Action. The Government outlined a year of action in the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). The conference has been postponed until 2021.
Prince Charles warns climate change is a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of Covid-19 in a virtual message ahead of Climate Week.
With a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2040, there is still a long way to go.
Visit the Net Zero home page to cut through the jargon and view our brand new showcase of some of the measures already having positive results on farms up and down the country.
Visit the series homepage for more information