With the NFU setting the ambitious target of reaching net zero by 2040, Lloyds Bank says it is ready to help agri-businesses move towards a greener future.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the UK today, and as such, sustainability is increasingly playing a key part in business strategies.
The UK Government has set the ambitious target of achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, which will require the country’s carbon footprint to be halved by 2030.
Agricultural land makes up 70 per cent of UK’s land area, so it is crucial that the industry plays its part in helping meet these targets, and the National Farmers Union (NFU) has set the agriculture sector the even more ambitious challenge of transitioning to net zero by 2040.
While the sector contributes 10 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the bulk of these are nitrous oxide and methane, with carbon dioxide making up a significantly smaller proportion.
Agriculture’s unique challenge The sector has a unique ability to take action to tackle climate change due to its ownership of 70 per cent of the UK’s land stock.
Adjustments in land use, soil restoration and woodland creation are all great ways of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
But despite these natural advantages, Lloyds Bank says there is no denying the scale of the challenge ahead for agri-businesses and the business is ready to help its clients navigate the risks and opportunities climate change presents in order to move towards a greener future.
According to a report carried out by Lloyds Bank earlier this year ‘Shaping agriculture’s transition to a net zero future’, 87 per cent of farmers polled do not know the annual carbon footprint of their business, yet almost two-thirds – 62 per cent – feel very or somewhat confident they will be able to reach the 2040 net zero target.
Every business will start the journey to net zero from a different point, so Lloyds Bank says it is important to assess your current carbon footprint to help you create an action plan for lowering it.
Using a carbon calculator like Farm Carbon Calculator, Agrecalc or Cool Farm Tool can help identify sources of emissions, benchmark your emissions against other similar businesses, create a baseline of emissions so you can monitor your progress and gain a better understanding of low carbon farming practices.
Reforestation is one of the most natural and powerful ways to fight climate change, with trees and hedgerows acting as a ‘carbon sink’ and naturally absorbing carbon emissions from the air.
Almost three-quarters – 74 per cent of farmers surveyed – said they had neither taken any steps towards reforestation nor planned to. This could be a missed opportunity.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended that the UK increase its woodland cover from 13 per cent to 19 per cent by 2050 – the equivalent of 90 million trees.
Increasing the trees on your land can also protect valuable topsoil from 7 steps to help agri-businesses transition to net zero being eroded as well as offering protection from drought and floods and helping boost biodiversity.
Lloyds Bank’s partnership with the Woodland Trust can help agricultural businesses plant trees and hedgerows at heavily subsidised rates.
Many new farming practices have sustainability at their heart, so taking steps to improve productivity can also have a positive impact on emissions levels.
Precision farming, using controlled-release fertilisers and increasing use of organic manures can contribute to a reduction in nitrous oxide emissions, while gene editing and breeding, as well as improving livestock health, can lower methane emissions.
Agritech solutions are increasingly seen as critical to improving farms’ productivity and Lloyds Bank believes investing in the right technology can also lower environmental impacts.
For example, vertical farming can provide up to six times the growth surface of polytunnels or greenhouses, but also lowers carbon dioxide emissions by between 67 and 92 per cent.
Other agritech solutions which can help lower carbon footprint include cloud-based tools for measuring and monitoring inputs and outputs, autonomous vehicles and drones.
Nearly 40 per cent of UK farmers are currently producing clean, low carbon energy, with popular methods including wind, solar, biomass boilers and ground source heating.
Of those farmers surveyed, 75 per cent had either already taken steps to make their farm more sustainable through renewable energy, or were planning on doing so in the future.
Anaerobic digestion (AD), which involves converting animal manure food waste and crop by-products into energy is also becoming more popular, with almost 500 AD plants operating in the UK in 2019 and a further 343 under construction.
As well as helping generate clean energy, AD plants can also offer opportunities for generating extra income and help improve waste management.
Soil is the UK’s second largest carbon sink after the oceans – the country’s soil currently contains the equivalent of 80 years of carbon emissions.
However, with figures showing that fertile topsoil levels are depleting, improved farming practices are needed to help rebuild the soil’s carbon stores and prevent the loss of greenhouse gases from the soil.
78 per cent of the farmers surveyed said they had either already started improving soil to become more sustainable or planned to.
Steps to improve soil health include management and timing of cultivation and grazing pressure to reduce soil compaction, planting more trees in ‘shelterbelts’ along field boundaries to help prevent soil erosion, and introducing minimum till cultivation and regenerative grazing practices to improve soil structure.
Peatlands are a key part of the UK landscape, covering 12 per cent of the nation’s land area, and have historically acted as a significant carbon sink.
However, as a result of modification, drainage and damage over the years, UK peatlands have switched from acting as a sink to being a source of carbon emissions.
Restoring peatlands is therefore key to reducing emissions.
Landowners can help by using cover crops within crop rotations to help maintain organic matter, adapting grazing routines and considering grip blocking, drainage and re-wetting of peat soils to restore natural functioning of peatland.
As agri-businesses embrace a low carbon future, it is our ambition to be the sector’s partner of choice as we move towards net zero.
All of our agricultural relationship managers have received sustainability training from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability and are ready to work with farmers by:
We have also partnered with the Woodland Trust and are helping to fund the MOREwoods and MOREhedges schemes, which provide landowners with partial funding for planting 0.5 hectares or more of new woodland.This can reduce the cost by as much as 75 per cent.
To find out more about the support available, read the research report Shaping agriculture’s transition to a net zero future and the accompanying sector factsheets visit lloydsbank.com/sustainable-agriculture
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.
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