Farmers will benefit from three income streams in future - primary food, public goods and carbon trading - and should not delay in embarking on their sustainability journey.
That was the message from Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) Marque certified farmer and demonstration farmer, Duncan Farrington, who told the organisation’s annual conference small changes could make a big impact on educing carbon emissions.
Mr Farrington, who runs the Mellow Yellow cold pressed rapeseed oil brand in Northamptonshire, said: “Our biggest gain has been in soil health, with a 75 per cent increase in soil organic matter and in absorption of an extra 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide by one single field every year.”
Mr Farrington added being the world’s first carbon and plastic neutral producer demonstrated the possibility to other farmers of achieving net zero sooner than industry’s 2040 target.
But Jonathan Wadsworth, lead climate change specialist at The World Bank, said a robust carbon price was needed to incentivise initiatives.
“The UK Government is already setting a precedent by its repurposing of farm subsidies into payments for environmental services,” Mr Wadsworth said.
“However, in order for us to see a wider movement for change, farmers and researchers across the world must work together towards more climate smart solutions.
“If we are to have any hope of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we must adapt quickly to climate change and reduce emissions urgently.”
Echoing sentiments for an international approach, NFU president Minette Batters said it would be ‘dangerous for the UK to operate in isolation’ and noted the geopolitical situation would be very different next year following Joe Biden’s US election and China entering the net zero race.
Chris Buss, deputy director of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Forest and Climate Change Programme, said farmers were the key delivery mechanism to address climate change solutions.
“Planting trees on farmland can not only help improve soil fertility but it can bring nutrients into farming systems, help regulate water, provide building materials and firewood," Mr Buss said.
But while Ms Batters highlighted farmers had always been ’tree friendly’ and followed policy, she warned Government must remember farmers ran businesses and space for nature is only made if these businesses remain profitable and thriving.
Leaf also unveiled their new 10-year strategy to help the food and farming sector deliver against Sustainable Development Goals at the conference.
“We must set into action activities and commitment from farmers, as we move out of Europe that will strengthen the positioning of agriculture as a solution to some of the huge climate change challenges through carbon sequestration, better soil and water management, boosting biodiversity, reducing waste and minimising energy use,” Leaf chief executive officer, Caroline Drummond, said.
“A big part is scaling up our work and strengthening global partnerships to build communication pathways and deliver change.
“Farming has always been complex due to external factors we cannot control, but the more we can drive circular approaches, the less leaky and more efficient our systems will be.”
Health, diversity and enrichment will underpin the new strategy alongside eight commitments.
Specific measures include boosting the amount of Leaf Marque fruit and vegetable growers by 30 per cent and an additional 42 Leaf demonstration schools.
“The next ten years will bring so much change but better data collection and technology will enable us to support business decisions,” Ms Drummond added.
“This is the farmers’ moment as many of the challenges can be solved through our capabilities as farmers to drive change through our food systems.”