The NFU has published a plan to achieve net zero emissions from agriculture by 2040, a target set by President Minette Batters at the Oxford Farming Conference in January.
As reported by Farmers Guardian earlier this year, the plan is centred on three pillars – improving farming’s productive efficiency, enabling more food to be produced with fewer inputs; boosting carbon storage in soils and vegetation, through bigger hedgerows, more woodland and more carbon-rich soil and increasing the use of renewable energy, displacing fossil fuels.
The union has identified a range of measures to improve productivity and reduce emissions, including using controlled release fertilisers; cutting methane emissions from cattle with feed additives; taking advantage of precision farming to deliver nutrients and crop protection products more efficiently and loosening compacted soils to minimise N20 emissions.
In order to improve carbon storage in soils and vegetation, the report calls on Defra to create a network of demonstration farms showing best practice and a mechanism to reward farmers for storing more carbon in soils, hedgerows, woodlands, peatlands and wetlands.
On renewables and the bioeconomy, the NFU is pushing for the implementation of the Bioenergy Strategy and the Bioeconomy Strategy, and suggested Government departments would need to back the use of novel building and insulation materials such as hemp fibre and sheep’s wool.
Ms Batters said: “There is no doubt climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time and rising rapidly on the agenda both at home and globally.
“Representing British farming, we recognise our unique position as both a source and a store for greenhouse gas emissions and, importantly, how we can build on our work so far to deliver climate-neutral farming in the next 20 years.
“We aspire to be producing the most climate-friendly food in the world. The carbon footprint of British red meat is only 40 per cent of the world average. And we can go further.
“We must work across a range of internationally-recognised inventories and utilise the best available science, working in partnership with concerted support from Government, stakeholders and the wider supply chain.
“This ‘white paper’ provides a strong foundation on which to talk to others about joining us on our journey.”
Ms Batters is now pressing Defra to move ahead with pilots of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) and productivity scheme so industry can learn how well they work on the ground and contribute to the net zero goal.
She has also called for farmers to be able to access cash from the shared prosperity fund and support from the existing Industrial Strategy.
Last week’s spending review saw Defra receive £432 million to improve climate resilience – a 27 per cent increase in cash terms since the last review.
Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers said she intended some of the money to go to the farming sector, with £20m being put aside for ELMS.
Speaking to FG last week she said: “At this stage we have not allocated all the money but I foresee at least some of it being used to support farmers as crucially important stewards of our natural environment and a sector where there is a really impressive determination to become more sustainable and bring down emissions.”