Thursday, 24 January 2019

Climate change: how the farming industry can help

Climate change is impacting farming:
Futures Forum: Climate change: how it’s affecting the UK food scene
Futures Forum: Climate change: the impact on agri-food supply chains
Futures Forum: Climate change: and burning peatland carbon sinks > "Wildfires like these on Saddleworth Moor will become more frequent and severe as the changing climate creates more heatwaves."
Futures Forum: Climate Change: and Food Security @ Café Scientifique: Tues 19th June

But how is farming impacting climate change:
Futures Forum: Climate change: cutting emissions on UK farms
Futures Forum: Sidmouth Climate Week > soil carbon sequestration > or: We've been treating our soil like dirt

The ADAC looks at the latest research: 

Reduced emissions, preparing for climate change and responding to our growing population

Published on Wednesday, January 09, 2019
Author: Megan Hesketh

In November, the Committee on Climate Change proposed a completely altered outlook on UK farming in their new report: ‘Land use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change (2018). The report lays down concerns and possible solutions to the issues surrounding global warming, and suggests a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change in the UK and to increase sustainability of food production.

Currently, 11% of the overall emissions for the UK are from the agricultural and land sectors (53 MtCO2e). Farming as an industry is a substantial contributing factor to emission production and the committee predict that agriculture could be one of the largest emitters by 2050. Therefore, the committee stress that improved utilisation of resources, and better soil and livestock management techniques could be key to reducing emissions and mitigating effects of rising temperatures in the UK.

As well as improved soil and livestock management, the committee proposed large restructure of land use in order to meet increasing needs of both land and food. With UK population expansion predicted to reach an increase of 9 million by 2050, the committee calculated that the land required for settlement would increase from 8% to 12% by 2050. At present, 70% of the land in the UK is being occupied for agricultural purposes. However, the committee suggest that emission reductions as much as 35-80% can be made by reallocating agricultural land to afforestation, restoring peatland, catchment-sensitive farming and agricultural diversification.

Proposed action from the committee involved: a reduction in grasslands and rough grazing of 26-36% by 2050, the creation up to 1.5 million hectares of new woodland by 2050 and an increase land for bioenergy crops by up to 1.2 million hectares by 2050.

Alongside these changes, the committee proposed improvements in sustainable production practices, promotion of healthy eating, reduced food waste, increased forest productivity as measures to manage emission production and food sustainability in the UK. Recognised barriers for this proposal included training and tenancy length.

The large proposed reduction in grassland and rough grazing, advised by the committee to be up to 2.2 - 2.7 million hectares by 2050, would consequently mean large alterations in countryside management, food production and ultimately change for the rural communities living there. Full understanding of the physical, economic and social interactions in the countryside will need to be essential when identifying the role grassland and rough grazing plays in upland areas and considered effects land reallocation may have on these rural communities. With decreasing land area farmed, an increase in stocking densities and improved grass utilisation through paddock may be essential to improve efficiency of production to meet food demand. The committee highlight the benefit of increased grass utilisation rates from around 50-60%, to 80% utilisation by opting for paddock grazing. The committee add that an estimated cost of £300 million per annum is made to the agriculture sector from the diseases Bovine Viral diarrhoea and Mastitis in cows, and intestinal parasites in sheep. Therefore, improving health would not only reduce this cost to the farmer but also reduce emissions through improved performance indicators.

Additionally, the Committee endorse a shift in diets towards the Government’s ‘Eatwell guide’, as an accompanying measure to the proposed land use changes. The report suggests a reduction in consumption in red meat to combat emission production: with currently cattle and sheep producing 58% of agricultural emissions. This proposal would see a reduction in beef consumption by 89%, lamb consumption by 63%, consumption of dairy products by 20% but increases of up to 86% in consumption of pulses and legumes and 54% for fruit and veg.

Diets are already changing in this direction, with 1 in 8 people vegan or vegetarian and a further 21% flexitarian, as reported in a Waitrose survey. The Climate Change Committee report also highlights that 15% of the UK population expect to eat less meat in 5 years’ time according to an ING survey, with health as the main reason for this.

For consumers still demanding meat, the committee suggest to replace by pork and chicken primarily, supplemented by ‘alternative’ proteins e.g. lab-grown meat- with burgers aiming to be launched by 2021 and increased uptake of fungi-derived mycoprotein.

Overall, the report is responding to the growing concern within the UK government and policy makers to tackle climate change and sustainability issues within food and farming. With current environmental legislation in place in the form of the Government’s 25-Year Plan, the committee identify the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill as key opportunities to introduce change. Whether the committee’s proposal will be taken on board by the government is yet to be determined, but to implement such changes would need in-depth research and careful consideration of the implications of land reallocation on food production and rural communities. However, move in policy objectives and subsidisation priorities towards favouring ‘public money for public goods’ and the ‘polluter pays’ are already visible throughout the proposed Agriculture Bill and draft Environment Bill.

Reduced emissions, preparing for climate change and responding to our growing population - ADAS
F&FF - Technical and Business Information

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