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Farmers highlight how they hope to meet ‘net zero’ climate target

PUBLISHED: 12:05 19 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:42 19 August 2020

Fenland farmer Tom Clarke is one of 26 national case studies in an NFU publication named

Fenland farmer Tom Clarke is one of 26 national case studies in an NFU publication named "Doing Our Bit for Net Zero". Picture: Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke

A Fenland farmer’s efforts to keep carbon stored within his fields have been highlighted in a national publication showing how agriculture can achieve its “net zero” emissions target by 2040.

Fenland farmer Tom Clarke is one of 26 national case studies published by the NFU to show how farmers are working towards Fenland farmer Tom Clarke is one of 26 national case studies published by the NFU to show how farmers are working towards "net zero" targets on their farms. Picture: Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke, who runs a 400ha family business near Ely, is one of 26 case studies in a booklet published by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), entitled “Doing Our Bit for Net Zero”.

It shows how individual farmers are working to improve their carbon footprint, in the hope that others will be inspired to make changes to their own operations.

In response to the “significant challenge” of climate change, Mr Clarke said his farm is focusing on reducing soil disturbance and erosion to keep both soil and carbon stored in the field.

His “whole supply chain approach” includes moving 75pc less soil than previously – now only ploughing regularly before planting potatoes – and experimenting with min-till and no-till regimes for wheat.

He has also upgraded his sugar beet drill to reduce soil disturbance, used over-wintered stubble as a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) option to protect soils, and planted a “nurse” crop of barley ahead of sugar beet to reduce wind erosion, with the beet tops retained to return organic matter to soil.

“The changes I’ve made on the farm so far have come about from me just thinking about what we were doing, but finding different ways of managing peat to try and slow rates of loss is going to be particularly challenging in the future,” said Mr Clarke. “Robotics hold the prospect of better protecting soils and radically reducing fuel and input use.”

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The 26 case studies aim to inspire farmers to start their “net zero journey” ahead of the 26th meeting of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow next year.

Other work outlined in the booklet includes improving genetics and animal health, increasing soil health and fertility, planting trees, investing in new technologies to increase productivity and creating biomass for renewable energy.

NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts, who also features as one of the case studies, said: “Our goal of net zero agriculture by 2040 means the industry as a whole being a net zero contributor to climate change. It is a challenge but by coming together to encourage progress it can be done, and it will also help improve our business resilience as well as our environment.

“There is not one singular way to go about these changes – it just needs to work for the individual business. Even within the NFU’s three pillars of improving productivity, increasing carbon stores and boosting renewables and bioenergy production, these case studies show that there are so many options for farmers to explore.

“We also recognise that each farmer will be starting their net zero journey from a different place. Whether they’re at the start of this journey or well on the way, every farm and business model has something it can offer.”


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