OPINION: Farming must change significantly to hit new climate targets

Jake Fiennes, director of the Holkham Nature Reserve

Jake Fiennes is head of conservation at the Holkham estate and an East Anglian representative on the National Farmers' Union's environment forum - Credit: Denise Bradley

Farming needs to change in order to meet new carbon reduction targets says Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham estate and a member of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) environment forum.

There's a lot of pledging going on out there.

The government has announced that the UK will be on course to cut carbon emissions by 78pc by 2035 and the NFU is planning to be net zero by 2040.

Any of you in agriculture that have already carried out a carbon audit, will have opened Pandora's box to the reality that your current farming system will have to change significantly to meet any of these targets.

The statistics tell us that agriculture accounts for 10pc of emissions in England and possibly the biggest offenders of this are artificial fertiliser, closely followed by diesel and livestock.

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So how do we think East Anglian farmers can rise to the challenge?

My belief is the reality of the removal of direct support payments, and the incentivising for environmental endeavours, with land being removed from conventional agriculture as we currently know it, will thereby deliver a reduction in CO2 emissions from agriculture.

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Mixed farming systems are recognised to be more sustainable, and the placing of land parcels that are uneconomic to cultivations and better suited to medium or long-term lays will only add to this reduction.

Livestock farmers, specifically cattle growers, have recently borne the brunt of accusations of adding significantly to climate change.

The comparison of artificial fertilisers and fossil fuels with the natural gas emitted from bovine is rather unfair. The largest crop in the UK is grass and when managed by livestock only serves to benefit the environment, when done sympathetically.

With recent calls for a significant reduction in meat and dairy consumption, we must be careful not to remove too much farmed livestock from our landscapes without truly understanding the good they can do to sward diversity, which in turn benefits a range of species.

Norfolk has some of the richest and vibrant areas of low intensity grassland, all of which are managed by cattle. The synergy between lowland breeding waders and cattle is well recognised.

So, we must value these magnificent creatures that enhance biodiversity but also provide us with food. Grass-fed beef must be the way forward - better for us and better for our environments.

Better quality, less often and sourced locally. This way it will not cost the earth.

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