World Environment Day comes almost six months on from the publication of the NFU’s United by our environment, our food our future report in December 2018.
The report details the vital role farming has played through the generations to shape Britain’s iconic countryside, sets out an honest appraisal of the current state of the farmed environment and highlights the NFU's key policy asks of government.
It focuses on five key areas where farmers can, and do, play a key role in tackling environmental challenges: landscape, biodiversity, soil, water and air.
In the foreword of the report, Mrs Batters, pictured above, wrote:
“These five key areas are interlinked and also underpin sustainable/productive food production. But this does not always appear to be taken into consideration when policy and regulation is being formulated.
"Often solutions are put forward in a piecemeal fashion to tackle a specific issue, such as flooding or air quality. But a solution for one issue can often have knock on (and sometimes negative) impacts on other elements, like biodiversity and the landscape.
"Crucially, farmers as food producers have a unique perspective on the farmed environment because they see and manage the whole picture, delivering positive change in all of these areas.”
On World Environment Day, Mrs Batters said:
"With the government in the process of designing a new agriculture policy and drafting a new Environment Bill, the messages from the report are as, if not more, relevant today.
"The NFU wants to continue to rise to the government’s environmental challenge to be the first generation to leave the environment better off than we found it. We realise that there is always more to do or more to improve on. This is one of the reasons why the NFU has set out its own ambition for agriculture to be net zero by 2040.
"By continuing to carry out a huge amount of work to protect and enhance our landscape, encourage wildlife, benefit soil and water, and reduce impact on the climate, farmers will continue to play a huge role in meeting the environmental challenges of our countryside.
"We will continue to work with government and others to ensure that any future agriculture policy enhances farmers’ ability to increase productivity, to produce food for the nation, sustainably and profitably, giving us all greater security in the supply of safe, traceable and affordable quality British food; to the food standards that the public trusts."
In their own words: Farmers explain the work they do to maintain and protect the environment
You may also be interested in:
Hear more from farmers on the five key areas featured in the NFU's report:
Landscape - Thomas Binns, livestock farmer, North West
“It was never a conscious decision to go into farming to produce a landscape. My desire and drive to have a business was to produce food. But the two things have become increasingly interwoven. We produce food and we’re producing this iconic landscape as well to the benefit of everyone – for me as a farmer and for the public at large.
“In my case it was quite an easy step forward into combining environmental aspects of the farm that we have and the production capacity. It was a natural progression to enter into environment schemes because they fitted hand in glove with our business aspirations for the farm.
“Farmers have a genuine desire to try and make sure they leave the landscape and environment in a better condition for the next generation than it was in when they took it over. That’s always been my aspiration, even though I’m a tenant farmer. My time on my farm will be limited, and I won’t have the farm to physically pass on, but I want to make sure things are maintained and enhanced, and left in good condition for whoever follows me.”
Biodiversity - Saya Harvey, arable farmer, East Midlands
“We farm in conjunction with wildlife and the environment because biodiversity is important for many of the natural processes that are so fundamental to farming. We have been in an agri-environment scheme since 1994 and, as different habitats have developed, we have seen an increase in bird species, invertebrate fauna and small mammals on the farm.
“The farm business is the number one priority for us because without an income there can be no biodiversity strategy. We farm the middle of the field to maximise yields and to generate that income. We have always followed the principles of integrated farm management to increase efficiency and to minimise any harmful effects on the environment.
“These measures include zero tillage cropping where appropriate, variable rate fertiliser application, and the use of economic thresholds for chemical application.”
Soil - Poul Hovesen, arable farm manager, East Anglia
“Healthy soils are the bedrock of my farm business. Healthy soils produce a healthy crop and healthy food. You have to invest in your soil if you are going to have a sustainable business and this means putting back what the crop takes out in terms of nutrients and organic matter, and only operating when conditions are right to avoid compaction and soil erosion.
“It’s important that you don’t allow your soil to get into a poor condition. We operate an integrated system that prioritises cultivation straight after harvest to minimise the use of pesticides and to ensure crop residues are returned to the soil to help build organic matter.”
Water - Martin Emmett, nursery grower, South East
“We’ve tried to take a holistic approach to water management, starting with the capture of rainfall from the glasshouse roofs right through to monitoring the supplies that run through our water capture system. We also collect the water that we’ve used and recirculate and reuse it. We’re doing what we can to take full responsibility for our water – both its quality and the quantity we have available. This is about business resilience but it’s also about trying to maintain a high standard of environmental management.
“We purchased this site 18 years ago as a greenfield site. We wanted to start off with a masterplan that gave full long term security to the business and part of that was the security of our water supply. We’re actually in one of the areas of the country that benefits from a good water supply but the area is over licensed in terms of abstraction and we know also that some of the water from this area is being exported to a neighbouring area. So to give ourselves the assurance of long term security we decided that we wanted to integrate a reservoir project into the site.”
Air - Joel Beckett, dairy farmer, West Midlands
“I think all farmers are keen to do whatever they can on their farms to minimise their environmental impact while maintaining productive farm businesses. As a dairy farm, one of the things we thought we could look at is how we handle the slurry the cows produce in a way that benefits the business and also the wider environment.
“We’ve installed a 44 kilowatt anaerobic digestion system. We decided to do it because it would make the best use of the slurry which we already had and it would also create all the electricity that we needed for the farm and the business, and a surplus as well.
“Now we’ve got our own source of sustainably produced electricity, we’re using less energy produced by conventional sources. The solid digestate that remains after the gas had been removed is valuable as well as fertiliser because it’s got a higher availability of nitrogen within it than the slurry had previously. We spread it periodically on the fields and it’s more useful to the crop when we apply it.”