What can uplands farmers do to support the NFU's net zero goal?

Thomas Binns leaning on a gate on his farm

NFU uplands forum chairman Thomas Binns reflects on the work so far from uplands farmers to contribute to meeting the NFU’s net zero target. He writes:

The NFU revealed its ambition for agricultural sector to achieve net zero by 2040 back in 2019 and many farmers in the uplands are now asking what they can do to play their part. Often when people link the uplands and net zero, they think of tree planting and little else. However, there is a plethora of actions uplands farmers can take to help make their business carbon neutral. The NFU net zero plan focuses on three pillars;

  • Pillar 1- productivity
  • Pillar 2 – carbon storage
  • Pillar 3 – renewable energy

Within the uplands forum, we have grouped work that upland and hill farmers are currently doing under the three pillars.

Pillar 1 – productivity

Although a challenge to farming in the uplands can be the topography and altitudes of the land, with livestock farmers often limited to hardier breeds that are capable of thriving on the moor or up a hill, it’s important that people use the best genetics available to them. There are several traditional hill breeds that are now recording Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) in a bid to make sure they are using the most productive and suitable livestock for their situations. To be able to assist with this, it is important that people are performance recording on farm, which can be as simple as recording mortality rates, scanning percentages, and weaning and finishing weights to name a few examples. By starting to better understand how productive your farm is, you will be able to focus your efforts on improving genetics. Crucially, focusing on your productivity should result in achieving the same output with less inputs as opposed to farmers relying on additional inputs to do so.

Pillar 2 – carbon storage

Planting trees is often a controversial topic with conflicting information around the impact it has on carbon storage. The most important factor is “the right tree in the right place”. The sourcing of the trees should be from safe and sustainable producers and the location of trees should be decided with the land owners to make sure there are no negative impacts. The uplands are home to 44% of breeding ewes and 40% of beef cows in England, and so are a vital source of food production for the UK and we should not risk our self-sufficiency. Protecting the carbon already stored in grassland whilst also looking for opportunities to increase sequestration or rewetting peatland to avoid release of carbon dioxide can certainly be done in the uplands, by using grazing livestock to do this alongside supporting biodiversity.

Pillar 3 – renewable energies

This area is often more difficult in uplands and hill areas due to planning restrictions in areas of outstanding natural beauty, however where possible people are investing in solar panels, wind farms, anaerobic digesters and even biochar.

The uplands has a great story to tell and, although there is much work to be done, its farmers are more than ready for the challenge of achieving net zero emissions by 2040, without sacrificing a valuable source of food production and risking the UK’s self-sufficiency.

doing our bit for net zero official web crop_74415

Click here to download the NFU's 'Doing Our Bit For Net Zero' booklet

The booklet includes 26 case studies, from farms across England and Wales, showing how farmers are working towards net zero, illustrating how changes can be made to farming businesses to help achieve the NFU’s 2040 net zero ambition.

The examples represent every farming sector and cover each of the three pillars outlined in the NFU’s net zero plan: productivity, carbon storage, and renewables and bioenergy.

Achieving Net Zero report cover image_68792

On 10 September 2019, the NFU published a report outlining its approach to achieving its climate neutral goal for farming, and crucially the specific policies, mechanisms and support required from government and other stakeholders in order to help farmers work towards achieving the target.

Achieving Net Zero: Farming’s 2040 Goal makes clear that the 2040 ambition is a national aspiration, not an expectation that every farm can, or will, reach net zero. Every farm will start the journey to net zero from a different place and will need a unique action plan. The first step is to assess the likely emissions sources on farm.

Marginal gains are vital. Activities such as improving livestock health, reducing soil compaction and well-placed shelter belts or windbreaks are good for farm businesses and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many farmers will already be doing some of these things as part of their everyday role.

The report acknowledges that there is no single solution to the problem of climate change, but it identifies three key pillars of activity each encompassing a range of measures that will help farmers and growers to tackle the issue at farm level. Read more about them here

Net Zero Farm Status Indicator - listing image_72201

Click here to use the NFU's Net Zero: Farm Status Indicator, which provides a quick and easy guide to the practical measures you can put in place on your farm to reduce your agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

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