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Farming Industry Sets Out Agenda for Low-carbon Food Production

14 March 2014
National Farmers Union

UK - Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the future should go hand in hand with producing food for a growing population and delivering for the environment.

This was the message during a workshop held by the agriculture industry’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP) when policymakers, officials from the Committee on Climate Change, supply chain representatives, scientists and farmers met to debate the future direction of emissions reduction from UK agriculture.

There was general optimism in the discussion about the potential for sensor and information technologies to improve precision in farming in this decade and the next. These ranged from inline sensors for cow fertility and feeding through to crop nutrient use efficiency and soil management.

However, more familiar options which are less technology-based but more management intensive, such as assessing and avoiding soil compaction and taking an integrated approach across the farm business were considered equally important.

While discussion centred on tackling on-farm emissions there were calls to widen the debate by looking at the mitigation benefits that agriculture can deliver by managing carbon in soils at a landscape scale and generating renewable energy for use on farm and for export to be used by other sectors of the economy.

NFU head of policy Andrew Clark, who chaired the workshop, said: “Low carbon and productive farming can be the same thing but farmers need to be profitable so that they can invest in such a future. This workshop demonstrated our long-term commitment to making a realistic contribution to tackling climate change, but this cannot be at the expense of producing more food and renewable energy. We’ve seen over the past three years how vulnerable our sector is to extreme weather events so as a society we must not take our food supply for granted.”

Members of the Agricultural Industries Confederation already see benefit from all parts of the farming and food supply chain working together through carbon footprinting of inputs supplied to farmers, as well as helping farmers determine the carbon footprint of the products supplied to global companies. There is still a long way to go to achieve full environmental footprints for products arriving at and leaving the farm gate. However, the need to ‘decarbonise’ supply chains has proved a driver for sustainability over the longer term.

AHDB Chief Scientist Professor Ian Crute said: “The wide range of measures put forward that could contribute to emissions reduction provide a good foundation for the GHGAP and others to build on. We now need to gain a good understanding of the costs of a range of different measures as well as their ease of implementation and effectiveness in ‘real world’ situations”.

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