In contradiction to the idea that food production is one of the major scourges on the environment, the NFU firmly believes that agriculture is actually part of the solution to climate change.
When the NFU launched its campaign Why Farming Matters almost four years ago, little did we foresee the huge challenges that face us all. From the food price spikes in 2008 that resulted in riots in Haiti, Bangladesh and Egypt, to the current economic crisis which has left the country crippled by a gargantuan debt of £156billion.
We now face a burgeoning pressure to increase food production to feed a growing global population set against a backdrop of dwindling natural resources and the need to impact less on the environment a key message at the heart of the NFU election manifesto.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic and many of them can be found right here in our own farming sector. Livestock is one area which is much- maligned for its contribution to emissions and greed for resource. But much has already been done to reduce agricultures hoof print, which only accounts for one per cent reduction since 1990. The UN has also questioned some of the science contained within its own Livestock’s long shadow report published in 2006 and we look forward to the revisited results.
The NFU firmly believes that agriculture is part of the solution to climate change and tangible steps have already been taken to demonstrate the case. Dairy and beef farmers are supporting the industrys Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, the Milk Roadmap and the Beef and Sheep Production Roadmap all showing positive results.
Elsewhere, animal waste can and is being utilised to produce clean, green energy, using anaerobic digestion to produce biogas, and impressive renewable energy targets have been set. The NFUs own vision is for 1,000 farm-based anaerobic digesters and at least 200 larger waste-linked digestion facilities on farm by 2020. This will mean that farmers will be able to manage some of agricultures methane emissions while producing renewable energy for use on-farm as well as feeding in to the National Grid, and at the same time displacing fossil fuels used elsewhere in the supply chain.
The industry as a whole adheres to world-class standards, such as the Red Tractor assurance scheme. Consumers can be 100 per cent confident of tracing anything they buy, carrying the logo, back to the farm where it was produced. They can be assured that these same farms work to high standards of welfare and operate in one of the most regulated markets in the world. Health and welfare is of paramount importance. This includes vital medicines used for the treatment of infections in sick animals to reduce suffering and speed up recovery.
Another crucial area that shouldnt be ignored is the role that the livestock sector plays in maintaining and sustaining some of our most beautiful and treasured landscapes. Almost 60 per cent of the farmed upland of the UK is designated as National Park or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. More than two-thirds of the UKs agricultural area is made up of grassland landscapes that have been largely created by mans grazing of animals. Without well-managed sheep and cattle grazing, the look and feel of these areas would change, along with the habitat and its flora and fauna. Farming in these areas really does matter because grazing livestock occupies land that simply cannot be used for growing food.
Farmers themselves have also noticed an increased interest in their environmental performance from customers. A recent survey by Farming Futures an industry- led project which helps farmers respond to climate change reveals that 53 per cent of those surveyed recognise that addressing climate change offers potential business opportunities, a significant rise on the previous year. Farmers are increasingly producing their own energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change and improving energy efficiency.
The key to finding solutions to the environmental and social challenges we face is to build on the good work that our farmers and growers are already doing by ensuring that investments are made in agricultural research and development. The new management practices and technologies that emerge will enable agriculture around the world to satisfy the very real growing global demand for food while reducing its environmental impact. Genetic improvements changing feeding regimes, increasing feed conversion ratios and reducing the impact of disease all have the significant potential to lower emissions. Given our world-class science base, this is where the UK can really excel and demonstrate why farming matters.