A new NFU survey has revealed that 84 per cent of farmers and growers are interested in applying for Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs), but that they want to see measures to help them achieve net zero offered alongside environmental and biodiversity actions.
The survey of 400 members underlines the key role British farming has to play in helping the country tackle climate change alongside producing climate-friendly, sustainable food, the NFU said.
But it also highlights the importance of net zero actions within ELMs and why fair reward and support for this work is essential for farm businesses who are focused on delivering farming’s ambition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, it added.
The respondents outlined which potential actions would be most important for their businesses and climate action:
89% said hedgerow management and restoration
84% said maintaining permanent grassland and/or improving grassland management
81% said nutrient management e.g. planning and precision application
80% said generating and using renewable energy on farm
74% said greenhouse gas footprinting
The survey results form a key part of the NFU-led net zero ELM test and trial which is currently under way to explore what can be achieved if net zero measures are included in ELM.
The results demonstrate the high level of interest amongst the industry for net zero actions, but also that every farm is at a different place on their net zero journey and so different measures, delivery methods and levels of advice will be needed to attract as many farmers as possible, the NFU said.
NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw said: “British farmers are really enthusiastic about net zero opportunities and are committed to the industry’s ambition to reach our net zero target by 2040. This survey clearly shows the scale of demand for these actions and the need for future support schemes to cater for it.
“The ELM needs to deliver meaningful, widespread and long-term benefits to the environment and our climate. I believe this should include offering a variety of options such as maximising the carbon storage potential of our grasslands, encouraging better nutrient management and, vitally, building confidence in greenhouse gas footprinting so we can effectively benchmark progress. This is also an opportunity for ELMs to work in conjunction with the carbon market so farmers can really maximise their potential when it comes to net zero delivery.
“This is work farmers really want to do. It’s so important that the government recognises this and shapes the new ELM schemes so that farmers have the means to do it. The inclusion of such incentives would be a giant step forward in securing our position as world leaders of climate-friendly food, paving the way for others to follow.
“This is an opportunity we don’t want to miss, and as a nation striving towards net zero by 2050 and a global community fighting the climate crisis, we can’t afford to miss it.”
Richard Thomas, a livestock, arable and cider fruit farmer from Herefordshire who took part in the net zero ELM test and trial, said: “We are already doing a lot of net zero work on my farm, including planting trees to sequester carbon, changing grassland management to build root mass in soils and using organic manures to cut nitrogen fertiliser use, but I want to do even more to make my business more carbon-friendly.
“The way I see it, including net zero incentives within ELMs that are attractive to farmers and deliver meaningful climate mitigation results is a win-win. I would love to see options available within ELMs for things like long term hedgerow management regimes and reduced cultivation, as these would enable me to build on the work I’m already doing while continuing to produce fantastic, nutritious food.
“For me, it’s important that small farms like mine are represented in the design of ELMs, and I think flexibility and variety are going to be key to get as many farmers as possible taking part. For the scheme to work for my mixed farming business, I would need completely different options to those a large-scale fruit farmer in Kent would need, but if there is at least one option within ELMs for each farmer to do something for net zero then we can have a real cumulative positive impact.”
The NFU’s net zero ELM test and trial is funded by Defra and due to conclude this autumn. 150 members took part in workshops.