This week we saw field fires in multiple counties across the UK. This unprecedented heat seen throughout the UK has brought to light the growing impact of climate change on our countryside. It has become increasingly clear that, while these are currently exceptional circumstances, they will eventually turn into yearly occurrences, as we have seen in Australia, California, and are beginning to witness in France. Therefore, farmers and landowners should begin to learn to adjust to the needs of warming climates. Within this article we have isolated key issues brought about from increased temperatures and some potential farm solutions.
What is the impact?
Climate change is driven by many factors but one key one is an increase in CO2 levels. New research published within Nature Sustainability highlights a key reduction in crop yields due to the increasing global temperatures, some analysts even claim that the impact is already occurring yet the vast advancements in agricultural practices and technologies have obscured the scale of the impact.
Wheat has the largest growing area of all crops in the UK, with over 14 million tonnes harvested in 2021. However, it has recently been shown by research that an increase in temperature has a direct negative impact on crop yield meaning British farmers could lose up to half a million tonnes of produce annually. As the cost of fertiliser and soil nutrients rises, monocrop farming will likely observe a noticeable decrease in production as temperatures climb
Similar to this, models developed by researchers indicate that monocrop and non-regenerative farming result in more crop failures. Although these methods are mostly employed on large-scale farms, it is crucial for smaller farm owners to be aware of the drawbacks of overly straightforward, non-diverse conventional agricultural methods.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously to farmers’ wallets, rising temperatures brought about by climate change is beginning to result in potentially higher expenses. There are numerous fundamental expenses that will affect farmers of all business sizes, ranging from higher taxes on high pollutant emitting techniques to restrictions on the worldwide markets. Every UK farm, regardless of farm type, will be directly impacted by these expenditures and legislative changes exacerbated by increasing global temperatures from climate change and net zero targets.
All this climate change talk seeming a little doom and gloom? What can you do to safeguard your business from these inevitabilities, whilst doing your bit to reduce the UK farming industries emissions?
What are the solutions?
1. Apply Regenerative Farming Techniques
With its diverse crop groups and rotational systems, an increasingly popular system of farming is regenerative agriculture (sometimes referred to as conservation agriculture). According to many agricultural bodies regenerative agriculture is based around three core principles:
- No or minimal soil disturbance to help soil life flourish.
- Growing ground cover to lock in nutrients and protect the land.
- Using a diverse rotation (three or more crops) to promote life and avoid nutrient overextraction.
In practice, this entails rotating land use through cover cropping and rotational grazing in order to improve soil health, enhance biomass utilization, whilst ultimately attempting to increase crop yields. Naturally, the vision of these techniques is to ensure healthier, more resilient soil. Regenerative agriculture seeks to enhance conventionally run farms where the soil quality has declined as a result of years of intensive traditional farming techniques. Meanwhile, this lessens the dependency on plant protection products and bagged synthetic fertilisers, which benefits the surrounding wildlife whilst limiting how much farming contributes to the rise in global temperatures while also ensuring more consistent output from agricultural methods.
Regenerative farming is based on the notion that conventional farming methods become more successful when there is a natural biodiversity. Historically, conventional farming restricts biodiversity to foster the best conditions for crop growth, whereas regenerative agriculture restricts excessive chemical input use and encourages non-chemical methods of pest control and soil improvement. It’s important to note that these changes are gradual, for instance, by simply providing a localised habitat for ladybirds will seasonally reduce aphid numbers without the added cost of pesticides, although there will likely be a lag period as the beneficial populations build.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has a set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2040. This is a huge challenge and reinforces the UK farming industries intent on reducing emissions. Regenerative farming is a key foundational method for limiting emissions, building soil resilience and the longevity of acceptable crop yields.
2. Participate in Environmental Schemes
In addition to the above beneficial practices the new Agricultural Transition Plan has re-aligned grants and subsidy schemes to pay farmers for ecologically sensitive practices through the introduction of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs). The goals of these programmes include preventing further local species decline, restoring British waterways, and revitalising soil health. The main upcoming payment scheme that directly benefits farmers is the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). The SFI seeks to advance and promote sustainable agricultural methods. Farmers that sign up for this programme are eligible to receive funding from the government for “activities that can be performed at scale throughout the entire cultivated area in order to have the largest impact” and this can be as simple as a reduction in inorganic fertiliser and pesticide usage.
Farmers can actively improve the local environment and wildlife by taking part in these programmes, revitalising local areas, notably the hedgerows and riverbanks. These improvements actively reduce the potential impacts of the rising temperatures, such as field fires and droughts respectively, by encouraging the regeneration of native plants, whilst affording farms more resilient and healthier soils. Whilst these upcoming schemes are unlikely to fill the deficit left by the gradual removal of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) subsidies, farmers can reduce this financial deficit and reap the above advantages on their land whilst minimizing environmental damage.
DEFRA are actively encouraging farmers to enter into Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements to help them through the transition. The last opportunity to apply for a CS agreement is 2023, with the agreements starting in 2024. Thereafter, the new ELM schemes will take over, although any live CS agreements will still be permissible to the end of their term, with farmers being able to transfer to ELMs if they so desire.
3. Embrace Farm Diversification
Alternately, to help mitigate the loss of BPS, volatile growing conditions and markets, embrace farm diversification.
In the UK, land is currently one of the more valued commodities, with more and more pressure being placed on farms to sell plots to nearby developers for housing and infrastructure developments, there is less and less of it. Modern market trends and consumer behavior has leant towards the experiential and the public’s interest in accessing the countryside and rural area is booming.
According to the DEFRA’s farm business survey, the average additional income generated by diversified enterprises (all types) was £20,200 in 2021. Successful diversified enterprises are created through maximising available natural resources and land features, putting farmers’ current talents to use in new contexts, and making investments in the rural economy. This can be accomplished by creating new non-agricultural or agricultural businesses. Specialized agricultural practices, like raising angora rabbits for wool or more exotic poultry like ostriches and guinea fowl for eggs or meat are, although niche, great examples of agriculture-related diversification approaches. This makes use of current agricultural land for long or short-term diversification investments. Alternatively, as demonstrated on “Clarkson’s Farm,” creating a retail location on the farm diversifies income sources and collaborates with local businesses, improving farmers’ community engagement.
But it goes beyond retail. Farm buildings are frequently converted into wedding reception locations due to the growing popularity of rural wedding themes; this has been proven in many cases increase the farm’s income by more than £20,000. With a single renovation expenditure, farms can establish a consistent income stream from event management. Corporate events, wedding venues, festivals, and glamping are just a few of the many non-agriculture diversification alternatives possible. This does not remove all autonomy as many of these events can be seasonal meaning seasonal usage is preserved.
What can we do to help?
At Dudley and Peverill Associates, our recent clients have seen great success developing underutilized land and buildings, creating rentable storage units, commercial units, tourist accommodation and even specialist dog training facilities.
The variety of possibilities are immense and guidance is often useful in order to maximize the opportunities your land has to offer. We work with landowners and farmers to create bespoke advice and strategies to help diversify their estate, building resilience and income whilst realising their visions, through both property and enterprise investments.
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