With the media spotlight currently focussing on GHG emissions, the Farmer Network held a timely farmer workshop at Newton Rigg College this week. 30 Farmer Network members and guests including the Federation of Cumbria Commoners and the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association joined Lisa Norton, Head of Land Use Group, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, at Lancaster Environment Centre. Lisa is part of a larger research group whose intention is to feed information from the meeting back to DEFRA as part of a consultation process.
The meeting heard that the Agriculture industry is responsible for about 10% of UK emissions and this figure is reducing annually although progress to national targets remains very slow. Lisa then gave a review of current government climate change strategies and challenged the farmers to state how their existing farming practices reduce emissions.
Many farmers were adamant that low input extensive farming systems could be carbon neutral or even carbon positive, meaning that agro- pastoral systems store more carbon in the soil then they emit. It was agreed that a trial project should be explored to accurately record the carbon footprint on a number of Cumbrian farms.
A number of potential options for reducing GHG emissions were discussed and evaluated by the farmers. There were no clear patterns because very farm is different in terms of location, topography, land type and farming system. A one size fits solution is simply not applicable to Cumbria and every farm must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
The meeting finished by discussing the necessary enablers which might assist farmers in taking further steps to reduce emissions. The farmers felt that investment in educating the public not just on emissions from agriculture but also in UK farming systems and food production generally, was of prime importance followed by a desire for long- term, stable government policies.
Finally Lisa was asked by the farmers to deliver a strong message to DEFRA that whatever the policy, scheme or support payment being promoted by government in future, it is vital that his integrates fully and easily with an existing farm business. This must not and cannot be an “either – or” option.