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Now is the Time to Act on Carbon – Carbon Toolkit – Matt Ward

The need to begin this process comes at a time when funding for farms will change radically and the two issues are closely linked ...

Now is the time for farmers and agronomists to act to address carbon footprint on farms, according to Farmacy agronomist and service leader Matt Ward. The need to begin this process comes at a time when funding for farms will change radically and the two issues are closely linked.

“Nobody can deny that climate change is happening,” says Mr Ward.

“There is an urgent need to address it. The UK Government has set a target of net zero by 2050, while the NFU have set a date of 2040. At the same time, we will see the introduction of Environmental Land Management schemes by 2024 and Basic Payment Scheme [BPS] will go by 2028. I would advise farmers to get into Countryside Stewardship schemes now, so they are prepared.”

“Nobody can deny that climate change is happening,” says Mr Ward.

“There is an urgent need to address it. The UK Government has set a target of net zero by 2050, while the NFU have set a date of 2040. At the same time, we will see the introduction of Environmental Land Management schemes by 2024 and Basic Payment Scheme [BPS] will go by 2028. I would advise farmers to get into Countryside Stewardship schemes now, so they are prepared.”

Mr Ward has taken a leading role in developing Hutchinsons’ fee-paid services including its Healthy Soils programme and Omnia precision farming platform.

He says: “We have a long history of providing services that impact on carbon footprint including nutrition planning, soil and crop management.

Greater resilience

“As well as the overall pressure to reduce carbon, there is also an increasing need for greater resilience in farming. We have had a couple of extremely challenging years in crop production and climate changes are driving farming to be more resilient in order to cope,” he adds.

“In terms of the NFU’s target, there are three pillars to achieving this: improved productivity, carbon sequestration and more renewables. When it comes to productivity – what is good for farming is good for carbon.

A lot of farmers think it is all about carbon sequestration, but I believe the improvements in productivity are the most important thing. Farming has to become more efficient. By doing so it will reduce its carbon footprint.”

Mr Ward admits that making these changes is not easy.

“It’s not an easy path to just suddenly say, ‘I’m going to become more productive, do less and make more’. You need a planned approach as to how and where you are going to do it and what steps to take. You need to take a long-term approach.

However, we can’t carry on just doing what we have always done and expect a different outcome. There is no silver bullet. It’s a matter of doing lots of small things differently.”

Stewardship

When it comes to stewardship schemes, Mr Ward believes they should tie in with productivity targets.

“We have used Omnia to look at areas of farms and fields that are delivering poor performance and losing money. If you can’t do anything about that performance, then there may be opportunities through stewardship to reverse that trend – ideally make money, but at least stop losing it.

“It could be for some large units that some fields or areas of fields don’t continue to grow risky arable crops. Going forward we are going to need to be much more ‘bespoke’ on a season to season and field to field basis. People are changing the way they work, black-grass has been a big driver of those changes. There is a lot more integrated crop management happening now and more and more people will have to go in that direction. In fact, with the disappearance of BPS, there is no alternative, we have to change.”

Carbon Credits

When it comes to carbon sequestration, Mr Ward adds being paid for carbon credits is just a bonus for the productivity benefits which will result.

“Improving soil carbon will develop soil structure, improve resilience, increase water-holding capacity and infiltration rates and make your soil more productive. In my opinion these things are more important than the carbon credits you can generate, which are just a bonus,” he says.

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