How green is the UK farmer?
If one asked the proverbial man in the street “How green is a farmer?” the answer would probably depend on where the street is located, but in many urban parts the response would be likely to include some mangled statistics and the conclusion that farmers, and specifically their livestock are largely to blame for greenhouse gases, global warming and the imminent destruction of the planet.
Evidence recently published by DEFRA tells a rather different story. The June 2020 Farm Practices Survey looked at over 2000 commercial farms in England, covering both the livestock and arable sectors, and assessed the way in which these businesses were managing their greenhouse gas emissions. The conclusions will come as a surprise to critics of the industry.
- Nutrient management plans aim to ensure the application of nutrients matches the usage, maximising efficiency and reducing the risk of fertiliser run off, which can lead to pollution. 75% of the farmland covered by the survey was being managed under such plans and 71% of farmers regularly tested their soil for nutrient indices.
- 6.6% of farmers are processing waste by anaerobic digestion, up from 5.2% the previous year.
- 65% of farmers consider greenhouse gas emissions to be important and 66% are taking steps to reduce them, using a mixture of waste recycling, improved energy efficiency and greater accuracy of fertiliser applications.
- 76% of holdings return nutrients to the soil by way of spreading manure or slurry on the fields (although only half of them do so via a calibrated manure spreader).
- 75% of livestock farms have a formal “Farm Health Plan”, up from 73% in 2019 and of those 91% had prepared it with the help of a vet.
- 75% of temporary grassland includes a clover mix which improves soil quality and reduces fertiliser requirements
The survey also notes that whilst there has been a small improvement in greenhouse gas mitigation recently, many of the measures, such as the nutrient management plans have been running at much the same level for over a decade.
The survey does highlight some areas which may require improvement in future. Looking at the livestock sector, 68% are still storing manure in temporary heaps (likely to release more ammonia into the air) and only 25% have slurry tanks (although 16% are intending to upgrade their storage, mostly within the next three years).
Commenting on the surveys MHA Moore and Smalley agricultural manager, Yvonne Coulston remarked:
“This confirms what we have long suspected: our farming clients are greener than people think, and have been green since before it was fashionable!”