When to act on climate change?

Firstly, happy new year and I hope you have had a good festive break (if you are fortunate enough to be able to take time off over the Christmas/New Year period). My good intentions to post every Friday on this blog have started well, although it won’t last for long as I will be away (and taking a break from the online world) for the rest of the month. This also means that I won’t be attending the Oxford Farming Conference or the Oxford Real Farming Conference, both set to take place in Oxford next week. This is a change to my January calendar as I have attended without fail the last few years, and will certainly miss it this year. However, a proper break is needed and hopefully I will come back fully refreshed.

Extinction Rebellion Oxford will be carrying out ‘peaceful actions’ across the city centre next week, a reminder that we must all be taking climate change seriously. Of course, the farming community knows this and the NFU has set an objective of achieving ‘net zero carbon emissions by 2040’ across the industry, but the questions of how and dedicated action plans for each and every farm remain a distant thought for many. On my own family’s farm on the Essex coast we face the prospect of losing land as sea levels rise as well as the ongoing reality of an eroding sea wall. If we are to remain living and working in this part of the country we need to take action now, but it is up to all of us to act and think seriously first about what actions we might be able to feasibly make. It is also the responsibility of government with the new Agriculture Bill to incentivise farmers and landowners to act.

The challenges appear to be getting more severe and the trends are clear. This isn’t new news – but it is a message that we have to hammer home to ourselves for the message to sink in. A survey in this week’s issue of Farmers Weekly (of 176 UK farmers; conducted by Macleod Research) suggested that ‘extreme weather events’ (what counts as extreme?) are becoming more common with issues such as flooding and drought costing farmers more than £50,000 over the past five years.

An agenda for climate change simply has to be a priority for the next year in food, farming, conservation and the countryside. Brexit is likely to continue to feature strongly as we go through the process of trying to secure a trade deal with the EU – vital for the future success of UK agriculture.

On my own farm level we are planning how we can ensure the future sustainability of the farm in the framework of a changing subsidy. We will adapt to policy as it changes. We have little choice. However, there remains a great deal of uncertainty of what decisions we should be taking now to best fit the new programme. I am hopeful that the situation will become clearer this year. In the mean time I am planning on further diversification, with a focus on health, wellbeing and experiential tourism – trends that appear to be on the up.

When it comes to climate action we need direction and we need it yesterday. Farmers and landowners will adapt and will be up for the challenge. The system needs to be in place however and enacted as soon as humanly (and politically!) possible to enable them to rise to the challenge.

Have a good start to the year. To everyone who is going to Oxford next week, have a good conference (whichever end of the road you are) and I’ll see you next month.

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