With the amount of change going on at the moment it is sometimes difficult to know where to turn, especially when it comes to planning the future of a rural business. One of my personal challenges over the next six or so years is to adapt my family’s business in Essex, based on 700 acres of coastal farmland, into a selection of enterprises that are fit and sustainable for an ever uncertain future. Farming will of course form part of this, but I am keen to go down the route of further diversification, to spread risk in the future and make us more resilient. Further, I believe that diversity in all forms leads to a more vibrant community and environment. Who knows where one thing may lead? Anyway, this is a rambling start to a post that I thought would gather together some of the key challenges and news stories to have come to the fore in recent weeks.
Last week I spent a couple of days watching sessions at the Oxford Farming Conference and the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Hundreds of people came together (virtually) to discuss the food, farming and environmental challenges of our times and to showcase some of the most inspiring examples of farmers across the sector. I always feel refreshed after Oxford, but it also makes me think how much more there is to be done on our farm! Carbon management will become more central in future years and there will be opportunities for farmers in terms of new carbon markets. Farming is unique in that whilst it could be argued it is a significant emitter, it also has the potential to not only be carbon negative as a sector, but to aid other sectors in capturing carbon and being an overall sink.
According to data from the EU’s satellite system 2021 was declared the fifth warmest year on record, just a little warmer than 2015 and 2018. Further, the past seven years have been named as the warmest seven years overall on record. In Sicily last year 48.8 degrees celsius was reported, breaking Europe’s then existing record for highest temperature by 0.8 degrees C. The trend is clear and never before has there been a greater need to adapt our practices, lifestyles and economies to a low carbon model.
Also in the news we recently learnt of the extremely poor quality of ours rivers. The Environmental Audit Committee has published a report on water quality in English rivers and not a single river has been given a good health status. Long term lack of investment is causing severe issues and the government, regulators, water companies and agriculture are all partly to blame. A lot of farmers will feel this as yet another attack on farming but where there are issues the industry needs to accept that it must do more. The report suggested that chicken farms are a particular source of contamination. Underinvestment in the Environment Agency is also cited as a problem. Action is clearly needed, but we will see over the next decade whether the political will, and the will of riparian landowners and the water companies is there to make the changes that are required.
Finally, we have recently learnt that Countryside Stewardship payments rates will be increased by up to 30% (note the ‘up to’) in a hope that more landowners and farmers will be incentivised to get involved in the schemes. Defra have also announced more detail on their ‘Landscape Recovery’ projects, applications for which will open soon. Areas of between 500 and 5000ha will be given over for new projects involving flood prevention, boosting biodiversity or capturing carbon.