Last week saw the publication of a report from the Committee on Climate Change entitled, “Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change”. It promotes transformational land use changes, which if they become reality, would have a significant impact on livestock farmers in particular.
The Rt. Hon John Gummer, Lord Deben, who famously fed a beef burger to his child during the BSE crisis when he was Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, chairs the committee. He is an influential politician and as such I think farmers and landowners should take heed of this report because although it may not make palatable reading, I don’t think it should be dismissed out of hand because climate change is with us whether we like it or not.
The report is over 100 pages long and so I cannot provide much detail here but in simple terms it explains that the government’s goals for climate change mitigation and adaptation are unlikely to be met without fundamental changes to the way land is used and managed.
It is suggested livestock numbers should be reduced significantly thereby releasing poorer quality pasture land which can then be variously planted with woodland, biofuels or in places undergo peatland restoration projects. Simultaneously the Government would promote changes in human diet through its nutritional guidelines, encouraging a significant reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy products as well as reducing food waste.
It seems the recently published Agriculture Bill has been identified as a key means of driving land use changes, which is in accord with Mr Gove’s thinking on “public money for public goods”.
The NFU is understandably not happy with these proposals and its president, Minette Batters said “The NFU has been clear with its position on British farming’s role in tackling climate change. Reducing livestock numbers in the UK is not a part of that policy.
“We are disappointed to see the Committee on Climate Change include that recommendation in its report. The report simply does not recognise the environmental benefits grass-fed beef and sheep production brings to the UK.
“It would be a fundamental mistake to design a farming system solely around an approach that mitigates greenhouse gases without any regard to the wider impact of such a policy for our environment and our food supply. It risks producing a one-eyed policy.”
I would agree with Minette Batters that the environmental and landscape benefits of livestock grazing should not be ignored. However, it seems that measures to combat climate change are increasingly becoming ingrained in government policy across all sectors of our economy and farmers will inevitably be affected to some degree. Thus, livestock farmers in particular are advised to be aware of the potential for the introduction of significant policy changes, which may affect them in the not too distant future.