Saturday, August 24, 2019

Soil management incentives ‘could help meet climate change targets’

August 8, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Soil management accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, says a report which recommends farmers are rewarded for looking after the environment.

Emissions from agricultural soils – largely resulting from nitrogen fertiliser use –  accounted for 25% of greenhouse gases from farming, according to the government’s Committee on Climate Change. The remainder is from waste management and on-farm energy use.

Agricultural emissions increased by 1% from 2016 to 2017 to account for 9% of all UK greenhouse emissions. This was 16% below 1990 levels – but the report says there has been no progress in reducing emissions from farming since 2008.

Little progress

Methane accounted for 56% of emissions from agriculture in 2017, according to the report which was published last month. Almost half (47%) of total agriculture emissions were from the digestive process of livestock.

The document – which warns that the UK is making little progress in reducing emissions – says farmers should be rewarded for improving the natural environment as the UK strives to meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The government’s Agriculture Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, will pave the way for a new farm support system – largely based on rewarding farmers who undertake environmental measures – after the UK leaves the European Union.

“It must support soil and water conservation, habitat protection and natural flood management,” says the report. It adds: “The draft Environment Bill also needs to set a framework for environmental targets that take climate change into account.”

Favoured options

The government is known to favour options such as low- or minimum-tillage cultivations. But it remains to be seen how this will translate into policy – especially as no-till techniques are not always appropriate in every farming situation.

It could also incentivise improvements in nutrient management – encouraging growers and livestock producers to improve the storage and application of fertilisers and manures. This could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing efficiency.

Rewarding farmers for helping to mitigate the impact of climate change is just one recommendation contained in the report. Other recommendations include embedding net-zero policy across all levels and departments of government.

Further priorities for agriculture for the coming year include planting more than 30,000ha of trees, says the report. Longer-term milestones include a 20% cut in beef, lamb and dairy consumption; and planting 30-50,000ha of trees every year to 2020.

Ambitious incentives

That said, UK action to curb greenhouse gas is lagging far behind what is needed, even to meet previous, less stringent, emissions targets, warns the report. Over the past year, the government has delivered just 1 out of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track.

The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and is preparing to host world leaders at next year’s COP26 climate conference. The NFU says incentives could help agriculture meet its own net-zero target by 2040 – a full decade early.