Global warming, government policies and environmental pressures are set to see big changes to farmland, says a report.
Climate change, advancing technologies, a rising global population and shifting public expectations will create opportunities for forward-thinking farmers, suggests the study by the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers.
“How land is farmed and the purposes it is put to are going to change exponentially in the coming decades,” says CAAV adviser and report author Jeremy Moody.
“This will not only be about changing businesses but also changing landscapes, as each farmer and landowner reacts to the challenges and opportunities in order to grow and thrive.”
Called Future Rural Land Uses in the UK, the study suggests farmers and landowners should concentrate on the variables within their control in order to secure a sustainable future for their businesses.
This may involve generational change or letting land out, says Mr Moody. “Developing progressive businesses will typically see the adoption of new technologies, trained staff and adapting to public demands, as well as to new policy.”
Economics and climate change measures are likely to be the overarching drivers of change in land use, says the report. It outlines five key directions of travel for farmers and the way they use their land.
First, commodity producers will need to keep costs of production down. They will need to be increasingly choosy about the land they use – according to the margin it makes to support overheads and profits.
Secondly, other farmers may opt to produce something different for the market or add value to produce, in a bid to boost margins.
“Farmers need to be interested in what is happening beyond the farm gate,” says Mr Moody. “Success in this approach won’t depend on the area of land but on successfully managing the business.”
Thirdly, there is a growing trend for higher value production; much of it now indoors or under cover, whether with pigs and poultry or glasshouses and controlled environment farming.
Fourthly, some will stay in farming but turn their attention towards supplying public goods and environmental benefits. A wide range of environmental options are available, many of which can support better farming.
Finally, some land may be managed primarily for environmental purposes with little or no farming. This could include woodland, peatland to reduce carbon emissions or wetland and rewilding.
Away from land management, other land could move out of agricultural use to urban development or renewable energy production.
“Overall, marginal arable land might, as in previous times of pressure, be the most exposed to these changes – and is where the loss of basic payments could have the greatest impact,” says Mr Moody.
“Managing these changes – rather than being managed by them – will require new approaches to business and land use and advice on investing, skills, technology and structure will be essential,” he concludes.