Opinion

Is the climate change debate heading in the wrong direction for UK agriculture?

Brexit may well prove to be a minor hurdle relative to the challenge of climate change for UK agriculture over the coming years.

Given the scope of the COP24 agreement recently secured by the United Nations (UN), dealing with the fast-changing demands on how the world produces its food will be the real nut to crack for farmers as they plan ahead.

Worryingly, the UN is calling for a move away from animal-based food production systems. 

This is a policy shift that does not fit in with the production model followed in the UK, given our farmers’ strong reliance on beef, dairy, poultry, pig and lamb production options.

But, at the same time, it’s far from bad news, given our reliance on grass-based systems. In fact, it could be argued that we have always hidden our light under a bushel, where this is concerned.

The reality is that long-term pasture represents a ‘carbon sink’ of immense proportions.

However, I am now certain that we will have to tell the world just how good our grass-based production model really is, from a climate change perspective, if we want to continue on as is – where farming is concerned.

The other reality, of course, is that we do not have an alternative to grass. It is our greatest asset and one that we must develop further over the coming years. All the research shows just how much we can add to the value of our farming output, simply by making better use of grass and silage.

All of this can be achieved in ways that do not in any way compromise the targets set within the latest climate change recommendations from the UN.

But, unless we tell the world this is actually the case, our cause could be lost amide the general clamour that will surely follow to put further pressure on animal-based production systems.

Production agriculture employs many thousands of people right across the UK. Moreover, the sector underpins the entire food processing industry, another key component of the economy.

There is too much to risk by not actively participating in the climate change debate. And the time to start arguing these points is now, not in a decade’s time when the horse has bolted and the real decisions on how the world reacts to global warming have already been taken.