According to a new report, there is up to 45% increase in commercial return for nature-friendly farms.

The report ‘Farming at the sweet spot – how farming with nature can make you happier, healthier and wealthier’, was conducted by Nethergill Associates and was published today (Friday, June 23) by the Nature Friendly Farming Network and The Wildlife Trusts.

The data predicted commercial returns, before farm support payments, and sees an average increase of 10-45%.

The in-depth analysis suggests that by farm sector, the commercial return is 45.3% for lowland livestock, 39.1% for upland livestock, 32.7% for dairy systems, and 9.5% for lowland arable farms.

The report

The report shows how the economics of nature-friendly farming “stack up” as a viable alternative business model which aims to “increase profitability, reduce reliance on external inputs, and contribute to environmental recovery”.

The analysis looks at 165 farm business accounts, detailing how agricultural outputs can be made more profitable before support payments and other revenue streams are taken into account.

The latest report finds that “maximising production is both financially and environmentally unsustainable if reliant on large quantities of fossil fuels, artificial fertilisers, and animal feed”.

High costs

The past two years with Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and Brexit issues have highlighted the fragilities of the food system, according to the report.

The data suggests that farmers who have been facing “impossibly tight profit margins are feeling the added financial pressure of sky-high inflation in energy and fuel costs while navigating increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events”.

Commenting on the report, Martin Lines, chief executive, Nature Friendly Farming Network said:

“The hidden costs of unsustainable farm practices are hitting farm businesses hard. Our over-reliance on costly inputs is to the detriment of our farmed environments.

“This report charts a way forward for the sector to strengthen its resilience by working with nature, not against it.

“The ability to measure the financial and environmental sustainability of farm businesses, using naturally available resources as an indicator of efficiency, takes great strides towards a truly sustainable food system that underpins the United Kingdom’s (UK) long-term security.”

It states that this has made many farmers respond to these pressures by “adopting strategies to increase farm output”, however they have “found insufficient financial return on their investment”.

Chris Clark of Nerthergill Associates found this approach “changes the yardstick” for less focus on volume production to one that is maximising commercial returns.

He added that it “leads to a way of farming that is much more aligned to farming in balance with the natural resources available”.

Maximising outputs

For decades, British farmers have been told the story that maximising output will make them more money, according to Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust.

“This has been proven not to be the case, with farmers now facing harsh economic conditions alongside unpredictable and extreme weather conditions,” he said.

“Meanwhile, intensive agricultural practices have been catastrophic for UK wildlife and there’s a clear need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We need a new approach which works for farmers, nature and climate.”

Bennett said that the report offers a “roadmap” to a new farming system which addresses these challenges and secures a prosperous future for farmers.