Shropshire Star

Shropshire Farming Talk: Climate change - Can farming step up to the plate?

“Tractors are lining up on roads outside Dover as farmers protest against imports of food.” – BBC News.

Richard Watkins, left, and Allan Wilson, from Save our Shropshire

Farmers are arguing they have been hit by falling incomes, environmental regulations, rising red tape, and competition from imports.

At the same time, floods across those farms are wreaking havoc. Many thousands of acres and their farmers are struggling to survive.

Climate change is at its worst!The UK Government’s target is to be “net zero” by 2050. To meet that, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommended in 2022 “a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy by 2030 and 35 per cent reduction for meat by 2050, by eating better meat and plant-based alternatives “

Shropshire has around 3,700 farms over 250,000 hectares. They look after 9.5 Mn poultry, 0.7 Mn sheep, 0.2 Mn cattle, and 50 thousand pigs. That CCC recommendation threatens thousands of cattle, sheep, and pig farmers.

Consumers will also learn to change their diet. If we eat an 8-ounce (225 g) steak once a month we cause 300 kgs of harmful gases a year. That’s a lot out of the two tonnes per year we should emit to get to net zero. Less beef, more vegetables.

Should Shropshire farmers now give up farming meat across Shropshire? The answer is no.

Imported food from abroad is not good for the climate. Consumers should buy food seasonally, sourced locally in local markets. We import around 40 per cent of our food. That could reduce the problems of imports! Carbon Tax?

Farmers can feed cattle and sheep with additives that reduce methane emissions.

Finally, some farmers in Shropshire have installed equipment like solar panels – where suitable – and digesters which turn manure into electricity. This makes money and helps the planet.

It just needs consumers and farmers to adapt to sustainable farming. As local scientist Darwin said, “Those that adapt survive”.

But will farmers step up to the plate and tackle climate change? Supermarkets are squeezing prices. Save British Farming has said, “UK pig farmers have been particularly crushed on price by supermarkets and are simply quitting the business.”

ELMS – the payment scheme for farmers to help them act “environmentally” – is beset by uncertainty and delay. “Too little too late”

Farmers are squeezed between supermarkets, high energy/input costs, and nature.

You can forgive farmers for thinking that tackling climate change is way down their priorities.

But we all need farmers and consumers to adapt. The food we eat causes around 25 per cent of the harmful gases we send up into the atmosphere. Floods and droughts devastate.

We also need a proper plan. The government produced a document on “Food Strategy” in June 2022.

The Climate Change Committee’s summary of the strategy was: “The UK Government’s new ‘Food Strategy’ falls well short of what is required to tackle polluting emissions from agriculture, land use, and food production, and create a truly sustainable food system”.

We all need to step up to the plate.

Richard Watkins, Save Our Shropshire

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