Event Date
YEN logo

In our first workshop of the season and as part of the Countryside COP programme we met to introduce YEN Zero and discuss productivity and land use as it relates to crops and GHG emissions, addressing the questions:

What is the role of productivity in reaching net zero agriculture?

How do we balance meeting food demand while protecting our environment?

Should we be ‘sparing’ land for nature or ‘sharing’ our agricultural land with nature?

As part of CFE's Countryside COP 2022 week of events highlighting how the rural community can drive towards Net Zero, we were pleased to host a YEN Zero Workshop on Tuesday 11th October 9-11am exploring how productivity can help create the opportunity to spare land for carbon and nature.

We were joinied by Professor of Conservation Science at Cambridge University, Andrew Balmford. Andrew has long advocated the need for agriculturalists and conservationists to collaborate to optimise benefits for nature. His work has shown that 'sparing' land by concentrating high yield production gives better outcomes for nature and climate than 'sharing' land through low input / low output agriculture.  His thinking led to the 'three compartment model' advocated in Henry Dimbleby's National Food Strategy and subsequently being developed as a Land Use Framework. We were fortunate to also be joined by Dustin Benton from Green Alliance to discuss what a Land Use Framework could look like, based on their recent "Land of Opportunity" report.

Link to the Remo online event here
 

The workshop was open to everybody, from growers looking to adapt their production systems to reduce their carbon footprints, through to food and drinks manufacturers seeking to understand how they can reduce emissions throughout their supply chains. You didn't need to be a member of the YEN Zero network to attend.  We've posted questions from the event in the comments below - please give your answers & responses.  

In breakout groups of up to 8 we discussed three questions:

1) How should the most appropriate use of land be determined?

  • What factors determine how land is currently being used?
  • What tools/knowledge/support are available to help farmers know what is the most appropriate land use?
  • What metrics can be used to define the most appropriate use of land?

2) How to ensure that farms are fairly rewarded for managing land for different purposes?

  • How should the best use of land should be incentivised?
  • How can sustainable intensification be defined?
  • What risks are there for adopting ‘agroecology’ or sparing land for environmental projects? What support is required to manage those risks?

3) At what scale should decisions about land use be taken?

  • Example scales: In-field, field, farm, landscape
  • Is it practical to be managing for multiple land uses on the same farm?
  • Which farm-level factors determine the practicality of the three-component model of land use? (e.g. farm size, type, farm location)

 

Points from the Table Discussions are summarised below:

  • Appropriate scale is important
    • Farms can make decisions on field by field basis as all farms have good fields and poor fields - but do these correspond to where nature and carbon benefits can be maximised?
    • Yield maps are useful tools for deciding land use - could we get maps of yield potential at landscape scale?
      • the largest wildlife benefits from land sparing come from connecting large areas of land, not taking out odd corners or small fields
    • Some farms and geographic areas are higher yielding than others - can we match yield improvements on one holding with land spared at another location, where productivity is lower?
      • is there a conceivable market or policy mechanism to support this?
    • Carbon matters at a global scale, but biodiversity benefits are much more localised. Need connecting policies across borders. 
  • Incentives will be important
    • General feeling that current rewards on offer from ELMS and landscape recovery schemes are not high enough to be attractive
    • current high crop prices (eg over £250/t for wheat) don't aid decisions to remove land from production (though high input prices counteract this) but do stimulate aiming for higher yields
    • If land is going to be out of production for a period of time the farmer needs to be rewarded, with rates of return tracking markets.
    • Who is rewarding - government, supply chain, external finance?
    • how can tenant farmers make long-term decisions?
    • Changes need to be focussed on less productive areas
    • Does the current countryside stewardship scheme encourage the best use of land?
    • Land management into larger areas may make a bigger difference than combining smaller areas together.  Are there any other models around the world that could be adopted?
  • Need to not be divisive with the debate
    • its not an "either / or" -  there is room for nature sensitive farming, productive farming & reversion to nature. 
    • Public perception that ‘intensification’ is undesirable?
      • Sceptism in industry that going for high yield is desirable - feeling that lowered inputs everywhere (eg regen ag) is closer to the current zeitgeist.
      • Does the industry accept that to reach Net Zero a sizeable portion of land will need to come out of production?
    • Enhancing our agricultural soils and increasing soil C is important to sustain our cropping landscape and maintain/increase yields - this also needs to be incentivised 
    • Can we quantify the potential carbon savings from best practices in building soil C and reducing inputs (eg regenerative agriculture approaches) in relation to benefits from spared land? what yield increase and land sparing would be required to match the best of regen ag? 
    • How can any benefits from high yield with land sparing be represented in metrics like GHG intensities per tonne?
  • To tackle climate change hard decisions need to be made but history and tradition should be protected
    • Weather, rotation, tenancy, tradition, and people need to be considered when decisions are made

VIEW A SUMMARY REPORT OF THE EVENT HERE

Feel free to add or discuss anything missing or mistaken in the comments boxes below.

YEN Zero calculates and benchmarks combinable and forage crop carbon footprints. We are proud to be supported by 11 organisations from across the agriculture industry. We have both sponsored and independent entry spaces available for growers to join today. Sign up to YEN Zero via the YEN website now

Related Organisations

Comments

Discussion

Question for Andrew - From your research, which model is best for helping us achieve net zero? And how does regenerative agriculture fit into this? 

2

With the land sparing model, is there a risk of creating isolated habitats that aren't connected?

1

Question to Dustin - Won't a large proportion of those 'unprofitable' farms be swallowed up by the profitable ones? As they'll have the financial capacity to take on less valuable land?

1

It entirely depends on policy design. An ELM drawing on a land use framework as outlined in Land of opportunity would make it financially viable for small, unprofitable farms to be profitable without any consolidation, if they took up landscape recovery funding. If the policy was designed to achieve nature and climate outcomes at lower cost, this could be achieved through consolidation - but there is a social question (do we want to retain existing land tenure, or to spend less on farm payments for the same outcome) that is implicit here. Green Alliance has assumed a social preference for retaining all existing farmers on their existing holdings.

1

Two questions - on land sparing how can you aggregate smaller individual farms together given separate ownerships? And with the focus on the highly productive areas of land, what about the food miles?

0

Food miles are typically a very small fraction of the total environmental footprint of food - the only exception is air-freighted food. On farm aggregation, co-operatives are typically the means by which farmers agree to govern common resources/have power over supply chains. They are atypical in the UK, compared to other parts of Europe, however, and other legal approaches are possible!

1

With such outdated data on land quality and soils across the UK, do you think it's perhaps dangerous to develop a paper based land framework risking not appreciating  what happens in practice?

0

The data used to develop the analysis supporting 3 compartment isn't based on soil quality directly so I don't think the risk you raise is relevant: the ALC surveys are rather old! Instead, it's based on ecological survey data which is typically not more than a decade old, and on (physical) farm-level food production data from 2019, and on economic data from farming, also from 2019. The analysis could be rerun annually, in principle, though it'd require access to confidential data that only Defra and equivalent bodies in devolved nations have.

1

Question from Ian Smith:

How would you rate the ELS/HLS land use for non productive agriculture for the past 20 years  on species recovery in England ?

0

Question from Mark Dewes:

How can we apply some equivalence between different agricultural outputs using the impact per tonne metric? Eg 1 tonne of milling wheat contributes more to food security than 1 tonne of feed wheat

0

Question from Nick Wilson:

If we require as much land abroad now as we require at home to satisfy demand for food, how does land sparing or sharing in the UK help global emmissions/nature diversity. Isn't this a very self-centred view?

0

When comparing 2 systems with different yield levels, how should we calculate the carbon opportunity cost from the lower yielding system that requires more land?

0

In terms of practically judging on farm any areas which might be worthwhile taking out of production, the CEH E-Planner tool developed from the ASSIST project may be useful - https://e-planner.ceh.ac.uk/

0

Connected Content

ADAS provides ideas, specialist knowledge and solutions to secure our food and enhance the environment. We understand food production and the challenges and opportunities faced by organisations operating in the natural environment

In 2015, the UK pledged to be Net Zero by 2050, with the NFU striving for the more ambitious target of 2040. Net Zero is achieved when the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted is balanced with those removed from the atmosphere. This helps to combat climate change and reduce global warming.

NFU

The NFU represents more than 46,000 farming and growing businesses. Our purpose is to champion British agriculture and horticulture, to campaign for a stable and sustainable future for British farmers and to secure the best possible deal for our members. We strive to protect and promote British farm life and give our members a voice now and in the future.

YEN Zero is a recently established network in the ADAS YEN Family, with the overarching aim of creating a net-zero community. It aims to bring key players from across the agricultural industry together to meet the industry’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2040.

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs.

Industry Leading Agronomists.  With many farming clients, representing over one million hectares, Hutchinsons are a leading agricultural and horticultural input advice and supply company.

Agrii harnesses the power of skilled agronomists and the best intelligence to deliver unrivalled expertise and support for sustainable and profitable farming systems in the UK. 

Are environmental benefits (carbon, biodiversity...) best served by sharing agricultural land with nature, or by maximising yield in some areas to spare tracts of land exclusively for nature in other areas?  

Rewilding is an approach to restoring biodiversity and ecosystem health by working towards returning habitats back to their natural state. Rewilding is commonly misrepresented as the reintroduction of large and glamorous wild animals and the removal of people and human activity from the landscape, but this is very rarely the case.  

The challenges of creating an enduring system for Lansdcape Recovery….  

Henry Dimbleby's National Food Strategy, reported in July 2021

Ahead of COP27 in Egypt, Countryside COP will once again be held in October to allow the rural community to come together and showcase the opportunities available and the contribution already being made to reach Net Zero. 

Agricultural Shows have always been a very important place for farmers and the industry to share knowledge. The nature of agricultural shows has changed, but there are now an increasing number of staple events for a range of communities.

This topic refers to the whole food supply chain, from farm fork, and all the products and services that contribute to food production.

Syngenta UK is a leading agribusiness committed to sustainable agriculture through innovative research and technology.

Policy plays a critical role in shaping the agriculture industry in the UK and Europe. Government policies can have a major impact on the way that farmers operate, the crops they grow, and the prices they receive for their products. Policy has a major effect on how land is managed and environmental outcomes.

Lots of initiatives are measuring and reporting the carbon or greenhouse footprint of products or activities, including crops, livestock and food.

This Topic doesn't yet have a Stewarded summary, but connected groups, content and organisations show below. Click the 'Ask to Join' button if you would like to be a Steward for this Topic and provide a summary of current knowledge and recommend useful resources, organisations, networks and projects. "Like" this Topic if you would like to see it prioritised for providing a wikipedia style summary.

Inchdairnie Distillery Ltd produces Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Single Grain Scotch Whisky. At present we consume 5,000 tons of malted cereal per year.

The Morley Agricultural Foundation is a charity that supports farming in the East of England by funding agricultural research, student studies, professional development of farmers and others and a variety of educational projects for school age children.

This Topic doesn't yet have a Stewarded summary, but connected groups, content and organisations show below. Click the 'Ask to Join' button if you would like to be a Steward for this Topic and provide a summary of current knowledge and recommend useful resources, organisations, networks and projects. "Like" this Topic if you would like to see it prioritised for providing a wikipedia style summary.

Land use refers to the way that land is used and managed for various purposes, such as agriculture, housing, industry, and recreation.

Green Alliance is an independent think tank and charity focused on ambitious leadership for the environment.  

An overview of the greenhouse gas costs of cropping, including an analysis of YEN data in lead up to establishing YEN Zero.  Also includes an analysis of the relationship between nitrogen fertiliser, GHG costs, yield, GHG intensity and potential indirect land use change (ILUC) consequences.