BBC News report the average farmer could receive a lump sum payment of £50,000 – capped at £100,000 for farmers with most land. It is part of a massive overhaul of farm grants, incentivising farmers to protect the environment. Older farmers are often most resistant to new “green” methods, and Environment Secretary George Eustice wants them to move on.
The Guardian reports the trial, involving seven farms in Devon and scientists from Rothamsted Research and the Organic Research Centre, is the brainchild of Luke Dale-Harris of the charity Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group. It is being co-funded by the Woodland Trust and Innovative Farmers, a Soil Association programme helping farmers participate in agricultural research.
Lowland Britain’s prevailing livestock tradition of fields stocked with a high number of animals grazing near-monocultures of grass only works in the landscape and economy of the past 50 years that provided predictable weather and artificial fertilisers, argues Dale-Harris.
The climate crisis, and a series of recent spring and summer droughts – including this year – have driven farmers to look for alternatives. Plenty of Devon farmers were keen to join the trial. The climate emergency, he says, is a catalyst for change that “involves working more closely with natural processes, which can only be a good thing”.
BBC News reports a budget designed to fund improvements to Britain’s countryside is set to be raided, the BBC has learned. Cash will be diverted away from ambitious conservation projects and towards protecting farm businesses. The government previously promised that the £3bn currently paid to farms under EU agriculture policy would be wholly used to support the environment. Ministers had said that, after Brexit, farmers would have to earn their subsidies. Farmers would secure the case by undertaking actions such as large-scale forestry or catching flood waters. But many farmers complained that they’d go bust unless the environmental actions were made easier to achieve.
The Telegraph reports most sheep farms are unprofitable without subsidies, with farmers losing an estimated £4,400 to £6,000 per hectare in a 25 year period when labour costs are considered. Researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that farmers could make a profit if they left their land to allow native trees to return and then sell carbon offsets to businesses and individuals.
Sheep at feeder photo by Jeheme under creative commons.
The Daily Mail reports arable soils in England and Wales are becoming less fertile, according to a new study. Almost 40 per cent of arable soils are being ‘degraded’, meaning they have too much clay and not enough carbon or organic matter.
The findings are based on a new ‘soil health index’ that classifies soils by the proportion of organic matter they contain compared with clay, which is too dense and compact to generally be suited to plant growth. Researchers say the index is a good predictor of how much carbon soils can take up and store and a general indicator of how well they are functioning. It could help farmers or policymakers improve the natural services soils provide, such as food production, flood protection and carbon storage.
THE GUARDIAN reports half of the nation’s farmland needs to be transformed into woodlands and natural habitat to fight the climate crisis and restore wildlife, according to a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government.
Prof Sir Ian Boyd said such a change could mean the amount of cattle and sheep would fall by 90%, with farmers instead being paid for storing carbon dioxide, helping prevent floods and providing beautiful landscapes where people could boost their health and wellbeing. Boyd said the public were subsidising the livestock industry to produce huge environmental damage.
The Telegraph reports farmland birds have seen a decline of 55 per cent in the last 50 years, Defra has revealed, as a lack of hedgerows and overuse of pesticides are given the blame.
For some birds, farming has been particularly devastating; corn buntings, grey partridges and tree sparrows, all of which are highly dependent on farmland, have experienced declines of more than 90 per cent since 1970.
Turtle doves have seen their numbers halve in the five year period of 2012 to 2017, with long term declines of 98 per cent.
Defra has been monitoring 19 species of farmland birds, and has found that over the shorter term the fall has been less drastic – bird numbers overall fell by 6 per cent between 2012-17.
THE TELEGRAPH reports if Britain leaves the EU without a deal the farming industry could lose £850m a year in profits, according to research by Andersons, a farm business consultants. The effects are expected to severely impact sheep farmers. If farmers rewild their lands, by grazing traditional herbivores such as wild cattle or deer, and allow the natural landscape to regrow, it would create opportunities for “nature tourism”, said Rob Stoneman of Rewilding Europe.