The environmental impact of farming is a concern for many. Even though emissions from beef, dairy, pigs and sheep have either decreased or stayed the same since 1990, agriculture still accounts for 68% of nitrous oxide and up to 10% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions.
With the UK working towards goals to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, the future of traditional farming techniques is uncertain.
However, new approaches to production, manufacturing, and management offer enormous scope for sustainable agriculture. Whether you’re a farmhand or a supplier, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about the eco-friendly advances in farming.
What is sustainable agriculture?
The relatively new concept of sustainable agriculture involves using principles of ecology and biology in farming with the aim to leave only a positive lasting environmental impact.
Across food and livestock farming, farmers are adopting new techniques to protect the climate and their natural surroundings. In turn, refined production promotes change for local communities, public health, and animal welfare.
What will farmers be doing in 2023 to be more sustainable?
- Mitigating the energy crisis
Both large and small-scale renewable energy schemes open significant opportunities for farmers and landowners. Roof-mounted solar panels can help farmers cut their electricity bills by reducing the amount of energy they buy, while batteries and wind turbines can also be installed in remote areas.
- Restoring woodlands
The effects of climate change are becoming clearer every day. Extreme weather events like heatwaves, flooding, and the outbreak of diseases all threaten the livestock and forestry sectors.
Both private individuals and organisations owning woodlands are advised to actively monitor their forests and plan ahead. Innovative technologies include greener agricultural solutions using IoT that enable farmers to monitor crops and woodlands remotely, thus decreasing the use of fertilizers, water, and pesticides. These devices also promote efficient production and lower prices too.
- Allowing nature to recover
Environmental organisations urge decision-makers to acknowledge that restoring nature is just as crucial as cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Crop output is proven to benefit from the presence of thriving natural habitats, even in areas of reduced farmland.
Are there jobs in sustainable agriculture?
Over the next few decades, scientists will be required to conduct research and offer informed advice on a variety of areas concerning sustainable farming. These include the production and processing of water, soil, energy, air, crops, livestock, wildlife, and ecosystems.
Government regulations relating to agriculture, conservation, and the environment often overlap. As a result, new roles are expected to become available in every area of policy-making, from local government to global organisations like the United Nations and EU Commission.
Where does farming fit into a net-zero future?
By nature, livestock farming produces methane. Farmers now face the challenge of minimising the impact of this naturally produced gas, with research communities focusing on realistic approaches including:
- Feeding cows with additives that reduce methane production in the gut
- Improved livestock health
- Selective breeding for lower emissions
- Using mixed agriculture systems, such as growing crops in rotation
Additionally, growing legumes is a crucial alternative to using artificial and hazardous fertilisers. Plants including peas, clover, and beans all release nitrogen-fixing bacteria back into the soil from their roots, fertilising it for the next crop. This natural alternative is a safer and more sustainable option for farmers, contributing to healthy soil and clean rivers.
There’s no doubt that we rely heavily upon British farming. The value of potato production exceeded £703 million in 2021 alone and there are up to 22.8 million sheep farmed for food and non-food products in the UK. While some initiatives being taken towards sustainable farming might come with steep costs upfront, the investment will ensure the survival of UK farming in the long run.