10-14th October 2022
After the success of the first Countryside COP in 2021, Countryside COP returned to provide a platform for anyone interested in the countryside to hear how the UK's rural economy and agriculture can help tackle climate change and improve sustainability. A variety of organisations, from farming bodies to universities, with speakers from not only the UK, but also Ghana, Zambia, and Australia, came together to discuss a wide range of topics. This communique is a summary of the recommendations from each of the CountrysideCOP2 events hosted, highlighting what support and next steps are needed to encourage and promote progress within the industry.
The common themes amongst the recommendations were:
- There is a need to support those in the industry trying to improve their sustainability, whether that be for cost/investments, training and/or research.
- There is a need to establish detailed but flexible policy frameworks which focus on modern sustainability measures across sectors.
- In relation to the second theme, there was a common call for a platform for productive discussions and recognition of effective but also sustainable land usage.
‘Agroforestry & Biodiversity’
Trinity Global Farm Pioneers
- Research is required to develop thresholds for pesticide application. Current thresholds are out of date. Thresholds need to be developed so that they can be integrated with better monitoring of natural pest populations.
- Policy needs to consider start-up costs for agroforestry because it is a huge barrier. Policy needs to be flexible/ not too prescriptive because the tree species that farmers choose to plant will vary based on soil type, markets, knowledge.
- Policy must consider the long-term nature of agroforestry. Having changes to agricultural policy is not beneficial. The longevity of these systems needs to be considered because it takes time for the positive effects to be realised.
‘Challenges for Farming on Lowland Peat'
FenlandSOIL, UKCEH, NIAB and WWF
- Rewetting peat soils will make the biggest difference in moving to net zero (for veg production on these soil types) but how this is achieved is complex and requires:
- Local engagement at IDB scale;
- Investment in reservoirs and methods of moving water; together with,
- An understanding of the impacts of relocation and the growing of more veg on mineral soils.
- More work is needed to provide a clear framework to allow description and quantification of the impacts of approaches to co-delivering food production and environmental outcomes i.e. land sharing / land sparing / combinations of these.
- Regenerative farming for field veg. systems needs more agronomy research to optimise approaches to increasing soil cover, reducing tillage and changing cropping strategies in these systems.
‘Dairy Roadmap Stakeholders Forum’
- Clarity is needed at farm level so farmers have the confidence to act and invest.
- Policy and advice must look beyond GHGs; focusing on this single aspect of sustainability risks driving change that is detrimental in other areas.
- Financial support from government is required in areas such as carbon foot-printing, genetic improvement and soil testing.
- The industry needs to work together, there is strength in collaboration and aligned messaging.
‘From ideas to implementation: the role of young farmers in addressing the climate crisis’
NFU, NFYFC & Youngo
- Young farmers across the globe are implementing a range of solutions to mitigate GHG emissions on farm and increase resilience to the impacts already being experienced. This includes nature-based solutions, but increasingly technologically led actions too. These must be accessible to all farmers of all sizes and in all locations. This can also contribute to diversification of farms.
- Another key aspect of implementation is training of young farmers – e.g., to farm more sustainably and reduce post-harvest losses, more support is needed here.
- Information exchanges both within and between countries need to be better facilitated. Young farmers also need more information on how climate change will impact them in the future so they can better adapt to the impacts.
- Panellists reiterated the importance of having plans and strategies for the short, medium and long term, but there must be flexibility to adapt to the uncertain impacts of climate change and to ensure food security.
- Young farmers want to be in the front seat of policy decisions. They need support from COP and government, but local communities must be able to adopt and implement their own solutions to the climate crisis.
‘Hitting Biodiversity and Carbon Objectives: Two Norfolk Case Studies’
NFU East Anglia Environment Forum
- Current and future agri-environment schemes can deliver carbon reductions alongside their biodiversity drivers
- uptake will be optimised if there is access to stackable payments to pay for carbon
- Doesn’t have to be wholesale land use change – can be part field and even rotational
- Hedges have great potential.
‘How Can Science and Services Help Global Food Supply?’
- We need to take urgent action to secure healthy and sustainably produced food for all in order to achieve net zero emission targets and ensure resilience to climate change. It is vital that researchers and stakeholders come together in a spirit of openness and collaboration and with real urgency to mobilise ideas and resources around advancing the transition.
- UK policymakers are working towards risk pathways to try and reduce our exposure to risks. There is a desire to encourage the uptake of best practise in farming, which will support both reduction of emissions as well as climate resilience in terms of more resilient crops. Precision breeding technologies also have longer-term potential to support food security and help the UK meet Government goals around adapting to climate change and enhancing sustainability.
- Every mitigation and adaptation decision has to be context specific because of the significant impact on vulnerable populations and ecosystems. Countries need to think about no-regrets scenarios, including different criteria and elements in the decision-making process. Numerous policy and technology-based options have been already tested and, in many cases, have been proven to be economically viable and commercially possible. However, there is still an implementation gap in the sector. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has suggested many innovative solutions that would contribute to the transformation from the business as usual to more sustainable agri-food systems.
'Land Manager Collaboration for Environmental Delivery'
- Collaboration will be important for many land managers to develop the skills and knowledge to access these new environmental markets and to scale up delivery of natural capital.
- Collaborating can enable greater access to public funding such as Defra’s Landscape Recovery scheme, as well as private markets for carbon and biodiversity credits.
- Potential buyers are often looking for larger projects that will include collaboration between land managers, environmental specialists and themselves to deliver bigger, better projects.
- While there are many advantages, the reality of setting up collaboration agreements can be complicated so it is essential to take advice on legal agreements and tax at an early stage.
‘Net Zero from Productive Grasslands’
Germinal and Aberystwyth University
- Reduction of artificial Nitrogen, compensated by increase in forage legume use.
- Regenerative agricultural practises to improve whole farm systems and soil carbon capture.
- Recognition of the importance of improved Grasslands as a feedstock for productive livestock agriculture.
‘Soil Health and Water Security’
Farm Carbon Toolkit and Yeo Valley
- Agroforestry and trees within grassland systems are useful and have performed especially well in the dry summer in terms of supporting grass growth and livestock performance.
- In terms of mitigating climate change, agroforestry has the ability to enable soils to hold more moisture which limits the impacts of both droughts and floods. This was evidenced through the better grass growth and improved livestock performance found where cattle were grazed within agroforestry settings this summer where drought and extreme heat were a feature.
- Research carried out with Yeo Valley Farmers is suggesting that soil management practices such as growing herbal leys show added deposition of soil carbon below 10cm. At the levels this is occurring the tonnes of carbon being sequestered is significant. Data so far is showing a carbon stock improvement of between 20-40 t/ ha from implementing these practices on trial sites.
- Sharing information on typical emissions and sequestration associated with different elements of farming practice provoked a really lively discussion and a general increase in carbon literacy amongst attendees. It is recommended that this type of approach to supporting an increase in carbon literacy could be helpful.
‘Sustainable Soil Solutions’
NFU North East
- Recommendations similar to what is in the NFU Foundation of Food report (see the key policy asks).
- Other than this, attendees reiterated the importance of knowledge exchange and learning from other farmers, hearing what has worked/hasn’t worked.
- Every farm is different, and future policy must remain flexible to allow farmers to make decisions that best suit their businesses.
- Good soil health must be seen hand in hand with profitable businesses.
‘Topical Farming & Countryside Issues: A Yorkshire Water tenant farmer's evening’
- Food production and food security should be higher up the agenda (as well as the next generation of farming producers),
- Encourage more tree planting on brownfield sites nearer populated areas, rather than agricultural land
- Wish to see more recycling of sewage and outputs to land to improve
- Government need to take ownership of carbon calculations and how methane is treated
- Grid connection charges are prohibitive and stop farmers moving into renewables (DNO’s too powerful)
‘YEN Zero Discussion Workshop: The role of crop productivity in reaching agriculture net-zero’
- Evidence required for what is the most appropriate scale for converting land to nature recovery and what connectivity between these land areas is needed to ensure maximum benefit to nature.
- How should the most suitable use of land be defined?
- When is productivity classed as too low?
- What evidence is needed to quantify the benefit of changing a particular land use?
- Factors such as tradition and history need to be considered when defining the most appropriate use of land.
- Support mechanisms are needed for different land uses
- Land sparing: sufficient compensation is required for taking land out of production;
- Sustainable intensification: Incentives are needed to increase yields and support innovation. The term sustainable intensification needs to be defined to ensure yield increases do not occur to the detriment of the environment;
- Agroecology: likely to cause reduction in yields so farmers need to be rewarded for benefits to nature to compensate for this.