The future of farming post-Brexit: consultation response

Published: 9 May 2018

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Agriculture employs nearly 500,000 people and is a key part of the food and drink industry, which contributes £112 billion to the economy. Agriculture accounts for over 70% of land use in the UK, and has a major influence on our environment.

The Energy Systems Catapult has responded to a Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consultation which seeks to explore industry’s views on The future of food, farming and the environment in England. The Consultation has opened as the UK marks its first step on the road to a new agricultural policy outside of the EU, including a new, post-CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) domestic settlement for agriculture.

Our response has been submitted to outline the potential for agriculture and forestry to play a key role in meeting climate change targets cost-effectively, whilst still using land productively, as discovered in the team’s analysis work. Much of this draws on evidence and investment by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) in collaboration with a wide range of commercial and academic partners.

Key points

Policy should focus on maximising the social and economic value of farming and agricultural land use rather than food production per se.

  • Agriculture and forestry can play a highly valuable role in unlocking clean growth. Domestic biomass production can enable the UK economy to meet carbon targets efficiently, thereby minimising energy costs for consumers and businesses. Energy system modelling estimates the potential savings from efficient development of UK biomass production to be circa 0.5 to 1% GDP.
  • There is substantial scope to improve UK agricultural and land use productivity, whilst also meeting clean objectives. For example, productivity improvement and reduced wastage could release land for energy cropping and productive forestry.

Agriculture and forestry will need to play a key role in the UK’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions

  • The agriculture sector contributed 0.45% of GDP in 2016 and 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. As emissions reduce in other sectors such as power and transport,  agriculture and land use related emissions will account for an increased proportion of the remaining total. Change in these sectors will need to form a key part of the UK’s transition to a low carbon future.
  • The agriculture and forestry sectors are not currently exposed to economic signals to reduce emissions (i.e. there is no ‘carbon price’ placed on direct emissions from agriculture). There is an opportunity to consider how agricultural policies could bring carbon-related incentives into play in a practical way that enables farmers to contribute positively to climate change mitigation.

Incentivising farmers to adopt practices that deliver climate change mitigation and carbon sequestration benefits should be a key priority

  • Strong evidence points to the feasibility and high potential economic value of devoting a proportion of agricultural land to short rotation forestry and perennial energy crops.
  • A sustainable domestic biomass production sector could provide a significant and highly valuable source of low carbon energy for the UK, enabling savings of £10s billions per annum in the cost of meeting carbon targets. In combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS) this could be a game changer for the UK’s strategy to meet carbon targets.

Reformed agricultural policies need to be practical and evidence-based approaches that incentivise farmers to do the right things in the right places

  • Land uses and practices that support delivery of public goods (e.g. carbon sequestration, biodiversity and flood mitigation) will vary across different catchments, land and soil types. The structuring of incentives will need to reflect this so that farmers have incentives to do the right things in the right places.
  • Planting second generation energy crops such as Miscanthus and Short Rotation Coppice Willow can provide an opportunity for farmers to diversify their income and increase the productivity of their land. Case studies commissioned by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) revealed that the impact on food production can be minimised or avoided, by using land which is less suitable for food production or for grazing.

Next steps

We are ready to support DEFRA, particularly in accessing and improving the evidence base relating to land use change and emissions reductions objectives, drawing on its capabilities in energy system and bioenergy value chain modelling.