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Agriculture: Environment Protection

Volume 498: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to reduce levels of (a) greenhouse gas emissions and (b) biodiversity loss arising from intensive farming practices; and if he will make a statement. (293670)

The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan published on 15 July is the most systematic response to climate change of any major developed economy, setting out the Government's approach to securing reductions from the agriculture sector. It challenges the English farming industry to develop a voluntary plan to deliver three million tonnes CO2 of emissions savings from livestock and fertiliser—which will reduce emissions in English agriculture by about 10 per cent. by 2020.

To achieve this, Government will be supporting farmers to take action by ensuring they have access to a comprehensive low-carbon advisory service; continuing our support for Anaerobic Digestion; improving the national inventory for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from farming; and working with the Carbon Trust to make farming businesses eligible for its interest-free loans for low-carbon activity.

The Plan commits Government to review progress on the voluntary plan by 2012 and intervene if the voluntary plan is failing to deliver. Government will publish its options for intervention in its Carbon Reduction Delivery Plan in spring 2010.

We have also worked closely with the dairy sector to produce a Dairy Roadmap to develop opportunities to mitigate climate change impacts and assess the positive benefits to the landscape and biodiversity of cattle husbandry. A Beef and Lamb Roadmap is now being developed by the industry with DEFRA support and the newly formed Pig Meat Supply Chain Task Force will be working with the industry's Pig Environment Partnership to deliver similar roadmap for the pig sector.

Agriculture can have both positive and negative impacts on biodiversity. These effects are monitored through a variety of sources. These include the Farmland Birds Index, which represents a general indicator of the state of the farmed environment, research and analyses through the Agricultural Change and Environment Observatory and the continued development of Environmental Accounts for Agriculture. The aim is to quantify and value the full range of impacts using the best available evidence from a range of sources to help inform policy responses.

Policy mechanisms include regulation and incentives, as well as providing information and advice to farmers on how to improve their environmental performance. Earlier this year there was a review of baseline standards in cross compliance that farmers have to meet as a condition of the Single Payment Scheme. Cross compliance protects a variety of habitat features and in future will place greater emphasis on protecting water resources and water quality. These standards are complemented by our agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship which reward farmers for positive habitat management.

Environmental Stewardship has recently been reviewed resulting in new options to further encourage farmers to manage their land in an environmentally friendly way and an overarching climate change theme. In particular there will be a new component specifically designed for uplands farmers which will be launched in January 2010. Our agri-environment schemes have been popular and successful with 65.8 per cent. of farmland currently under agreement. Natural England has a target to increase the coverage of the schemes to 70 per cent. by March 2011.