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House of Lords Hansard
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Farming: Carbon Emissions
12 February 2019
Volume 795

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to achieve net zero carbon emissions in farming.

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My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Agricultural emission statistics are calculated by a team led by Rothamsted Research. Since 1990, emissions from agriculture have fallen by 16% and overall by more than 40%. We need to go further. The clean growth strategy, 25-year environment plan and the clean air strategy set out specific commitments to reduce emissions. We are working on an emissions reduction plan for agriculture as part of our long-term vision for a lower-emissions agricultural sector.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, and I am very glad to know that work is happening. However, the NFU website states that the challenges of Brexit are as a “drop in the ocean” compared with the climate emergency which is unfolding on our planet and that agriculture is still a large producer of greenhouse gases. Farmers are going to find it very expensive to move over to any sort of zero emissions. What sort of financial incentives are the Government going to offer them?

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My Lords, in the context of our own emissions, agriculture is about 10%. We clearly need to work with the farming industry on its production of food and its maintenance of the countryside. There are so many reasons why we need to work with the farming community. With the environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill, we will bring forward an environmental land management scheme where mitigation of and adaptation to climate change are going to be so important. Therefore, public money for public good is part of what we are providing, along with specific schemes to reduce, for instance, ammonia.

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My Lords, while I welcome what the Minister has said, does he agree that it is very important not to impose on British farmers obligations that are not met in competitor countries? Life is going to be hard enough post Brexit for the British farmer. I declare my interest as in the register.

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My Lords, clearly we believe that the production of high-quality food and enhancing the environment are eminently compatible. I absolutely understand what my noble friend has said. It is essential that, in all that we want to do, we work with farmers because they look after 70% of the land and we want them to help us produce food and enhance the environment.

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My Lords, the whole food supply chain needs a partnership approach with research to relate to practical outcomes, on a similar model to that undertaken by the 10 sustainable farming groups set up by Tesco to build long-term relationships with farmers. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UK’s agricultural research is directly connected and translates to on-farm operations, with ambitious climate change measures, enabling farmers and the wider rural economy to benefit?

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My Lords, research is essential, whether it is agritech or research into tackling endemic disease, which obviously affects livestock. For instance, we want to deal with bovine viral diarrhoea and salmonella in poultry and pigs. All the research will help us to reduce emissions, whether it is through low-emission fertilisers or whatever. In all that, we need to collaborate strongly.

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My Lords, just as, in the energy sector, energy efficiency is the best way to reduce emissions, surely in agriculture one of the best ways to reduce emissions is by reducing food waste. What action are the Government taking to reduce the one-third of food waste there is in the supply chain, particularly when in this country we have food banks looking for food, for all the reasons that we know?

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The noble Lord is absolutely right about another key strand of work, which is reducing the extraordinarily high amount of food waste produced by many households. That is happening with retailers through WRAP and the Courtauld commitment, but we need to change how we conduct ourselves and reduce food waste, because it is highly inefficient unnecessarily to produce food.

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My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the climate change committee’s 2018 progress report to Parliament, in which it states that not enough progress has been made in reducing emission from agriculture and land use in comparison with other sectors of the economy. It particularly highlights the failure of voluntary measures to achieve reductions. Does he therefore agree that in future, if we are to move towards net zero in agriculture, there will have to be more mandatory legislation to encourage farmers to comply?

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My Lords, clearly we want to work in partnership with the farming community, and we have supported the industry-led Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, but we are waiting to hear from the Committee on Climate Change’s advice, including setting a net zero target beyond our 2050 target. We will clearly need to work with the industry, but it is essential that we reduce emissions from agriculture.

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My Lords, one point that the NFU made is that our wonderful British beef farmers are already two and a half times more efficient than the world average and four times more efficient compared with the beef from South America, so surely one of the most important things that Her Majesty’s Government could do is to put their weight behind British beef farming. What plans do they have for that sector post Brexit?

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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right about our impressive productivity. For example, in pork, there are 36% fewer emissions; in dairy, 7% fewer. We will continue to work with industry on breeding programmes to improve the efficiency of feed conversion in beef. Clearly, all that and the £90 million investment in the transforming food production challenge is about finding better techniques to ensure that we have great products at home and abroad.

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My Lords, going back to the original Question, what strategies are the Government using to move this issue forward? Will it go out to consultation? If so, what is the timetable for that? Secondly, I remind the Minister of the great benefit of grass-grazing animals in this country. There is a double bonus there.

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My Lords, that is undoubtedly true. I have already declared my interest as a farmer. Having grass on the farm is a great way to have diversity in our countryside and produce food. As I said, we need to work with the farming industry to ensure that we can achieve the low emissions we all need and that farms continue producing food. For instance, under the farming ammonia reduction grant scheme, the funding of slurry store covers will reduce emissions during storage by up to 80%, so there is a lot we want to do with farmers.