Working with nature

Climate Change is happening here and now for farmers.

2020 saw the wettest February followed by the sunniest April and May on record in the UK. These dramatic weather changes affect us all but none more so than arable farmers. Last year saw a fall in yields: for example, the wheat yield was 20% lower than in 2019 (as if 2020 wasn’t bad enough).

Farmers are having to adapt to these climate changes, at the same time as grappling with the uncertainties of a forthcoming post-Brexit “Environmental Land Management” scheme. The best are also trying to reduce their own carbon emissions, while improving carbon sequestration and the financial viability of their farms. To help share best practice with other farmers and landowners, we interviewed five inspiring Cambridgeshire farmers on their farms to create a short video, which will be shown and discussed at an online event on 26th February. We are grateful to South Cambs District Council and the CPCA’s independent Climate Commission for supporting this.

In their interviews the farmers describe not only the specific challenges they’ve faced, but also how they’ve changed their farming techniques in order to be both sustainable and profitable. They emphasise that most important aspects are soil preservation – a third of which has been degraded in just two generations – and reduction in use of agri-chemicals.  Their experience demonstrates that although it takes time, skill and scientific knowledge, sustainable farming can also be more profitable.

David White from Little Wilbraham told us, “I have saved approximately £100 per hectare per annum, by cutting back the use of chemicals and by reducing my fuel consumption by half. With less disturbance of the soil, and less chemicals being used on my land, it is now more resilient to the fluctuating weather conditions

While many of their methods such as diverse crop rotation, have been used for centuries, advances in technology and modern machinery are also helping farmers to reduce their inputs while maintaining yields.

Martin Lines from Eltisley shared with us his ‘whole farm’ regenerative farming approach. This includes using sheep to graze his cover crops.  He pointed out that in addition to boosting diversity on his crop fields, wildlife corridors and hedgerows “I have slashed my cost of production and my net profits have increased. Over the last 5 years my yields are up by 20%.”

Each farmer we met is at a different stage of their journey but they are all trying to work with nature and not against it, while running a financially successful and environmentally sustainable farming business.

We find their experiences illuminating and inspiring, so do join us on 26 February to hear what they have to say. Register here

by Claire Mackenzie