Yorkshire farmers: time to grasp green agenda

Brian Richardson, Head of Agriculture, at Virgin Money looks at how climate change and net zero can be built into rural businesses and food production.

Brian Richardson, is Head of Agriculture, at Virgin Money.

As we start to see life begin to return to normal after the pandemic, the challenge of climate change and achieving net zero carbon emissions returns to the fore for many of us in business. And with the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow in November, there will be more discussion on the way we farm and produce our food – a key part of the debate around the climate challenge.

The UK government has set a target of achieving Net Zero by 2050, while the farming industry has its own goal for achieving this by 2040. This creates a clear focus for the sector to adjust farming practices and implement innovative solutions quickly to support meeting these objectives.

Agriculture represents Virgin Money’s largest specialised business sector, so we understand the importance of the role we play in helping our customers focus on their sustainability credentials and their transition towards a greener future.

Farming can and has been adapting its practices, using both science-led changes in management as well as new technologies. The agricultural sector holds a unique position in the transition towards Net Zero in that, alongside being a source of emissions, it can also provide sinks to store greenhouse gases – for example through forest sequestration and changing the way cultivations take place. Never has it been more important for farmers to realise and highlight their key role in being part of the climate challenge response.

UK agriculture accounts for around 10% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. As such, it is a sector which will certainly be high on the agenda at COP26 . It has been really encouraging to see the industry mobilising to meet the new challenge of Net Zero recently, but in order to keep up this progress and momentum, we must continue to act.

Audit findings

Most recently we have partnered with specialist consultants Carbon Metrics, to conduct a series of on-farm carbon audits. These audits analyse and interpret the existing data of a farming enterprise to generate a targeted management plan, highlighting key areas in which businesses can improve practices and combat carbon-intensive outputs. These assessments provide powerful opportunities to enable a more sustainable future and can be a crucial first step in the journey towards achieving Net Zero on-farm. It is clear from this work that, as well as identifying ways to reduce carbon emissions, it can also identify productivity and efficiency improvements on the farm.

Conducting this kind of audit will also help identify mitigation opportunities and areas for consideration for the farming business, including actions such as conducting a soil carbon test, installation of renewables, monitoring fuel usage, and moving vehicles and feeding systems to less carbon intensive methods. And the audits also support our strategy to at least halve the carbon emissions across everything the bank finances by 2030.

The time is now

At Virgin Money we are committed to helping the industry remain on track for its Net Zero targets. Businesses can’t afford to wait another few years before implementing a strategy, as it will take time to see results. It is also important farmers can remain profitable during this period of adjustment and our managers will work closely with farmers and professionals across the sector to get this balance right. It is certainly more difficult to go green if a business is in the red, so the ongoing success of the farming sector is important.

Our Regional Heads of Agriculture and Relationship Managers across the country are on hand to provide further localised, specialist guidance and investigate key opportunities for financial support.

175 years of experience

With our 175 years of financing and farming heritage, our agriculture team has accumulated unique specialist knowledge and sector-related expertise over the decades. We are available to deliver up-to-date, specialised industry-leading advice and guidance, with a strong focus on funding Net Zero, green operations, and agri-tech.

Post-Brexit, and at a time when farming is going through a transformation, we will continue working with agri-businesses through this period of transition and the future challenges, including shifting trade relations, frequent climate events, and evolving subsidy support.

These are big areas that businesses need focus on and, in the long term, are just as important as the day-to-day issues on the farm.

Brian Richardson, is Head of Agriculture, at Virgin Money. Find out more at https://uk.virginmoney.com/