Businesses such as airlines could seek to pay farmers to plant trees and hedges in a bid to cancel out carbon emissions, a farming union leader has claimed.
The National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) president Minette Batters said yesterday “there is clearly a growing demand” from industries to invest in the agricultural sector to offset the emissions resulting from their practices.
The move could see trees planted or hedgerows widened as a way of capturing carbon dioxide and tackling climate change.
Ms Batters told a livestock and climate change seminar in London that she has heard of an airline – which she did not name but described as “not huge” – which might be interested in such a project.
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She added: “There will be a need if they are going to be offsetting to invest in farming, potentially, in order to offset those costs.”
She described 75 per cent of the UK as “a farmed landscape” which could help to offer a solution in tackling levels of emissions.
But Leicestershire livestock farmer Joe Stanley issued a word of warning, and said: “For your individual farmer, if someone is going to come up to you and say ‘we are going to give you this amount of money to offset emissions’ then it is up to the individual farmer.
“But the big question there is, is that it has to be an ongoing and sustainable investment from that company. The farmer cannot have an upfront payment and then nothing because they would have no livelihood in the future.”
He recalled that his farm planted a lot of trees for a re-foresting project in the Midlands in the mid-1990s.
He said: “There was an initial payment but after that your land was worth half what it was if it was left as just farmland and there was no ongoing payment.”
He added that if a farmer alters the use of their land in a way which means they can no longer farm it, they will be left “in an incredibly poor financial situation”.
He also suggested that other ways to mitigate emissions could be discovered in the future which could leave the agricultural sector “with a big problem” if businesses “suddenly get bored” with the tree-planting option.
Meanwhile, Ms Batters said the industry wanted to go further and be world leaders in climate friendly farming. She said the UK was lucky to have a climate which meant the nation was able to grow grass to feed livestock and produce sustainable food.
“Not every country in the world can say it has the basics to grow grass,” she said, pointing out that the UK is two and a half times more efficient in livestock production than the rest of the world. But she said the industry wanted to go further and be world leaders.
Dr Graham McAuliffe, a research scientist at the Rothamsted Institute, said reducing emissions was crucial for the agricultural industry and methane was probably the easiest to target.
The Government last month unveiled its landmark Agriculture Bill to give firm foundations to the farming industry as the UK leaves the European Union.
As part of the legislation, the Environment Land Management Scheme (ELM) will reward farmers for measures to protect land, water and air, support plants and wildlife, tackle climate change, maintain landscapes, improve public access and boost animal welfare.