With preparations for next month’s COP26 climate change conference gaining momentum, climate change and net zero targets are never far from most commentators’ minds.
Agriculture is often front and centre in that dialogue and, like it or not, the industry is facing largescale change. But within that change comes opportunity and a new industry-leading group, including Mole Valley Farmers, believes our ‘green and pleasant land’ is a fundamental and positive part of farming’s future.
The Net Zero from Productive Grasslands Partnership (NZPGP) is a collaboration of organisations from across the UK’s agricultural grassland supply chain brought together by grass and forage seed specialist, Germinal, and Aberystwyth University. As well as Mole Valley Farmers, partners include Dalehead Foods, Sainsburys, Waitrose, LEAF, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and NFU Cymru, CIEL, KTN and Hybu Cig Cymru. The stakeholders are putting grassland sustainability and innovation at the heart of the UK’s net zero ambitions.
Grassland is the UK’s biggest crop, totalling around 12.5 million hectares. With two billion tonnes of carbon believed to be sequestered in our grassland soils, it’s the UK’s biggest carbon sink and holds more carbon per hectare than forestry. It is therefore central to food and energy security, with its sustainable use and management a fundamental part of achieving net zero.
The group plans to develop integrated agri-food and bio-fuel systems and solutions for the future. Soil and grassland management, livestock and plant nutrient use efficiency (NUE), emissions, biomass production and embracing the circular economy concept are all on the agenda. The hope is to show grassland can be net zero and productive - for livestock farmers.
For example, as well as the carbon sequestered in our grassland soils, grassland vegetation contains around nine billion tonnes of carbon, with plants capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Diverse swards are known to increase this carbon sequestration and continues to be an area of innovation for grassland farmers.
Farmers will come under increasing pressure from their supply chains to reduce their carbon footprint, but there is no magic bullet or wand to solve this problem. The solution lies in incremental gains, innovation, efficient management strategies and, most importantly, knowledge sharing and working together across the industry to a common goal. NZPGP is the first step on that road.