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How are farmers planning to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2040?

PUBLISHED: 09:02 11 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:02 11 September 2019

Bigger hedgerows, precision delivery of fertilisers and improving the health of cattle and sheep are among plans farmers have for slashing greenhouse gases  Picture: ANDREW MATTHEWS/PA WIRE

Bigger hedgerows, precision delivery of fertilisers and improving the health of cattle and sheep are among plans farmers have for slashing greenhouse gases Picture: ANDREW MATTHEWS/PA WIRE

UK farming leaders have set out bold plans to deliver climate neutral agriculture within the next 20 years through a combination of measures including more trees and hedgerows, efficiency improvements and renewable energy schemes.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has launched a report, Achieving Net Zero: Farming's 2040 Goal, which sets out a three-pronged approach to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

It wants farmers to "work smarter" to improve productivity using fewer inputs and plant more woods and hedgerows.

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It also wants to displace greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through bioenergy and bio-based materials like hemp fibre and sheep's wool.

NFU president Minette Batters said there was no single answer to the climate change challenge but farmers had a "sense of urgency" for what is needed.

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"We aspire to be producing the most climate friendly food in the world. The carbon footprint of British red meat is only 40% of the world average. And we can go further, whether that is through improving our productivity, using our own land to take up and store carbon, planting hedgerows and trees to capture even more, and boosting our renewable energy output. We know that there is no single answer to the climate change challenge facing us all," she said.

Organic growers' body the Soil Association welcomed the NFU's leadership on the climate crisis, and the ambitious targets set, but claimed the plan was "over-reliant" on bioenergy and "unproven" productivity ambitions to offset emissions.

Its head of food and health policy Rob Percival warned further intensification risked undermining the NFU's goal to store carbon in soils and further threatened biodiversity.

"Trees on farms and soil carbon storage are already proven to work and should be a much greater focus," he said. "Dietary change is also needed. The NFU is right to shift the focus away from grass-fed ruminant livestock, but we need to eat less grain-fed pork and poultry, which are reliant on ecologically damaging imported feed crops. High consumption of grain-fed meat simply offshores our dietary emissions."

Agroecological systems like agroforestry and organic were needed, he argued.

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