A couple of weeks ago, Duncan Farrington was honoured to be included in the panel for the annual LEAF Conference. This is a showcase event normally held in the heart of the financial centre of London, bringing together LEAF members with their customers, journalists, international scientists and policy makers, to hear from speakers on the latest global sustainable issues of the day. This year was different as the conference had to take place online, yet it still was incredibly inspiring and allowed the panellists to share their sustainability goals for the future.
The conference was chaired by Tom Heap, BBC broadcaster with many years’ experience in agricultural journalism, and Duncan was joined by Minette Batters, chair of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Jonathan Wadsworth, lead climate change specialist at The World Bank and Chris Buss, deputy director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Forest and Climate Change Programme.
Each of the panellists shared their sustainability stories, goals and wishes for the future. Here is what each one said, which you can watch via video if you prefer.
I am very proud that Farrington’s Mellow Yellow is the first food brand in the world to be certified as both carbon and plastic neutral. Having been a LEAF Marque farmer for many years, we are used to collecting data on such things as energy use, which is very helpful as a management tool, but I felt we could use this information as the basis of something bigger and importantly commercially rewarding which led to us becoming carbon neutral.
Through small changes, we have made big differences to our carbon emissions. By reducing the intensity of cultivation on the farm, our fuel usage has reduced 60% to 75%, a broader crop rotation has reduced nitrogen fertiliser usage by 13% and solar panels on our barn roofs generate 50% of our electricity. But the biggest gain has been in soil health from the sustainable techniques I have been practising for the last 22 plus years. I have shown through ongoing soil analysis how a particular field’s general soil health has improved, including soil organic matter which has increased by 75%. The net result has been the absorption of an estimated 300 tons of CO2 by one field alone every year. To put this into context, the total net CO2 removal on our farm is enough to off-set the emissions from around 2,400 Mellow Yellow Minis from UK roads each year. So sustainable agricultural soil management has a huge potential positive influence on climate change.
LEAF already do fantastic work as the trusted go-to organisation supporting sustainable food production and there is now an increasing commercial appetite for climate friendly food that LEAF can lead as a consumer facing organisation. This will drive the commercial success of LEAF farmers and growers, which in turn will deliver the step change in innovation and ambition required. Imagine the kudos and effect if LEAF was successful in winning an award from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Earthshot prize for championing a carbon friendly food system. That would drive real ambition!
My one climate change wish in the near future is to get an internationally accepted certification for soil organic matter. I am involved in an EU consortium hoping to look at how soils can be accurately evaluated on mass scale using satellite data for their soil carbon content. The ambition is to create a trusted certification, to help land managers explore how their actions can affect soil health, creating the financial and moral incentive to manage land in ways to drive the huge potential of carbon sequestration.
The game changer for government and political thinking around climate change is COP26. Farming has seen huge impact from ever more severe weather and farmers are already experiencing the impact of climate change. The NFU has set an ambitious target of net zero by 2040 because we really believe farmers can achieve this with the right incentives. We need to focus on more efficient and sustainable farming, and nobody has shown more leadership in this area than LEAF.
We also need to focus on more carbon storage. There is research into beetle banks that is interesting for example. There is a huge amount that can be done by farmers in carbon storage and this is key. Renewable energy is another big area of opportunity. It is incredibly important for a farm’s diversification to look into renewable energy.
There are a lot of challenges around diet. We need to engage with whole foods and nutrition, cooking from scratch and realising that health is dependent on our diet. We need to look at what we aren’t consuming that we can export too. We also need to revolutionise how we think about water. We need to move water around the country rather than letting diffuse water run into the sea. This needs a strong and ambitious working relationship with government.
My one climate change wish is that COP26 is a game changer, that agriculture rises to the fore across the world and we work together to ensure we are deemed an important part of the solution. Climate change is the challenge of our time and I passionately believe our farmers are the solution.
The World Bank is an international development organisation with a role to reduce poverty and inequality by lending money to governments of poor countries to improve their economy and standard of living. Over the next 5 years, it will invest $200 billion in climate adaption and mitigation projects.
Progress has been uneven across regions and countries. Millions of people are being left behind, climate change exacerbates these inequalities. The poorest and most vulnerable are hardest hit. To have any hope of achieving sustainable development goals by 2030 we must adapt quickly to climate change and reduce emissions, with urgency. The greatest climate challenge at the moment is how to take action now.
The world food system does an amazing job. For the past 50 years, food production has outpaced population growth, adding $8 trillion a year to global GDP. If the food system was a country, it would have the third largest GDP in the world, behind China and the USA. But this performance comes at a high cost to people and the planet.
Our food system is both a victim and a culprit of climate change, but with the right incentives, approaches and innovations, we know it can be a big part of the solution. The good news is that more and more people are becoming more aware and starting to take action.
LEAF is an excellent example of farmers and researchers working together to find and promote climate-smart solutions. This approach merits being massively scaled up to become a real movement of change and the UK could play a major role.
Agriculture is the only sector able to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it naturally in vast amounts. We must exploit that advantage fully.
The global food and agriculture system needs to deliver three main things:
– To reduce emissions that contribute at least 30% of the mitigation needed set out by the Paris Agreement.
– Widespread adoption of the planetary human health diet.
– More inclusive development
LEAF can play a key role in continuing to demonstrate what can be achieved and influence governments and investors to find the financial and the political will to support and facilitate a great agriculture and food system transformation.
If I had one climate change wish it would be that COP26 is a success and world governments would recognise that food and agriculture is indispensable for addressing the climate emergency.
I work around nature-based solutions and land use and protection of nature, restoration of nature and land production systems. Trees are key for farming systems; they bring nutrients into farming systems, regulate water, provide building materials and firewood. It is a win-win system so makes sense to bring trees into farming.
A great example of the role of nature is pollination. The loss of pollinators is estimated to have a net value of $150 billion to $160 billion. There is a loss to consumers by increased prices, but also a loss of profit to farmers too as they have to replace natural systems.
Success for nature would be farmers helping to make and shape policy. As they manage the land, they are closest to nature and are the key partners globally to help integrate nature into our agricultural systems and shape policies to make sure nature is included in their farming strategies.
One successful strategy that we are building with farmers globally, is working to restore land on-farm and off-farm, bringing trees back into the farming systems. This is critical as it provides farmers with more resilient land use systems, secures supply, sequesters carbon and is socially just.
Moving forward, technical support can be provided to farmers, support can be provided to decision makers going into climate change negotiations and we can build land restoration strategies.
LEAF’s 10 Year Strategy
After a lively Q&A session with Tom Heap, LEAF Chairman Philip Wynn and LEAF Chief Executive Caroline Drummond shared the new LEAF 10 Year Strategy. This is a continuation of their work in developing and promoting more sustainable agriculture through Integrated Farm Management. They are going to support the delivery of positive action for climate, nature, economy and society based on their core work and the principles of circular agriculture.
A global farming and food system that delivers climate positive action, builds resilience and supports the health, diversity and enrichment of food, farms, the environment and society.
To inspire and enable more circular approaches to farming and food systems through integrated, regenerative and vibrant nature-based solutions, that deliver productivity and prosperity among farmers, enriches the environment and positively engages young people and wider society.
Their 2031 ambition:
LEAF’s ambition is to play a demonstrable part in transforming farming and food systems. Building on their work since LEAF was established in 1991, this will be through the agro-ecological and regenerative benefits of the whole farm, site specific focus of Integrated Farm Management to drive positive action for climate, nature, economy and society. Embracing circular agriculture with health, diversity and enrichment at the centre of all they do. Through the use of management tools, the harmonisation of metrics, technology, innovations, data and Artificial Intelligence, training, research, demonstration, market opportunity, education and engagement, they will support and contribute to the practical delivery of national and global commitment. This will include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement and the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.
You can read the full plan here or watch this short video: