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Majority of UK farmers think their farms will be carbon neutral by 2035 – survey

Glyn Rainer

By Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

More than eight in 10 UK farmers think their farms will be carbon neutral by 2035, a survey suggests.

The poll of 1,000 farmers found two thirds (66%) thought sustainability and business efficiency were top priorities, with plans for everything from planting more trees and rewilding parts of the farm to using new technology.

It also revealed 65% agreed that Covid-19 had been the catalyst for thinking about how to make their business more sustainable, and 69% thought being sustainable will help them be more competitive post-Brexit.

The poll was carried out by Opinium Matters for Barclays, which has launched a £250 million financial scheme to help farmers invest in agri-tech to help them reach net zero and become more sustainable.

A separate survey by Opinium Matters of 2,000 people suggests shoppers are prepared to pay almost £200 a year more for more sustainable produce – an average of £3.70 a week or £192.40 a year.

The National Farmers’ Union has set out ambitions for the sector to become net zero by 2040, which would require sharp cuts in emissions and any remaining pollution to be offset by measures such as planting trees.

But the poll suggests 83% of farmers think they can get there by 2035 or earlier, including 16% who believe their operations are already carbon neutral.

A quarter said they were investing in becoming a carbon net zero business, with similar proportions saying they were taking or planning steps to better manage manure and slurry, using agri-tech on farms to give more efficient production and reduce waste or planting more trees or hedgerows.

More than two thirds (68%) agreed that the UK needs a more resilient food system that can cope with rising temperatures.

Barclays has teamed up with Nigel Owens, rugby union referee and farmer in Pontyberem, Wales, to launch a campaign to drive awareness among consumers on the benefits of helping the food system become carbon net zero.

He said: “It’s great we’re starting to talk more about how farmers can further enhance the environment and be part of the climate change solution while keeping the nation fed and healthy, which is especially important at times like this.

“I’m a proud owner of 35 Herefordshire cows, and cattle play an important role in the ecosystem when managed properly.

“Grassland is very good at capturing carbon from out of the atmosphere, and soil is key to carbon sequestration policies, an underrated solution to tackling climate change.

“I’ll continue to plant more trees and will look into technologies that can help the farm to become more efficient too.”

Mark Suthern, national head of agriculture at Barclays Business Bank, said: “There’s already a huge amount of work going on across farming enterprises of all types so their businesses can reach the carbon net zero goal by 2040.

“Our research shows the average farmer set to invest £195,602 over the next decade to achieve greater efficiency and become more sustainable.

“That’s why we have made available £250 million and with our team of agricultural relationship managers we can help to advise on investments and their carbon net zero ambitions.”