Help at hand for farmers facing up to climate change

Meeting the challenges of climate change will help farmers save money as well as protect people and the environment, according to the Environment Agency. Unveiling the new-look Best Farming Practices - a revised practical guide bursting with more than 250 tips to help farmers profit by protecting the environment - the Environment Agency’s Director of Environment Protection, Tricia Henton, said: 'In England alone more than 1.3 million hectares of farmland lies in the floodplain and the sort of devastating floods we saw last summer can hit farmers hard. Soil nutrient and pesticide losses from run off not only damage the environment but also cost farmers more than £50 million a year.

'But as climate change takes hold, and our weather becomes increasingly volatile, farmers face the prospect of more frequent and severe flooding, less water in summer to irrigate crops, more pests surviving the winter and more heat stress in stock.

'Help, however, is at hand. Best Farming Practices explores how farmers can protect against - and even benefit from - climate change. It shows how good management of crops and soils can guard against chemicals and sediment from farmland polluting our groundwater, rivers and streams as well as how to protect against costly losses of topsoils, seeds, fertiliser and pesticides.

'All these are steps that recent research suggests could reduce a farmer’s annual variable costs by up to 30 per cent, as well as cut pesticide use by between 30-70 per cent and nitrogen use by between a 16-25 per cent.

Overall, the easy-to-read guide covers 13 topic areas, including how to use water wisely and make best use of what is becoming a scarce resource in some parts of the country. Another section explores how to combat the increased risk of flooding. A third examines how you can save energy and reduce waste - an imperative as the prices of fuel and electricity escalate and society struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

As well as offering help with how to apply for Grant Aid, the second edition of Best Farming Practices also includes 15 illustrated case studies that demonstrate how farmers can reap financial and environmental benefits from a wide range of simple, inexpensive actions.

Philip Chamberlain, an arable farmer on a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) demonstration farm in Oxfordshire, describes how his crops benefit from regular applications of sewage sludge, pig manure and composted green waste - a move which has helped to minimise pollution, improve wildlife habitats and save £60,000 in fertiliser costs.

Kent salad grower Thane Goodrich shares how he has cut crop-establishment costs by over 30 per cent by tackling wind erosion and nutrient leaching via a combination of minimum-tillage cultivation, grass strips around headlands and a cover crop of winter barley.

The experience of Robert and Sarah Helliwell - beef, sheep and poultry farmers with a National Trust tenancy in the Peak District - underlines the benefit of fencing streams and cloughs to prevent livestock access. The fences on their farm help to protect against bank erosion and maintain water quality. But they also prevent stock losses and reduce the vet bills associated with lameness - enough to recover the cost of fencing within four years.

Tricia Henton added: 'We’d much rather help farmers to profit from a good environment than see them penalised for bad practice which is why we have revised, expanded and republished Best Farming Practices.

'Whether it’s dairy, arable, horticultural or livestock production, we recognise the tough business environment that farmers are operating in but Best Farming Practices is full of down-to-earth advice which we hope will provide food for thought and inspiration for action.'

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