Agri-sector must recognise opportunities in the Committee on Climate Change report

31 Jan 2020

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Saffery Champness has broadly welcomed the report published last week Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK from the Committee on Climate Change. The rural sector will be relieved that, despite the significant changes proposed, there is clear reassurance and intent not to disadvantage farming businesses.

Headlining a long list of proposals affecting the rural sector to mitigate climate change is the change of use for a large proportion of agricultural land across the UK by 2050 in order to reduce emissions and sequester carbon. Recommendations include a switch to afforestation, both conifers and broadleaves, and to agro-forestry; increased production of bio-energy crops; increased upland and lowland peatland restoration; and reducing production of carbon intensive foods like beef, lamb and dairy.

However, contained within the report are reassurances that the agriculture sector will not be economically damaged by these changes despite the ambitious targets and measures set out, and particularly a huge increase in area to be planted as forestry.

Peter Harker, a partner and member of Saffery Champness’ Landed Estates and Rural Business Group, says:

“Possibly for the first time we have seen it clearly stated that the intention is to make it ‘pay’ for farmers to reduce emissions. It is important therefore that we can view the proposals for farming as future opportunities rather than increased intervention or constraint. Indeed, a number of farm and estate businesses are already deploying measures to target carbon emissions and climate change. These proposals will make current efforts more cohesive and effective by engaging the entire sector.”

Elizabeth Hartless, a Director at Saffery Champness, comments:

“The report has recognised that support is vital to promote and deliver change across the sector. The intent to switch a large proportion of agricultural land to the growing of trees and bio-cropping must also be coupled with a tax regime that ensures that farming businesses are not compromised. We also welcome statements in the report that there should be a simple application process for new forestry schemes, and that concessionary finance may be required to top up farm income through the period when biomass crops are being established.”

“The report also states that a review of the taxation system could be necessary where it may be acting as a barrier to alternative uses of agricultural land. That is essential – that fiscal measures are aligned so that businesses on the ground can engage and effectively deliver these super-ambitious targets.”

Peter Harker concludes:

“It’s good too that the report recognises the likely need to review current tenancy regulation so that it will fit well with these new zero emissions objectives, and that all involved in the sector can benefit from change.

“In the round, these proposals will provide some farm businesses with tremendous opportunity. The writing has been on the wall for some time, but these measures can herald new development and, coupled with proposals outlined in the recently reintroduced Agriculture Bill, will over the next 20 years significantly change the role of agriculture in this country. There will, of course, be casualties, but there will also be fresh thinking, new ideas and innovation prompted by the intended ‘R & D at farm level’ highlighted in the report.”

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