Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Beyond the farm gate

By Will Frazer

8th January 2021

‘Modern mixed farming’ - that is how one agronomist explained it to me when describing their farms shift to cropping with less chemistry and integrating livestock. It's stuck with me ever since, and it is why I am so pleased to help FFCC launch their Farming for Change report at the Oxford conferences.

The new IDDRI UK model commissioned by FFCC explores the potential of a wholly agroecological food system in the UK. It's taken our understanding of modern mixed farming from inside the farm gate and links it with wider concerns on diet, climate, nature and trade.

Our food and how we farm is such a polarising subject, attracting single issue challenges and at the same time silver bullet solutions. The reality is that a system that comprises more than 16 million hectares of land, 60 million mouths to feed, and everything in between, is too complicated for this kind of approach

Farming for Change explores a future food system for the UK based on a different approach, tackling the challenges of what we eat, what we produce, how we respond to climate change and restore biodiversity together, rather than apart. Embracing the complexity not ignoring it.

There are five key stories in the report which we hope will provide helpful entry points to the model for different people, with different interests and expertise.

Here is a taste of some of the figures attached to these stories.

Diet

Legumes/pulses play an important role in a future diet both for their protein content & for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. As a result we see a tripling in consumption and seven-fold increase in farmed area. Sheep meat remains static, beef drops by 25%.

Nature

The model doubles the area for green infrastructures from 300,000 hectares to 603,000 hectares and increases agricultural land area for alternative uses, such as afforestation from 177,000 hectares to 1.2 million hectares. 1.4m hectares is allocated to agroforestry systems.

Productivity

The model projects an average yield of 5.7 tons per hectare for cereals in 2050 against conventional yields of 7.8t/ha today. This is a relatively positive situation for the UK (compared to other parts of the world) with a low risk of climate impact on future 2050 yields.

Carbon

The model achieves a GHG emissions reduction of nearly 30Mt of carbon dioxide per year. It brings emissions from agriculture down by 38% to 47.5Mt of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, with 28.3Mt of carbon dioxide per year of this (60%) offset by carbon sequestration from forestry, agroforestry and green infrastructures.

Livestock

Livestock production as a whole declines by 36 percent in a 2050 scenario but beef production remains stable. With reduced beef consumption of 25%, but retaining pasture beef production similar to today, the UK ends up with a surplus of beef (+24%) for export.

These figures provide a glimpse into the complexity of the model. It doesn't yet account for fast developing knowledge on soils, carbon & methane, but we hope it provides a start for many people to explore the future with a broad view rather than a narrow one.