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Could agroforestry and less ploughing form practical farming solutions to climate change?

PUBLISHED: 14:09 17 August 2019

Agroforestry in action on a field in north Suffolk  Picture: SIMON PARKER

Agroforestry in action on a field in north Suffolk Picture: SIMON PARKER

Growing trees alongside crops - or 'agroforestry' - could be an "exciting" option for farmers in the battle to slow down climate change, a prominent Suffolk farmer says.

Glenn Buckingham, chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union  Picture: GREGG BROWNGlenn Buckingham, chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union Picture: GREGG BROWN

Glenn Buckingham, who farms at Helmingham, near Debenham, and is chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union, is a strong advocate of measures to reduce greenhouse gases, and was responding to a hard-hitting report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It has outlined a litany of global problems with land use which is having dramatic effect on climate change and suggests drastic action is needed.

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Mr Buckingham believes policies which encourage no-tillage and minimum-tillage systems could also be a way forward, as ploughing up fields releases carbon and other greenhouse gases.

"There is no doubt that intense cultivations of soil do not allow carbon to build up. Simply exposing soil to sunlight loses carbon," he said.

No-till farming may be one answer to locking in carbon in the soil  Picture: CLAYDON DRILLSNo-till farming may be one answer to locking in carbon in the soil Picture: CLAYDON DRILLS

He added: "Grassland holds and builds carbon and in the UK are second to forests in terms of carbon storage."

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He criticised clearing more land for food production globally, against a backdrop of high food waste.

"Reducing food waste could help offset land for use in forestry etc," he said. "The balance could change dramatically if less land used for food and forestry is planted."

The IPCC report said land accounted for 44% of methane emissions, with livestock such as cattle and expansion of rice paddies driving rising levels of the gas, and 82% of nitrous oxide emissions, coming from fertilisers for crops and from livestock.

"This is a big issue, but UK farming is 2.5 times more efficient in carbon terms in the red meat sector compared to other parts of the world," he said.

The report suggests measures including replanting forests and using more tree as part of 'agroforestry' schemes on farms. "This I believe is an exciting option to consider," he said, citing habitat, diversity, carbon capture and landscape benefits of such a measure.

But Mr Buckingham said he was greatly concerned that the current reports coming out were "very focused" on food and land, while there was "plenty of scope" to improve many other sectors, including transport, energy, clothing and housing stock.

"We as consumers need to understand our carbon footprints rather like we understand our financial budgeting. We can then make informed choices to reduce our impacts personally," he said.

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