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Why are farmers so angry? part two

  • by JW

Regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration: or, how to look after your soil.

Net zero and biodiversity: or, why we need to look after nature.

Food security and food production: or, how we can both farm and protect the environment.


A question being asked across the UK, Europe and beyond is: Why are farmers so angry? 

And much of this anger has become highly political – as angry farmers warn Rishi Sunak they will desert Tories at election if rural voters ignored, as farmers protest against the Welsh government’s rural policies and as India’s angry farmers brace for a long, dangerous protest. Or as George Monbiot notes, What do angry farmers in Nevada and Germany have in common? They’re being exploited by the far right.

Beyond politics, the likes of the Wildlife Trusts appreciate that “many farmers have justified grievances about having to bear the burden of providing a vital service.” – but they have allies in the public and also in nature.

There is a lot of sympathy, then, for the plight of farmers. 

This week, Radio 4’s “Farmers and Furious” looks at this – and asks: “With so many demands on our land, from capturing carbon to reversing the biodiversity loss, is there still space for farmers to produce food profitably in the UK?” And, yes, George Monbiot is interviewed and is very sympathetic towards farmers.

Looking at these issues, there is a lot that is still unclear, though.


The FT has looked long and hard at the dubious climate gains of turning soil into a carbon sink – with their piece bookended with an interview with West Country dairy farmers:

“There’s more known about space travel than there is about soil health,” says Tom Gregory, gulping down a cup of tea and glancing out from his farmhouse kitchen at a valley of green fields. Ten years ago, he and his wife Sophie set up their organic dairy farm in Chard, Somerset. Five years ago, they realised it was not working. The proof was in the earth; by most indicators the farm’s soil had got worse since they began their organic endeavours. Like many others around the world, Gregory has responded by turning to so-called regenerative agriculture: improving soil quality by better stewardship such as reduced tilling and planting more diverse temporary pasture. Big food companies are taking an interest in such practices, and not just for ecological reasons. As well as boosting crop yields and potentially cutting fertiliser usage, regenerative agriculture can help increase carbon sequestration — storing carbon in the soil and keeping it out of the atmosphere. The Gregorys’ farm is part of a regenerative agriculture pilot project run by Arla, a Denmark-based dairy co-operative that is their main customer.

For now, it is voluntary. But soon, says Sophie, all farmers will need to measure their soil carbon stock as regulations begin requiring companies to report the greenhouse gases emitted throughout their supply chains and in the use of their products, known as “scope 3” emissions. As of this month companies incorporated in the EU are required to report this indirect footprint. The US is also working on similar disclosure rules…

For many farmers, regenerative agriculture is more to do with the health of their land than of their bank balances. In Somerset, Tom Gregory scoffs at the idea of selling carbon from his farm on the voluntary markets. “I could not be less interested,” he says. His wife Sophie adds that “the whole carbon scene is quite cowboy-ish.” The Gregorys are dubious about payments linked directly to the amount of carbon sequestered in general, whether those payments come from within the supply chain or from selling on carbon markets. They believe farmers should be paid for their stewardship of the land. “We’re doing it for the soil,” says Sophie, “not so much the carbon.”


Also taking a more nuanced approach to the issues, the New Statesman suggests that, in the rush to net zero, we can’t forget the role of farming – and looks at a report from the centre-right thinktank “Greener Pastures” | Onward:

Environmental debates are often dominated by how to reach net zero through expanding renewables and decarbonising industry. Less discussed, but just as urgent, is restoring nature. The UK has the dubious record of having the worst biodiversity in the G7. The trajectory of many wildlife populations remains negative. But the Environment Act 2021 promised to end the downward slide with a target to halt nature’s decline by 2030...

Farming’s financial difficulties, however, mean the next government will have its work cut out to bring them on board. Onward’s recent report, “Greener Pastures“, finds that more than two fifths of farms make less than £25,000 in profit each year and 15 per cent make a loss. Supermarkets and large food manufacturers squeeze farmers on price and change their orders at the last minute, creating uncertainty over production. Farmers are also struggling to cope with climate change. Droughts in the UK caused wheat yields to collapse by 40 per cent in 2020, and hundreds of tonnes of vegetables were lost to floods in recent months...

By rewarding the most environmentally ambitious actions to drive biodiversity gain, repairing the relationship between farmers and supermarkets, and improving food security to guard against rampant inflation, both parties can make a serious pitch to rural communities at the election.


Of course, everything is connected – with farmers having faced the reality that the UK’s eighth wettest winter on record will affect food production. And as the Met Office reminds us, food security is under pressure from climate change.

But whilst Kent farmers warn that food security is ‘really under threat’ amid a supermarket protest, Devon farmer and former politician Neil Parish launches a farming podcast – where he says ‘we can do both’: growing good food AND protecting the environment:

A FORMER Tory MP is launching a new farming and environment themed podcast focused on food security. The podcast called ‘We can do both’ is being hosted by Neil Parish, former Tiverton and Honiton MP. You can listen to the first episode from Thursday (February 29). Neil, who is a beef and arable farmer in Somerset, has dedicated his life to politics and agriculture as chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee. He also rears 50 Devon and Hereford cattle on his farm near Bridgwater. 

The podcast is set to highlight important issues surrounding food security. Neil will interview farmers and environmentalists who showcase how we can produce good food alongside the natural environment. “I have a genuine concern about the future of farming and food production, which needs to be a lot higher up the agenda,” he said. “The guests on my podcast have a vast amount of experience and knowledge in managing the farmed environment, and I want to help share their stories, air their frustrations and raise awareness of what can and is being done to produce high quality food whilst protecting nature; hence the name ‘We Can Do Both’. Anyone with an interest in the countryside should take a listen.”

You can listen to the podcast here: We Can Do Both – Hosted by Neil Parish