Opinion

Farmers are often portrayed as climate villains – but they hold the key to our future food security  

Many climate activists would have us believe that farmers, primarily those rearing livestock, are obstacles in the way of climate change mitigation, yet our farmers are strongly placed to deliver a number of green solutions, writes Claire Taylor

farmers can contribute to tackling the climate crisis

UK Farmers hold the key to our future food security , writes Claire Taylor. credit: Canva

Devastating scenes of flash floods and raging wildfires across Europe this summer are a shocking reminder of the fragility of our food systems, with our own shores coming under increasing threat by extreme changes in the weather.  

Many climate activists would have us believe that farmers, primarily those rearing livestock, are obstacles in the way of climate change mitigation, yet our farmers are strongly placed to deliver a number of green solutions and are in fact one of our best hopes in helping us weather the storm that is to come.   

With agriculture responsible for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, farmers are taking substantive steps to address their carbon footprint, as well as making space for nature restoration. They are planting hedgerows and woodlands, restoring wetlands and peatlands, sowing wildlife corridors, managing watercourses and improving their soil health. All while navigating high input costs and striving to provide healthy, affordable food for consumers.   

So why are farmers sometimes seen as the climate villain?   

After the Second World War, farmers were incentivised by the government to increase production to strengthen national food security. This led to hedges being removed from our countryside, as fields got larger to grow more crops, livestock numbers increased, and our soils soon became over stocked and over cultivated.  

These actions, hailed heroic at the time, are now the subject of much criticism as farmers fall under the climate lens and are being asked once again to respond to a crisis and adapt their practices.  

Although conversations around climate mitigation and nature restoration have only really become mainstream in the past five years, farmers have been feeling the impact of climate change for decades; experiencing droughts, flooding, and wildfires, and have been adapting the way they farm to mitigate these challenges.  

Improving soil health is one of the major steps farmers are taking to weatherproof our landscapes. One example of this is through the integration of livestock into arable farms, which naturally spreads nutrient-rich manure into the soil, helping to build organic matter and improve water absorption and storage, strengthening flood and drought resilience.  

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Another example is the planting of cover crops such as clovers and vetch, covering the soil to stop erosion and improve fertility.    

With droughts and floods threatening food production in the likes of Spain and Greece, taking steps to improve our soil health will be key to protecting UK food production.  

We are experiencing milder wetter winters, which is having an adverse impact on crop growth and the emergence of new pests and diseases. In response, institutes here in Scotland, such as the James Hutton Institute, are teaming up with farmers to carry out trials looking at breeding new varieties of fruits and vegetables which can withstand warmer winters and produce crops that are less reliant on water.    

Farm businesses are investing in long-term energy security, including the increased adoption of renewable technologies such as solar PV technology.   

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Other farmers are focusing on improving livestock health and management, through better genetics and nutrition.   

As droughts and wildfires leave blackened scars across the continent, efforts by our farmers to conserve our landscapes and national food security have never been more pressing for building resilience in the face of extreme weather challenges to come.   

Claire Taylor (@cjtaylor92) is an agricultural communicator and a columnist for The Herald and Scottish Field.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
How the life-affirming power of the chicken helped me understand grief and loss
Catherine Swire

How the life-affirming power of the chicken helped me understand grief and loss

Prison leavers are being neglected due to lack of digital skills. It's time for change
prison
Elizabeth Anderson

Prison leavers are being neglected due to lack of digital skills. It's time for change

I fled the Taliban and crossed the Channel in a small boat. People come to England as a last resort
Habib from Afghanistan explained that people are only crossing the Channel in small boats because they're desperate
Habib

I fled the Taliban and crossed the Channel in a small boat. People come to England as a last resort

From neurodivergent meltdown to lucid thinking: Understanding the mind of someone with ADHD
ADHD brain
Robin Ince

From neurodivergent meltdown to lucid thinking: Understanding the mind of someone with ADHD

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know