The development and application of agricultural technologies must become a priority for the UK government if the farming sector is to achieve net zero, new research warns.

The government has put forward the ambitious plan of delivering net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while at the same time increasing the quality and quantity of agricultural production.

The NFU has pushed for an even more progressive target and is aiming for English and Welsh agriculture to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

See also: Opinion: Agritech is part of the solution when it comes to sustainable farming

However, a report by Bayer Crop Science and the Agri-EPI Centre warns that unless the government revamps its approach to innovation and the implementation of agri-tech, its net-zero ambitions are at risk of failure.

The report, Innovation in the Food Supply Chain: Unlocking AgriTech for Net Zero, makes a series of recommendations for the government to achieve its ambitions of decarbonising food production, while also improving food security and delivering net zero across the UK by 2050.  

The Public Policy Projects (PPP) report highlights the need for a revision to agri-tech innovation and implementation processes to meet the ambitions of improving food security and nutrition while reducing emissions from agriculture, as set out in the government’s Food Strategy.

The 41-page report contains 14 recommendations and highlights the important role of consumers in innovation pathways while offering suggestions to improve trust between them and the sector. 

Dave Ross, chief executive of Agri-EPI, said: “Net zero is the ultimate ambition and the agri-food supply chain must play its part in both reductions, and sequestering carbon back while supporting food security.

“We fully support the recommendations to continue and indeed increase this support, to meet the challenge of future greenhouse gas reductions.” 

A third of GHG emissions

Simon Pearson, professor of agri-food technology and director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology, said: “The global agri-food supply chain emits up to 37% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, including 43m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from UK primary agriculture.

“At the same time society is facing exceptionally high food price inflation. The food sector needs to urgently step change its economic and environmental productivity.

“This PPP report is essential reading, with clear strategies for how the UK can step change and secure its position as a world leader in agricultural technology.” 

UK government financial support for agri-research is about £320m per year, with an additional £90m through its Industrial Challenge Fund to help transform food production.

Seven key recommendations from the report

  • Defra should embed novel data collection, sharing processes and requirements into Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes – thereby streamlining reporting processes and providing clarity for data capture for farmers
  • Working with the Food Standards Agency, Defra should establish a series of case studies to encourage support of the Food Data Transparency Partnership as a decentralised library linking data collected from throughout the supply chain
  • The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) should seek to establish a carbon credit scheme for farmers, driven by the insights reported through ELM schemes. However, credit trading should be closely monitored to ensure agricultural production is maintained
  • The AHDB should be encouraged to establish a single What Works Network to monitor the effect of policy and practice on farming and diets, to help the industry and policymakers to better represent the relationship between the production and consumption of food
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council should establish new guidance for the trialling of novel agri-tech products to allow the measurement of sustainability value alongside more traditional metrics
  • UKRI should seek to support the development of key products through the creation of Small Business Research Initiatives
  • The National Science and Technology Council should seek to evaluate the impacts of continued agri-tech investment in the context of the UK’s broader net-zero ambitions.

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