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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2007, 10:00 GMT
Climate 'benefits' for UK farming
By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Dairy cow (Image: AP)
Methane from animal waste can be burned as biogas
A project that highlights the economic opportunities, as well as the environmental threats, from climate change has been launched for farmers.

Farming is responsible for 7% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and needs to be part of the effort to tackle climate change, the organisers say.

A website will offer farmers advice on what measures they can take, such as generating green energy from waste.

The project was launched at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday.

The scheme, which runs for 12 months initially, is a collaboration between environment charity Forum for the Future, the National Farmers' Union (NFU), the Applied Research Forum (ARF) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

'Punch drunk'

Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future, said the role farmers could play in the climate debate had been overlooked.

"The farming community is somewhat punch drunk after the last few years because there have been so many changes, such as the [Common Agricultural Policy] reforms and changes to farm payments. The whole thing has been non-stop," he told BBC News.

There is a lot of ignorance about climate change throughout the industry
Peter Kendall,
NFU president

"I don't think the farming community has had an opportunity to fully engage in the climate change agenda in the way some other sectors have.

"Given the enormous significance of what can be done through land use and farming, this was a real opportunity to bring together a consortium... to get out there and work with farmers."

NFU president Peter Kendall said it was "absolutely fundamental" that farmers saw themselves as environmentalists.

"I farm in Bedfordshire, and the farm that surrounds my house where my kids play is our environment, and we see it first hand that climate change is happening," he told BBC News.

He said greater investment was needed to understand the impacts that climate change was having on UK farming.

"There is a lot of ignorance about climate change throughout the industry," he added.

"What I need to know, as a working farmer in Bedfordshire, is how I use my inorganic fertilisers, how I can prevent nitrous oxide getting into the air, how to stop run-off and how I can keep water clean in the context of climate change."

Waste not

Mr Kendall said the project hoped to create a "culture of change and understanding, and then look towards working with government and other organisations to find smart solutions".

A refinery (Image: EyeWire)

One such solution could be the establishment of local biogas installations that used the methane emissions from animal waste, he observed.

"This is a win, win solution because we protect water courses, we control methane emissions by burning it to generate renewable energy, and we end up with a valuable, stable fertiliser as well."

But as well as the opportunities presented by the growth in demand for environmentally benign solutions, Mr Kendall added that farmers also needed to be aware of the threats to their livelihoods from changes to the climate, including flooding, warmer temperatures and droughts.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said farming was "in the front line of the battle against climate change" and needed to take action.

"Farming can reduce dramatically its own greenhouse gas emissions through diet changes for livestock," he said.

"Flatulent livestock emitting methane are beyond a joke, and are a major and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions here and in the developing world."

He also backed Mr Kendall's call for farmers to generate energy through biofuels and farm waste.

The project, called Tomorrow's climate, today's challenge, has been funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

It was launched at the 61st Oxford Farming Conference, an annual major gathering for the UK's farming industry.

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