Economics and climate change to drive future land use

The way in which land is farmed and the purposes for which it is used and managed will change exponentially in the coming decades, according to a new report.

Jeremy Moody of the CAAV.
Jeremy Moody of the CAAV.

Climate change, new policies and other pressures will drive the transformation, according to the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) latest paper, Future Rural Land Uses in the UK which outlines the pressures and opportunities these will create for farmers.

Jeremy Moody, secretary and adviser to the organisation, said that policy changes and new consumer expectations would lead not only to new business approaches in the countryside, but also to changing landscapes as each farmer and landowner sought a different approach to allowing their businesses to grow and thrive:

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“These decisions will make our future countryside,” he declared.

Moody said that although Brexit had been the focus of farmers’ attention in recent years, concentration should now be turned to what farmers could control in their own businesses. Farmers, he said, had to decide where they wanted to be in 2030 and how they get there:

“Whether that’s being more efficient, changing the type of business, scaling down or withdrawing with maximum value.”

In some instances moving forward would involve generational change or letting land out, while the development of progressive businesses would typically see the adoption of new technologies, trained staff and business adaptation to public demands, as well as to new policy.

Stating that economics and climate change measures would be the overarching drivers of change in land use, he said the report highlighted five key directions of travel for rural use:

“First, continuing commodity producers will need to keep costs of production down. They will need to be increasingly choosy about the land they use, according to the margin it makes to support overheads and profits,” he said.

“Other farmers may opt to produce something different for the market or add value to produce, in a bid to boost margins.”

Moody stressed that to be successful in this approach, farmers had to be interested in what was happening beyond the farm gate rather than relying on simply managing more land.

A growing trend for higher value production, much of it indoors or under cover, whether with pigs and poultry or glasshouses and controlled environment farming, was a third approach. Others might remain in farming but with an increasing focus on supplying public goods and environmental benefits.

“Though land use may be largely dictated by its climate and geology, there’s generally a wide range of environmental options, many of which can support better farming,” he added.

The fifth option was for land to be turned over primarily to environmental purposes with little or no farming, such as woodland creation, peatland restoration or wetland and rewilding.

And Moody pointed out that, as had been the case in previous times of pressure on the industry, marginal arable land was likely to be the most exposed to these changes, and would be where the loss of Basic Payments was likely to have the greatest impact.