Transition Farmers unite for a sustainable future

Farmers and the supply chain must pull together to secure a more sustainable future – and help combat climate change, says a leading conservationist.

Jake Fiennes is conservation director at the Holkham Estate, which encompasses some 10,000ha on the north Norfolk coast. He is also author of the book Land Healer: How farming can save Britain’s countryside.

“Partnerships are really important,” said Mr Fiennes. “Working with a range of organisations towards a single, agreed goal is vital for the future – not just British agriculture, but for global agriculture as a whole.”

Mr Fiennes was speaking at the annual Farmers Weekly Transition dinner, which brought together 53 farmers, industry leaders and agricultural suppliers at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford last month.

Huge role

Agriculture had a huge role to play in helping to combat climate change, said Mr Fiennes. Some 40% of the world’s habitable land was farmed, with 70% of UK land used to grow crops or produce livestock.

“My firm belief is that agriculture is the solution,” he said. “It is about understanding soil – and biodiversity below ground as well as above ground – and about educating consumers as well as policymakers.”

The Holkham Estate includes potatoes, sugar beet and cereal crops, and a nature reserve visited by one million people annually.

Mr Fiennes’ revolutionary approach to land management has seen him nurture wildlife while helping to increase crop yields.

“We cannot combat climate change on our own,” he said. “Agriculture should put its front foot forward and demonstrate that the supply chain is working together with end users, consumers and the government to be the solution.”

Temperature records were broken in numerous parts of the world last year – including in the UK, which recorded above 40C.

January this year is already unseasonably warm, and the Met Office has forecast that 2023 is likely to be hotter than 2022.

Serious challenge

“That’s the reality of climate change,” said Mr Fiennes.

“The four seasons are becoming a thing of the past. Any farmer knows you can get four seasons in a week, let alone in a month. We are seeing that more than ever.

“We face a serious challenge – and we need to be the generation that starts to fix it.”

It would not be fixed overnight, said Mr Fiennes. But farmers and the supply chain needed to come together as a union of voices with a shared joint ambition to influence politicians and ensure the right policies were put in place.

This included a standard method of measuring the environmental benefits provided by farmers, said Mr Fiennes. A universally accepted metric was vital for farmers to demonstrate success, he added.

“It is about healthy soils, clean water and a rich and vibrant countryside.

“It is about access to land, high-quality, high-yielding food and biodiversity – and showing that we are making a difference and that farming is able to deliver.

“If we come together with a consensus of how we move forward, I think we have the real ability to demonstrate – to the government and the private sector and globally – that British agriculture has the potential to do this,” he added.