Farming News - The changing environment of agriculture

The changing environment of agriculture

Change is on the horizon for agriculture and with it comes a new world of opportunities within the environmental services arena, according to William Gilder, managing director of Gloucestershire-based William Gilder Group.

With a proud agricultural history dating back to the mid-1980s, William looks at how a changing vision and focus opens new doors for the wider market.

Having grown up living the farming life, I have seen and felt the burdens farmers have to carry on their shoulders. Yet the support they need is rarely there. Times are changing, with the opening of grants for slurry storage and for improvements to technology and equipment, but money alone is not the final solution. We, as an industry, will need to continue adapting our methods and educating our peers in the supply chain so that we can build a sustainable future for our successors.

Many of us are already doing the right thing by working with the natural environment rather than nature working for us. Good environmental procedures, such as the use of organic fertiliser, benefit crops, which in turn, benefits harvest and the bottom line. But the challenge is keeping these processes up in the long-term.

As recent events have demonstrated, no industry is immune to unforeseen disruption, yet ours is perhaps more vulnerable than most. Working with our environment provides a consistent source of income, one that falls naturally within our remit as champions for the land, as well as longer-term security for the next generation of farming professionals.

Our day-to-day operations presents us with one a unique, “real-time” view of the effects of environmental change. Some 70% of the UK consists of farmland, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it is within these areas where the greatest strides forward could be seen in the future. By drawing on our own ‘on the pulse’ knowledge of the environment and maintaining the commitment to environmental security we have long shown, farming and environmental services can work in harmony.

In a speech delivered in February this year, Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency and DEFRA board member, stated “Many farmers are interested in the prospect of being able to sell environmental services that come from improved soil health”, going on to say that “investors and farmers need greater certainty about the outcomes and products on sale”. This has perhaps gained greater significance with the cost of living continuing to increase and uncertainty caused by the numerous recent world landscape shifts persisting, but is not a new concept – in fact, a 2020 report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy explicitly states that little discussions had taken place about the environmental impact of agri-food in the UK’s trade policy outside the EU following Brexit.

Improvements to standards and environmental commitments cannot happen in isolation. The concern is that they also cannot happen without farmers getting the backing and trust from investors to implement the infrastructure and capabilities to meet these new needs. To address this imbalance, we can draw on knowledge pertaining to the use of fertilisers as a model to follow.

It was encouraging to see plans to award monetary incentives to farmers using so-called green fertilisers in light of rising fuel prices earlier this year, however this is far from being the full solution. Certainly it should never have taken such a significant event as the Ukraine-Russia situation to illustrate just how susceptible farming is to unforeseen circumstances and a need for stronger contingency measures.

Fertilisers from renewable sources such as the anaerobic digestate produced naturally on our farms is a continuous resource that can, some argue, yield greater results than the synthetic, fossil fuel derived fertilisers currently in use. It is key that the farmers of the future have the environmental knowhow to gain its full value, or can at least find it from our peers.

In 2014, William Gilder Limited successfully gained permission from the Environment Agency to open a specialist waste treatment centre just off the M5 motorway in Gloucestershire. Through this facility, we have the capability to treat, recover and/or dispose of industrial & domestic sewerage, liquid wastes and gully wastes.

Through this facility, we have the means to produce fertilisers and feedstocks that are naturally ‘cleaner’ than the more commonly available ones out there. We are also fortunate that our geographical location makes the site accessible from across the south west region, thereby contributing to a reduction in local emissions from delivery and distribution.      

Utilising these fertilisers correctly and adhering to legislation, particularly around water, can be a challenge, one that risks undercutting the potential of a valuable resource that has the potential to soften the damage of as-yet-unknown events. The environmental know-how we ourselves have had to build through the development of our Gloucestershire based facility includes operating to a certified ISO 9001 (Quality Management) and ISO 14001 (Environmental Management) system and also managing storage and spreading of Publicly Available Standard ‘110’ (PAS110) certified anaerobic digestate products (produced by client anaerobic digestion facilities).

Make no mistake, the measures agriculture has used for generations still hold true in 2022. But now, with changing priorities, prices, and various external factors, our methods should have a spotlight on security, both for the long-term future of our industry, and for the physical environment we all rely on.