Farmers want trade deals that reflect the sector’s pledge to be at net zero emissions by 2040 following the coronavirus outbreak.
The government should be pursuing a green trade policy in the wake of COVID-19 and Brexit, if it is serious about tackling climate change, according to the National Farmers’ Union.
The union’s deputy president Stuart Roberts told Sky News that the green recovery being called for must include trade deals with countries pursuing similar net zero goals.
Farmers have pledged to be net zero by 2040 and the UK has said it wants the country as a whole to reach the same target by 2050.
“The biggest thing for me is what trade deals we end up doing… we still don’t know,” said Mr Roberts, who is a cattle, sheep and cereal farmer.
“We have some of the highest standards and climate-friendly farming in the world and we want to go further, but that would be pointless if we end up doing trade deals with other parts of the world who don’t share those same values, whether those values be around animal welfare or climate change – all those things that under-pin green recovery.
“For me it’s fairly straightforward. I think we don’t import products into this country that don’t meet our standards.
“Whether that be around how we use water, whether that be around how we manage our soils, whether that be around the aspiration we have to be net zero as an agricultural economy and actually I think we can use trade policy as a really positive influence on the rest of the world.”
Mr Roberts says he took a picture on a trip to California which illustrates his views. In the middle of the desert was a stretch of green, highly irrigated land where grapes, citrus fruit and almonds were being grown.
He said: “The land wasn’t working in harmony with the environment using precious water in an area that doesn’t have sufficient water supply to produce these crops. I can only see this becoming more of a challenge because those places that are short of water will get drier.”
June has seen a huge amount of rainfall and comes hot on the heels of extreme weather at the other end of the spectrum.
May was the driest on record. And that followed the wettest February ever.
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Mr Roberts says farmers are investing in measures to tackle climate change and for him that’s meant a large project to build a new cattle shed and grain store with a roof that will capture half a million litres of rain water a year.
When it’s finished, he says his farm won’t need a single drop of blue water for any of its farming operations.
The project will also improve the genetics of his cattle which will mean a lower carbon footprint of red meat.
He said: “You look at every climate change projection and the water resource on the planet will become more and more precious and that for me is a competitive advantage for UK agriculture.
“If we can capture that water, if we can invest in water, if we can store it and move it, then actually I think we’ve got this huge potential.”