Farmers should grow hemp to make “hempcrete” and provide wool to insulate buildings with in order to cut carbon emissions, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has said in a new report.
The NFU aims for the whole farming sector to be carbon-neutral 2040, a decade ahead of the UK economy as a whole, and has researched ways this could be achieved.
Agricultural emissions have fallen by 16 per cent overall since 1990, but there has been only “modest progress” since 2011, the report says.
One such method is making structures out of natural materials, one of them being hemp, as growing the plant captures carbon from the atmosphere.
Hempcrete is a material similar to concrete, made of hemp hurds – which is wooden refuse removed during processing the plant – and lime. It is used for construction and insulation. This could be grown on farms and sold to the construction industry, according to the NFU.
Other ideas include making farms “plant-powered” by using biofuel methods to produce methane which would generate electricity, and using technology including GPS in order to harvest in a more environmentally-friendly way.
The organisation also says farmers should health in cattle and sheep to reduce methane emissions and reduce soil compaction to cut the need for cultivation and minimise nitrogen emissions.
Carbon storage is an important way to cut down on a farm’s carbon footprint, and ways this can be achieved include providing bigger hedgerows, more woodland and trees and boosting the carbon storage of soils, including peatland and wetland restoration.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “Representing British farming, we recognise our unique position as both a source and a store for greenhouse gas emissions and, importantly, how we can build on our work so far to deliver climate-neutral farming in the next 20 years.
“We aspire to be producing the most climate-friendly food in the world.
“We must avoid anything that undermines UK food production and merely exports our greenhouse gas emissions to other parts of the world.”
Ms Batters said work on her own Wiltshire beef, sheep and arable farm included improving grazing pasture with more clover and herbal mixes to fix nitrogen and use less fertiliser, and GPS technology was helping precision farming.
British farms are responsible for around a 10th of UK greenhouse gas emissions, but only 10 per cent of its output is carbon dioxide, while 40 per cent is nitrous oxide from things such as fertilisers, and 50 per cent is methane from cows and sheep.