Full report – Learning Through Land at the Great Yorkshire Showground

New and emerging opportunities for rural businesses to grow their incomes amid changes to financial support for British farming have been explored at a wide-ranging event held at the Great Yorkshire Showground.

Under the theme Learning Through Land: A Confluence, inspiring speakers were brought together by the Yorkshire Food Farming and Rural Network, a group supported by farming charity the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to champion food, farming and rural interests.

The event was kindly supported by Grow Yorkshire, the rural initiative of the York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Addressing energy costs

An audience of agricultural professionals heard about the scope for farm businesses to improve energy efficiency and cut costs from Lisa Howkins, Sales and Marketing Director at NFU Energy, who have recently completed free energy audits with 16 Yorkshire farms in collaboration with Grow Yorkshire and funded by the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Lisa said:

By helping support businesses in agriculture, by helping to reduce their energy spend, the byproduct is net zero and decarbonisation.

Delivered in collaboration with Grow Yorkshire, the energy audit pilot found that 80 per cent of participating farms had limited understanding of the content of their energy bills, and that 37.5 per cent would benefit from implementing energy efficiency or renewable energy solutions.

A farmer’s perspective

Will Raw, who operates a mixed farm in North Yorkshire, explained how he had thought he had maximised energy efficiency on his farm having installed, amongst other measures, biomass boilers to supply all the heat to the farm’s poultry unit, and solar panels that supply a third of the farm’s electricity.

Among the audit’s findings was that by adding a wind turbine with battery storage, the farm could become almost entirely energy independent, but this would require upgrading to a three-phase grid connection; the most common method used by electric grids to transfer power.

Will said:

It’s entirely unfair that your geographic location should limit the size and scope of your renewable energy fix and if the Government want to meet their net zero targets, they are going to have to improve grid connection.

Landscape scale change

Measures to drive sustainability at the Swinton Park Estate near Masham were discussed by the Estate’s proprietor Mark Cunliffe-Lister and Andy Howard, CEO of CSX Carbon who have been working together to maximise the Estate’s biodiversity.

Mark told of how he had entered the 20,000-acre Estate into the ‘Test and Trial’ Landscape Recovery Pilot Scheme, one of the Government’s new environmental land management schemes to incentivise large-scale land-use change with funding from public and private sources to produce environmental and climate outcomes through habitat and ecosystem restoration.

This had led to a programme of peatland restoration and tree planting with “work in progress” to attract private investment, Mark said.

New biodiversity market

Carbon markets, whereby landowners can trade carbon locked in their landscapes with private investors to offset a corporation’s carbon footprint, are in their infancy but new policies including Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) whereby developers must deliver a BNG of 10 per cent mean technology is being harnessed to analyse land like never before, explained Andy Howard.

Tapping into these emerging markets means it is in landowners’ interests to measure the biodiversity and carbon capacities of their land, Andy said.

We need to take a baseline, an understanding of what the opportunities are and that comes from data.

In our case, we use drones and we are looking at Internet of Things (IOT) devices, so we are bringing data, analysed through data analysis into usability to produce metrics far quicker than might have been possible previously with paper-based systems.

That then gives confidence to corporate buyers that they are getting what they paid for.

Benefits of circular economies

Sue Jefferson, Co-Founder and Director, Circular Malton & Norton CIC told the conference about “the power of working together to create thriving rural and market town economies by leveraging the circular economy”.

Sue said:

Market towns and communities are the ideal size to be able to tackle challenges, really take advantage of opportunities and make things happen fast.

This is about economic and social benefits as well as environmental benefits.

In Malton, Circular Malton and Norton CIC has plans for a Community Anaerobic Digestor to produce feedstock, energy and fertiliser locally. It also operates Ryedale Remakes, a shop and upcycling workshop space which has saved 540 items from landfill in one year whilst generating a £10,000 turnover.

Supply chain scrutiny

David Kerfoot, CBE DL, introduced the Fix Our Food Commission.

Entrepreneur David, who Chairs the newly formed Commission spoke passionately about its role to drive change in Yorkshire’s food supply chain, underpinned by the six-year research programme led by the University of York.

David said there were issues that made him “absolutely crazy” such as the lack of local procurement of food by public bodies such as prisons and the NHS, and that the Fix Our Food Commission would be a united and collaborative voice for the region to drive forward and transform the food chain.

David said:

I am utterly determined that Fix Our Food will be making a case for a more healthy, sustainable and biodiverse economy in the future.

Supply chain opportunities that could be unlocked if Drax Power Station near Selby begins generating bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology were presented by Drax Director, Bruce Heppenstall.

He said BECCS can aid the UK’s net zero emissions ambitions by capturing carbon dioxide released from the combustion of organic material in disused gas fields under the North Sea.

The £2bn-plus project would utilise existing pipelines and would create about 10,000 jobs.

Bruce said there is “huge scope” to scale up the “tiny fraction” of biocrops grown in the UK, adding:

There should be direct incentives for growers because there is a global market for biomass, and a land use framework that puts the use of energy crops higher up the agenda.

We know there are areas where more biomass could be grown.

Ideas to take away

Madge Moore, Chair of the Yorkshire Food Farming and Rural Network said:

I was delighted to see so many people attending and listening to our varied range of speakers who willingly shared their experiences in growing and adapting their businesses in challenging times.

There was a real buzz from the audience so I hope people went away with a whole range of ideas that they could put into practice in their own rural business.

Mark Blakeston, Business Lead for Grow Yorkshire, said:

We were proud to support this inspiring and thought-provoking event. To ensure a bright future for Yorkshire’s farmers, we need to capitalise on our region’s unique rural heritage whilst working with those at the cutting edge of science to ensure that we stay at the forefront of innovation in this fast-moving sector.

Grow Yorkshire is doing this by connecting farmers with innovative, fresh ideas of the kind that were on display in Harrogate today.

Whilst Grow Yorkshire very much supports food production as the priority, it was great to hear about the range of ways farmers can diversify their income streams, becoming more resilient and more sustainable.

Listen for more

Farming Outlook, a new radio show to get farmers and the farming community talking, interviewed guests and speakers at Learning Through Land.

Listen back to a series of short interview clips, here, including chats with Madge Moore, Chair of the Yorkshire Food Farming and Rural Network and Mark Blakeston from Grow Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Food Farming and Rural Network champions the needs of farming, agri-food, rural businesses, and rural communities to enable them to become more resilient, competitive, and sustainable.

Learning Through Land: A Confluence is kindly sponsored by Grow Yorkshire.

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