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The impact of food production and land use on the global climate

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The consultants here at Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are totally committed to finding and placing the right candidates in UK and global farming, livestock, food production, animal, rural, and horticultural jobs. However, it's true to say that the impacts of climate change have already affected, and will continue to affect, food production and the husbandry of land throughout the entire world.

Whether you're a student considering a career within the food production or rural sector, or already working within this arena in the UK or overseas, climate change issues will probably already be a major concern. In fact, you could well be thinking about a farming or growing career in order to make your own contribution to the global food security problem.

What exactly are the issues facing farming and growing?

The following brief resume takes a look at some of the climate change issues in food production and discusses possible solutions. We don't have a crystal ball and cannot predict what's likely to happen in agriculture in the next 80 years, but it seems clear that hard decisions really do need to be made now. And, these decisions will have an enduring impact on the global impacts of climate change, increased temperatures, and extreme weather conditions.

In the UK, and elsewhere, food producers are a massive force, and can wield powerful political lobbying pressures. However, as increased instances of extreme weather are experienced around the world, it will be more difficult for such lobbying to be sustained. For example, the fact that the Yazoo agricultural heartland of Mississippi in the United States has been flooded for the past five months (insert link, the increased prices for wheat and fruits throughout Europe in 2018 due to summer drought (insert link, and the extreme heat and summer storms which have caused havoc to UK infrastructure throughout July and August 2019 (insert link

Many of our recent news posts have focused on climate change and sustainability within the food production sector (insert links to Reasons agricultural and horticultural specialists are so essential for the future, 8 Reasons Why Sustainable Agriculture is Important, Does organic farming have different recruitment skills needs?), so if this topic means a lot to you, why not take time to read these, too? In this post, we're moving on to discuss the Report on Land issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 8 August 2019, and some of the issues and arguments raised within the first couple of days this report was issued.

About this recent Report on Land from the IPCC

You can read the summary of the IPCC report, headline extracts or the entire report online (insert link However, it has incited a variety of comments and reactions in the UK and globally.

According to George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian newspaper, the IPCC report fails to get to grips with the true carbon cost of the farming sector. The report highlights that the farming and growing sector contributes 23% to the total amount of global greenhouse gases produced annually. This amount is a truly staggering statistic, yet George Monbiot suggests that this figure is just the tip of the iceberg. He refers to a report published last year by the organisation Nature, which stresses the official carbon footprint of the average Brit is not the oft-quoted figure of 5.4 tonnes annually, but more in the region of 14.4 tonnes per person. This figure takes into account the levels of meat and dairy products eaten by average consumers, when compared to increased levels of available carbon storage if land were allowed to return to its natural state and consumers ate plant-based diets.

For example, carbon costs of chicken are six times bigger than soya; while beef is 73 times bigger, and milk is 15 times bigger. What this means is that the carbon opportunity costs of supplying just 1kg of beef are 1,250. In the UK, it's estimated that the actual carbon costs of rearing beef on hill farms is 643kg, and 1kg of lamb costs 749. Monbiot adds that these carbon costs are equivalent to driving a brand new vehicle for a year or taking a return flight from London to New York (insert link

The BBC's stories on the IPCC report centred around the need for consumers to switch to plant-based diets. They also highlighted that 2019 is already forecast to be one of the three warmest years ever recorded, and discussed just where food waste fits into the carbon cycle. Other issues tackled by the BBC included the growing global interest in cutting trees for biofuel, and the links between climate change and food production (insert link Simple graphics on the BBC news site point to the fact that meat production contributes over 50% of all food emissions, with over 50% of these emissions caused by farming cattle and lamb. The remaining 42% of all food production-related emissions come from other food production techniques.

Reactions to the media coverage given to the IPCC from the UK's farming press were understandably negative. For example, Farmers' Weekly pointed out that national media had twisted the facts presented in the report in order to display their own anti-meat bias. Minette Batters, the President of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: "Having gone through the report in detail, it is clear that the IPCC recognises the important role animal products play in a balanced diet, and when produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas-emission systems, it is actually part of the solution to climate change. It is therefore incredibly frustrating to see this inflated within some parts of the media to recommending a reduction of meat consumption in the UK."

She also reiterated NFU's commitment to becoming net zero in relation to carbon generation by the year 2040, although she added that this is unlikely to mean a downsizing of production. Around 65% of the UK's available farming land is ideally suited to growing grass, which does also store huge amounts of carbon. Therefore, it's unlikely UK consumers will see reductions to the production of beef or lamb (insert link

Growing numbers of people turning vegan or vegetarian

All the above are sobering thoughts for many people in the Western world, and it does seem many UK consumers are unprepared to deal with the impacts their personal eating habits and typical diets have on the environment. A 2018 study produced by supermarket group Waitrose highlighted that virtually one-third of all Brits have either stopped eating meat altogether or have cut down on meat consumption. This is one way consumers can "vote with their wallets" and use individual purchasing power to force through change. The Waitrose study looked at spend across all supermarkets, and concluded that one in every eight Brit is now vegan or vegetarian, and more than 20% of consumers also claim to follow flexitarian diets. A flexitarian diet follows predominantly vegetarian guidelines, supplemented occasionally with meat or meat products (insert link

The growth in vegetarian type diets has already impacted on the available meal options in restaurants, bars, and diners in the UK and elsewhere, and this trend is set to continue.

Where does this leave me?

As an employer within the global food production sector, an existing worker within the food industry, or a student looking at opportunities in agriculture, animal husbandry, or horticulture, you're probably wondering exactly where all the issues relative to climate change are going to take you? In honesty, we really don't know either. The EU has made a range of commitments to action on climate and emissions, and many of these will eventually relate to the farming sector (insert link While the UK has committed to becoming zero carbon by the year 2050 (insert link, and again many initiatives will have to relate to the food production sector.

What does need to be emphasised, however, is that the global food production sector is going to need some of the brightest minds within animal husbandry, agronomy, and land management if the challenges posed by climate change are to be handled or reversed.

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