Farmers could earn extra income by helping to tackle climate change under government plans unveiled this week.

Spelled out in the government’s Climate Change Programme, which sets out policies for minimising the impact of global warming, is a pledge to introduce a “market-based mechanism”, to facilitate the trading of greenhouse gases from agriculture, forestry and other land management sectors.

“We are trying to think ahead about the role land managers can play in solving the problem of climate change and creating (for them) an additional income stream,” said junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley.

“Agriculture is part of the problem, but also part of the solution,” said Mr Morley, who carries responsibility for climate change and the environment.

Land management can help to remove carbon from the atmosphere through increases in soil organic matter and forestry and avoid further losses from both sources.

Farming has a good record in cutting emissions, according to government statistics.

Although responsible for 7% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, total annual emissions fell by 22% between 1990 and 2004.

Methane emissions were cut by 13% and nitrous oxide emissions by 17%.

“Part of the reason is farmers using less fertiliser and better use of feed rations,” said Mr Morley.

While acknowledging what has been achieved, the document states:

“…it is vital that land managers change their behaviour in order to help deliver emission reductions.”

Mr Morley said:

“We want to listen to farmers’ views and explore opportunities for them.”

John Gilliland, who with Mr Morley co-chairs the Rural Climate Change Forum, hoped the new document would inspire action:

“Land managers are one of the few sectors of society that can have a positive impact in mitigating climate change – we hope to lift the imagination of a lot of innovators.”

It is a hope rooted in personal interest.

The cereal area on Mr Gilliland’s farm in Northern Ireland has been cut from 320ha (800 acres) to zero this year, partly in preference for willows intended for woodchip and to filter waste on contract to Derry Council.

“I’d be astonished if income from carbon (trading) is not making an impact (on my farm) in 10 years,” said Mr Gilliland.

The government also pledged to introduce a support scheme for biomass heat in industrial, commercial and community centres.

The scheme will be worth between £10m-£15m in England over the next two years.

For more information see DEFRA’s website (www.defra.gov.uk climate change).

mike.stones@rbi.co.uk