Defra’s new farming rules for water drive need for valuing natural capital

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DefraManaging the land to protect water quality will be one of the topics discussed at our January Pollinator meeting Counting the Cost, Value and Benefits of Natural Capital in Agriculture.

Speaker Professor Paul Leinster, Professor of Environmental Assessment at Cranfield University, is a member of the government’s Natural Capital Committee. Paul has been advising on how to value natural capital so that integrated farming systems that benefit both farmers and water companies can be incentivised.

The new rules, which come into force in April 2018, include a number of measures covering:

  • Usage – plan the use of manures and fertilisers and test for Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, pH and Nitrogen levels in the soil at least every 5 years
  • Storage – organic manures must not be stored on land within 10 metres of inland freshwaters or within 50 metres of a well or borehole
  • Application – organic manures or manufactured fertilisers must not be applied if the soil is waterlogged, flooded, or snow covered or within 10 metres of water sources. Care taken to assess where there is a ‘significant risk of pollution’, eg slope of land, proximity to water courses, weather conditions
  • Protection against soil erosion – reasonable precautions need to be taken to prevent significant soil erosion and runoff from land management and cultivation practices (such as seedbeds, tramlines, rows, beds, stubbles [including harvested land with haulm], polytunnels and irrigation)
  • Positioning of livestock feeders – again should not be positioned within 10 metres of inland freshwaters or within 50 metres of a well or borehole within 10 metres of any inland freshwaters or coastal waters

If you can make an economic case for a change in land use, to reduce water pollution or minimise flood risks, then you can pay or charge an economic value for it.

For example, if a land owner agreed to accept flood waters this could protect residential properties. But how do you value changes in land management that provide benefits for other people? Would farmers be paid to provide this service?

Big data is now making it possible to do these types of calculations, creating a new way to assess the value of natural capital. David Burton of Natural England will be discussing this.

Our other speaker, Alice Midmer, IFM Manager at LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), will be explaining new thinking in ‘Agro-Ecology’ which is focused on a more integrated approach that will take these issues into account.

Award winning arable farmer, Poul Hovesen, will also be talking about his experiences. Yields at Salle Farm are consistently and substantially above the national average, demonstrating how precision farming balanced with respect for the environment can also be profitable.

For more information see the event details.

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