Changing consumption habits, towards more plant-based foods and away from animal products, will bring opportunities for UK farmers as well as challenges. Food and agriculture policies should change to ensure farmers can adapt and benefit from these opportunites.
The Grow Green team are keen to hear from farmers who are interested in transitioning away from animal farming, or are changing their practices to meet increasing demand for plant proteins.
In addition to the sustainability issues surrounding animal agriculture, there are increasing economic pressures on farmers. Farm incomes can be uncertain, with tight margins and unpredicatable costs such as veterinary care. But there are opportunities for landowners and farmers to meet the needs of the UK population by managing land in a different way. Where land is suitable this could mean a transition to plant-based production. In other cases land might be repurposed for renewable energy production, natural reforestation to capture carbon, commercial forestry or biodiversity benefits.
The Grow Green campaign is calling for a strategic policy approach to this transition. Farmers and land managers should be supported to make changes so that those who work on the land, and the rural communities they support, are not left behind.
Growing high-protein crops...
While there are some challenges for farmers growing high-protein crops for human consumption, they can also bring a lot of benefits:
- Requiring less fertiliser, as protein crops like pulses are natural nitrogen fixers;
- Providing a valuable addition to crop rotations, significantly benefitting the next crop, and enabling less inputs and higher yields;
- Reducing the reliance on animal manures for fertility. Growing both grain and green manures legumes can reduce the risks (e.g contamination and pollution) and costs associated with animal manures.
Transitioning to arable, horticulture or other plant-based production systems...
There are a number of steps that farmers will take to convert their land. Below we outline some of those steps. Although each farm will present its own set of site-specific challenges, it will give you an idea of the processes that may be involved in transitioning.
Site survey – a site survey will give you an idea of the potential of your land e.g. what can be grown and where. Some of the main considerations to bear in mind are what shelter is naturally available, the topography, and soil type and structure. This will give you an indication of how much land is suitable for cultivation in its current state, and how much land will require further support to make it suitable for growing. Of course you may decide that this land can be used in other ways, for diversification into non-agricultural areas, or for re-wilding for example.
Infrastructure – what structures and facilities are at your disposal, and what you will need to install. Some of the main considerations include the buildings you currently have that could be used, and whether you require polytunnels or other plant propagation facilities. Do you have a supply of water, and electricity? What additional equipment will you need? For instance, will you require tractors for cultivation, or will hand tools suffice? Will additional labour be required?
Market research – study into market potential for possible crops will need to be carried out. Is there already someone in your locality supplying your intended produce? Is there a gap in the market in your area? How could you add value to your produce?
Cropping plans – you will need to develop a resource giving information for the crops and quantities to grow for the proposed market. If necessary, soil fertility building will need to be incorporated into the plans.
Financial considerations – an assessment of the inputs/outputs of the farm will need to be produced. You may be eligible for a grant e.g. LEADER grant, and you will need to put a proposal together.
There is an increasing number of farmers who are moving to growing crops for the human consumption market, and their reasons vary – from financial, to ethical and environmental; like Jay, the farmer we helped transition from beef to crop farm. You can also read about other farmers who are successfully growing crops for human consumption without any animal inputs.
UK farmers can benefit from the transition to more plant based diets in the UK which is europes largest market for plant based milk alternatives, if you're a dairy farmer and you're thinking about making a change, take a look at: www.refarmd.com
We are also working closely with the Vegan Organic Network, and Iain Tolhurst, a horticultural specialist who has over 40 years experience growing and consulting on stockfree organic, to help farmers with the transition of their business.
If you want to find out more about growing protein crops for human consumption, or might be interested in visiting Iain's farm, you can get in touch with us at: campaigns[at]vegansociety[dot]com.