Creating a sustainable agricultural business: what are the benefits?

Over 70% of the land in the UK is now farmed. Whilst this is essential in order to meet the requirements of a growing population with everchanging diets, it also requires extensive care and thoughtful management.

The need for sustainable agricultural businesses has never been greater -  to prevent irreparable damage to the environment and to ensure the health of future generations.

The creation of more sustainable agricultural businesses will undoubtedly help in the fight against impending environmental emergencies, and in improving the lives of people across the UK and around the world.

Understanding sustainable agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is an approach to plant and animal farming that focuses on sustainable processes. These can include:

  • Using renewable resources such as solar and wind power
  • Switching to sustainable techniques such as crop rotation or covering crops
  • Using digital technologies to prevent crop disease or assist with weather prediction
  • Considering the quality of life of the farmers, growers, producers and consumers
  • Planning for the long-term food, fibre and fuel needs of a growing population
  • Optimising the use and efficiency of any resources that are not renewable

Benefits of creating a sustainable agricultural business

  • Fight both world hunger and UK food poverty

In their set of Sustainable Development Goals, the UN pledged to end world hunger by 2030. Within the UK, the Government has pledged millions to help eliminate food poverty. To achieve these targets, sustainable agriculture businesses will be key.

Whilst its clear that food production needs to be increased, sustainable agricultural businesses have the potential to offer high levels of food output, alongside increased resource efficiency and reduced wastage.

  • Reduce consumption

Agriculture currently consumes more water than any other industry in the UK and is above iron and steel manufacturing when it comes to total energy consumption.

With over 15,000 litres of water currently required to produce just 1kg of beef, it’s clear that changes need to be made.

Adopting sustainable agricultural practices allows farmers to become less dependent on non-renewable energy. Sustainable agricultural business owners can expect to reduce their chemical usage whilst seeking to optimise those resources that are essential to their daily operation.

  • Reduce dependence, and spending, on petrol and diesel by using electric vehicles

With developments in the design and capabilities of electric vehicles, agricultural workers now have feasible options to consider when it comes to moving away from petrol and diesel.

Electric vehicles in general are considered to be quieter, cheaper to operate and safer. With the rising cost of fuel, it’s not surprising that investing in electric vehicles - from quad bikes to tractors - is becoming more appealing. In 2020 the global electric farm tractor market was valued at $118 million with this figure set to grow over the next decade.

It’s not only vehicles that have been going electric either. Farm machinery manufacturers are increasingly developing their range of electric products such as electric spraying drones for crops.

  • Install equipment that will brighten a business’s future

One of the key elements of building a sustainable business is planning for the long term. Equipment such as heat pumps can be an excellent option - especially when installed in conjunction with other equipment such as solar panels.

Ground source heat pumps are already increasingly popular in areas of agriculture such as poultry units. Heat pumps can cool and warm spaces, enabling farmers to keep flocks at the optimum temperature for comfort and production.

Installing heat pumps can be expensive (initial costs can range from approximately £10,000 - £50,000), yet grants and government incentives such as the previous RHI scheme do regularly become available.

After the initial costs of installing sustainable equipment such as heat pumps, farmers and business owners could expect lower running costs, reduced need for maintenance and lower carbon emissions.

  • Be at the forefront of a new way of farming with technology

The UK positions itself as a global leader in technological innovation, and sustainable agricultural businesses could reap the benefits of developments in areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Numerous grants have been issued to 'Agri Tech' firms in the last decade. The analysis of data from sensors installed in equipment such as seed drills, drones and even the soil itself, can provide essential insights.

In turn, AI can be applied to tackle long standing and costly issues such as eliminating damaging cereal weeds or helping to map patterns and track the course of grazing cattle.

With investment in new farming technology and devices designed to save time and energy, sustainable agricultural businesses can work more efficiently.

By gaining clearer data to analyse exactly what is happening in all areas of the operation, sustainable agricultural businesses could expect to improve and increase their output year on year.

  • Gain trust from consumers and customers

Building a reputation as a sustainable agricultural business may require some investing in initial installation costs and could lead to financial gains.

As customers and consumers become ever more aware of where their produce is coming from and the carbon footprint it has left, sustainable agriculture businesses could enjoy higher sales.

Being able to offer customers a range of examples of how sustainability features in the day to day running of the business could provide reassurance that they are buying from a business that cares about and invests in the future.

Make a positive impact on society by creating a sustainable agricultural business

Sustainable agriculture has the potential to conserve the environment, reduce air pollution and produce fruits, vegetables and other crops that are safer for consumers, workers, and the communities around them. This will lead to a healthier society and a healthier planet.

Although positive changes have already been set in motion - such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption within the agricultural industry- there is still a long way to go.

The value of sustainable agriculture extends far beyond the financials - making this an exciting time to start creating a sustainable agricultural business.