There has been a recent focus on the cost of agriculture in terms of a greenhouse gas generator.

The agricultural sector accounts for 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in Britain, with methane from livestock and nitrous oxide due to the use of nitrogen fertilizer and manure management being the main causes.

The problem is bigger in a country like Ireland, where agriculture accounts for 38.4% of emissions.

In Ireland, radical moves like mass cattle culls are under consideration by government.

What the call for a cull highlights, is the often blunt instrument approach to the emissions issue. 

There is a divide between farmers and environmentalists.

Recently, attending a talk by a National Trust representative in Rye, Sussex, about wildlife and biodiversity in the area, the division between farmers and environmentalists became immediately obvious.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Paul Donovan listened to a talk on biodiversityPaul Donovan listened to a talk on biodiversity

The speaker was explaining what was happening with a rewilding plan, putting back hedges, returning nature to restore biodiversity - so enhancing carbon capture. It was all good stuff.

A couple of farmers in the audience though, were less impressed, criticising certain elements of the plan.

Speaking to a farmer afterwards, I found he was just keen to work with the program as long as it worked better for everyone. The farmers however, had not been taken into the equation.

This polarisation of opinion is not uncommon. The farmers in one camp, environmentalists in the other and never the twain shall meet.

Writer and Cumbrian hill farmer James Rebanks has explored some of these dilemmas.

In his excellent book, English Pastoral, he describes a journey which resulted in him totally changing his farming methods.

So, the farm still deals with livestock, only produced much more sustainably. Rebanks does all that is possible to promote biodiversity and so reduce emissions.

He is an advocate for this approach, working in co-operation with his farming neighbours.

The two things can work well together - producing food and enhancing the environment. 

Nations need feeding but the livestock must be dealt with sustainably.

The consequence of a Rebanks’ style of approach is that products like meat will cost the consumer more. 

Whether the consumer will accept such increases, especially during a cost-of-living crisis, remains to be seen.

There is government subsidy for this form of sustainable farming which can soften the blow.

What is for sure is that this more co-operative approach must be the way forward.

Farmers and farming cannot just be slashed to meet an emissions target. Working together in the way Rebanks and others suggest must be the way forward.

  • Paul Donovan is Labour councillor for Wanstead Village ward, Redbridge Council and a blogger (