Regenerative farming methods won't cut carbon from food production, a top north Suffolk farmer has claimed.

John Collen - a former Suffolk branch chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) - farms 1,000ha of mainly wheat crops at Gisleham, near Lowestoft. 

He thinks government is heading in the wrong direction with its environmental policies - and failing to recognise that crops grown in an intensive way using less land can be more environmentally-friendly than those grown using regenerative methods.

It should use the amount of food produced per hectare as its guide rather than just tonnes of carbon emitted per hectare, he argued, otherwise it wasn't comparing like-with-like.

East Anglian Daily Times:

"The critical thing is that eroding production in the UK for the sake of importing cheap food from other sources is just green-washing," he said. 

"We are better-placed than any other nation to feed ourselves with the lowest carbon footprint possible."

He pointed out that every hectare of land going out of food production in the UK required more forest overseas to be torn up.

"We have to cut down a hectare of trees to compensate," he said. "The metric used for measuring efficiency needs to be the right metric. 

"In the UK we have some of the highest production her hectare in the world so it's wrong to measure the amount of carbon we are producing on the land."

East Anglian Daily Times:

Instead the measure should be how much carbon is being produced per tonne of food, he argued.

"This is where regenerative farming gets its foot on the ladder. It does reduce your carbon per area, but you have actually lowered your production." 

Instead of being lower, the amount of carbon produced per tonne of food is therefore likely to be higher using regenerative methods, he said.

He stressed he is in favour of lowering carbon and improving the environment, but said there needed to be a "grown-up, sensible" discussion about how to achieve that.

Exporting food production for the sake of UK environmental gain was "very dishonest", he said.

At the moment, the UK is about 50% to 60% self-sufficient in food production across the board - but he argued that for some crops it ought to be 100% self-sufficient and wasn't.

"Things that we can produce we should aim to be 100% self-sufficient in," he said.

This paper's Supercharge East campaign - supported by Greater Anglia - is calling on the government to ensure food security and a sustainable agriculture industry.

We say government policies must encourage farmers to grow food, as well as maintaining funding for new environmental incentives while EU subsidies are being phased out. East Anglia's farmers also need access to water for irrigation, fair prices across the supply chain and protection from cheap imports produced to lower standards than are required here.