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Making COP count

Making COP count: From farm to financial statement

Author: ICAEW

Published: 10 Nov 2023

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Lancaster University and meat processors Lake District Farmers are seeking to equip local farms with evidence that regenerative practices benefit both nature and the bottom line.

Lancaster University and meat processors Lake District Farmers have joined forces to illustrate the benefits of regenerative farming practices. This project takes the form of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership – a government-backed programme to encourage collaboration between business and academia that is operated through public body Innovate UK.

Soil is at the heart of the project. Nutrient-rich soil is necessary for sustaining agricultural production; and soil is an important resource for storing carbon. But both of these benefits to nature are being degraded by intensive farming practices, including large numbers of livestock and ploughing, which releases carbon back into the atmosphere. The message from Lancaster University and Lake District Farmers is that regenerative farming practices will not only improve the sustainability of natural resources, but the sustainability of local farms as business enterprises.

“We want these people to sustain their generational businesses, but to develop in a way that is going to address global climate change concerns as well,” says Professor Jan Bebbington, director of Lancaster University’s Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business. “And the resilience of our society depends on critical nature capital elements being fully incorporated into strategy and planning, and then also reported to people who need to know about it so that they can take action as well.”

The two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership, set to conclude in 2025, means scientists at Lancaster University collect soil samples from a number of Lake District Farmers’ suppliers. The partner farms follow the company’s low-volume, high-quality model for farming livestock, which has enabled Lake District Farmers to sell meat at higher prices and deliver improved margins. Crucially, though, more data is needed to convert those who remain sceptical. And data on the region’s fell farms, in particular, has been scarce.

That’s where the accountants at Lancaster University come in. By bringing together data on soil quality and the price at which farmers are able to sell their livestock, the value of adopting regenerative farming practices can be made clearer. And by demonstrating the impact of protecting natural resources on the balance sheet, companies like Lake District Farmers are in a better position to convert the sceptics and meet its twin goals of improving the sustainability of the region and its businesses.

“Farmers need to understand how the change is going to happen, and they can only really do that through a financial model,” explains Philip Scott, purpose and sustainability manager at Lake District Farmers. “And that’s where accountants really come into their own because they can show farmers the frameworks, the financial frameworks, that will enable them to become more sustainable and find a route towards net zero.”

The reports and research generated by the Knowledge Transfer Partnership will be made available to all – free to be used by Lake District Farmers as well as its competitors.

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