The irony of a Green Revolution

19 May 2024 - Nick Banks

We were delighted to work with Suffolk Agricultural Association and Fram Farmers to stage the Suffolk Farming Conference in February 2024.  The event was a great success, with over 200 delegates at Trinity Park taking time out to hear from a range of speakers about topical issues for farm businesses.

The keynote speaker was Henry Dimbleby who in 2021 published the government commissioned National Food Strategy commonly referred to as the Dimbleby Report.  In 2023 he published Ravenous, a thought-provoking book which unpacks that report and challenges how the production of food and use of land must change to help our planet and counter increasing obesity through bad diet.

Dimbleby presented extracts from his work at the conference and one segment that particularly piqued my interest was the work of Norman Borlaug.

Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his post second world war work to breed a rust resistant, short stemmed wheat that achieved vastly greater yields than varieties grown to date.

Given global population was soaring, the planet was destined for a food crisis with many facing starvation.  Borlaug’s work avoided that crisis as food production across the world increased to meet demand.

Not the graph presented by Dimbleby at the conference, but the following puts the outcome of Borlaug’s achievement into context:

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (2023) from

The land used for cereal growing has not expanded significantly since 1961 but evidently the output of cereals has increased markedly and that outcome is known as the Green Revolution.

Understandably, Borlaug has been lauded and recognised for his achievements, but it seems to me that there is a certain irony to that green label given its legacy.

The advancement in food production technology was significant over that period.  The new varieties saw widespread use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and controlled irrigation.  Farmers were encouraged to remove hedgerows to create bigger fields to farm on industrial scale.  This intensive practice reduced biodiversity and destroyed soil fertility.

Dimbleby writes in his book that “since 1930 we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows, half of ancient woodland, 56% of our heathland and 90% of our lowland ponds”.  He adds “Wheat yields in this country doubled from 1970 to today, while the number of farmland birds fell by 54%”

It seems to me we are heralding another green revolution – one of Sustainable Farming Incentive, Countryside Stewardship and Landscape Recovery.

I write letters to the Rural Payments Agency to support applications for capital grants to plant hedgerows. I participate in meetings planning the impact of decisions to take land out of production for nature, the capital allowance implications of changing a drill or a lower horsepower and lighter tractor and of course the capital taxes implication of whether some of what farmers are encouraged to explore remains agriculture.  The latter was covered expertly by one of our Private Client Tax Partners, Paul Harris at the conference and whilst some clarity was provided in the Spring Budget, questions remain and are unlikely to be answered before a General Election.

The backdrop to all of this is climate change and the global agenda to reach net zero.  Another green revolution is required but, in my opinion, this will potentially have a structural impact on the UK farming sector given the commercial implications and the viability of smaller scale farms.

At Scrutton Bland we work with our farming clients to be on the front foot with the challenges faced during this period of transition from the basic payment scheme.  We seek to collaborate with the circle of advisers around a farm business to make sure better decisions are made on a timely basis.  For more information, please contact Nick Banks or any member of our specialist agricultural advisory team by calling 0330 058 6559 or emailing

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