Ian Burrow, Head of Agriculture at NatWest Group, explains how practical solutions to support farmers can help achieve UK climate targets.

Resilience as standard

Across the world the accelerated pace of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and population growth have placed additional pressure on food supply systems. In the UK, these events have exposed the fragility of domestic production and as the impact of climate change increases, yields and production levels could be affected.

It is critical that the UK agricultural sector picks up the pace and transitions towards a sustainable model that is flexible and dynamic, and balances environmental concerns with the need for food security.

This transition is key, not just because of the UK’s commitment to net zero, but also because a sustainable agricultural sector is vital for the UK’s food security. Alongside reducing carbon emissions, investment is required in regenerating soils, increasing biodiversity and restoring ecosystems to rebuild natural capital for the benefit of farming and wider society.

As one of the UK’s leading banks to the agricultural sector, NatWest Group aims to help create the practical solutions to support farmers and landowners to contribute to the achievement of the UK’s climate targets.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Intensive farming can damage soil health, biodiversity and cause pollution. Regenerative farming is characterised by contributing more to the environment than is taken out.

Its approaches encourage good soil health, which can lead to richer, more productive soil and an environment where crops, animals, wildlife and people thrive.

Its principles include:

  • Minimising ploughing to help trap CO2, retain moisture and maintain fungal communities living in the soil.
  • Growing cover crops, using compost and crop rotation to support soil fertility without the need for artificial fertilisers.
  • Using well-managed animal grazing to improve soil health, support plant growth and encourage insects.

Meeting the challenges

In the agricultural sector, many farmers lack the tools and capital to invest in sustainable practices for the long term, so new solutions are needed for major businesses to support farmers to make the change.

We’re working with food processors and manufacturers and other parts of the supply chain to drive more sustainable approaches to farming through incentive structures to help farmers address the short- and medium-term costs of the transition to regenerative agriculture

For instance, we collaborated with the frozen food business McCain Foods through our asset finance business Lombard to develop a programme offering preferential payment terms and financial support to help farmers to access regenerative farming equipment. The programme offered by Lombard will be matched by McCain Foods to support their farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices.

Ultimately, we want to help deliver an integrated supply chain financing solution that connects farmers to food retailers to align incentives to decarbonise the end-to- end food systems journey. 

Supporting the Global Farm Metric 

Launched in 2020 by the Sustainable Food Trust, the Global Farm Metric is a harmonised framework designed to align existing metrics in the food and farming industry to establish a common baseline of data and provide a holistic view of farm-level sustainability.

We’re supporting the development of the Global Farm Metric to make it easier for farmers to measure and track changes and impacts in the natural environment. 

Measuring and analysing data helps to build a broader understanding of impacts and risks

Leveraging technology with Google Cloud

When it comes to helping farmers make changes to the way they work, having the right tools and platforms to report on progress is critical. Measuring and analysing data helps to build a broader understanding of impacts and risks of agricultural practices. However, current access to data is unequal, slowing down progress towards the goal of all farmers being able to report on a common set of metrics.

NatWest Group recently worked on a pilot scheme with Google Cloud to explore using its satellite data archive with Climate Engine’s SpatiaFi software platform.

This data will allow farmers to build a detailed and tailored picture of the challenges they face – from flood and drought risk to the levels of biodiversity on their farm, even pinpointing specific fields. We are also exploring the role this data could play in streamlining the use of other important tools, such as the Global Farm Metric.

Partnering with farmers and the food production industry

Our 2023 NatWest Agriculture Report identifies opportunities across the industry. Highlighting research from the National Farmers Union, the report finds that the challenges facing the agriculture industry cannot be tackled by just one organisation or sector alone.


Read the 2023 NatWest Agriculture Report in full

Directly supporting farmers

A net-zero and nature-positive economy that improves natural capital and biodiversity is vital to the UK’s future food security.1 As farmers look to make the changes needed to work towards this, they need more support to help manage their businesses in the short term.

In 2022, NatWest Group confirmed a £1.25 billion lending package for farmers to support them with the current economic and sustainability challenges. In total, NatWest Group have made available £6.7 billion for the whole sector. This package will be deployed through measures including short-term loans, asset finance and increased overdraft limits that aim to help the sector deal with increasing input costs.

Alongside these measures, we’ve provided capital repayment holidays where a business only needs to pay the interest on a loan for an agreed period, reducing the amount due each month. Lombard’s Green Asset Finance aim to help eligible UK businesses to finance investments. 

Together, NatWest Group and WWF will work to bring together players across the food and agriculture sectors in the UK to support farmers

Convening the sector alongside WWF

We need to identify how governments, financial institutions, food companies and farmers can share the cost and risks of the transition to net zero. This process requires coordination and collaboration across the food system.

In June 2023, NatWest Group and conservation organisation WWF announced a new strategic partnership to support a sustainable transition for the UK food and agricultural sectors. Together, NatWest Group and WWF will work to bring together players across the food and agriculture sectors in the UK to channel and scale private and public finance to support farmers to achieve climate and nature goals, including calling on government to reform agricultural payments.2


Partnering across the sector

The UK agricultural sector is at a turning point, facing higher costs, declining domestic production, supply chain issues, inflation and the challenge of net-zero transition. We need to speed up efforts to make the agricultural sector a strategic asset for the economy in the face of long-term concerns about the UK’s food security.

We think productivity and sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive ambitions. A profitable, sustainable and productive agricultural sector is possible. But to achieve this, the whole sector and government need to create a plan for the future to ensure a sustainable food system for the UK.

We believe this can be achieved through partnerships and aligned, joined-up thinking across the sector and along supply chains with the agri-food sector.

Disclaimers and cautions

This is for media use and not a financial promotion.

Caution about this article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee, Ian Burrow, and do not necessarily represent the views of the NatWest Group.

This article (i) has been prepared for information and reference purposes only; (ii) is intended to provide non-exhaustive, indicative and general information only; (iii) does not purport to be comprehensive; and (iv) does not provide any form of legal, tax, investment, accounting, financial or other advice.

This article should be read together with the full Climate Matters document (with special regard to the Cautionary Statements) relating to this content.

Please see NatWest Group’s 2022 Climate-related Disclosures Report for those views and other information including about our financed emissions and our exposure to heightened climate-related risk sectors.

Notes on the text

1. ‘Nature positive’ is a high-level goal and concept describing a future state of nature (for example biodiversity, ecosystem services and natural capital) which is greater than the current state.

2. Information about Green Asset Finance: NatWest Group Green Asset Finance is available to over 18s which meets the NatWest Group Climate and Sustainable Finance Inclusion Criteria for your business size.

Available to UK customers for business purposes only. Available for borrowing over £25,000 and less than £10 million. Subject to status, eligibility and approval.

Security may be required. Product fees may apply. Finance subject to status.

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