"PEOPLE ACROSS the country have been counting the cost of rising energy bills. Farmers are no different. Behind these rises are the increases in the costs of gas and oil. For farmers, this has meant increases in the costs of diesel, heating, and fertilisers.

Last autumn these stratospheric gas prices forced some fertiliser factories to close. They needed emergency government support to reopen. It impacted our industry’s supply of CO2 as well. Our industry’s reliance on fossil fuels is putting farmers' businesses at risk and has resulted in well documented food price rises and food shortages.

Farmers' margins are already tight. Many farms only just break even after direct payments. Anything that can help to drive down costs is welcome. If it can also benefit the environment at the same time, even better.

At Balbirnie Home Farm in Fife we, like so many others, use fossil fuels – for vehicles, for machines, and through fertilisers. While this remains the case, we continue to contribute negatively to climate change and we remain exposed to unpredictable and sudden rises in fossil fuel prices.

But we are making changes, which we’ve learned the hard way that we need to do. High fertiliser costs make the margins on the arable side of the business much tighter. We're insulating the livestock side of the business against this risk by cutting out fertiliser use. We were making these changes already, but fossil fuel price rises are accelerating our timetable.

This year, in response to rising fertiliser costs, we will sow 40 hectares of herbal ley instead of an arable crop. The ley, which will be grazed, restores nutrients to the soil and will not need any fertiliser. It doesn't require spraying for the three years it is in, nor ploughing or harvesting. And the grain doesn’t need drying, all of which cuts our diesel and fertiliser use.

On the livestock side, keeping our livestock outdoors has reduced our mucking out by 21 days by three people each using a machine that runs on diesel. We’re on the way to cutting our farm’s use of fossil fuels. Right across the business we’re reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

A system that has demanded intensive production of the greatest possible quantity of farm produce is how we've ended up addicted to chemicals and fossil fuels. Ironically, the resulting climate change, and at times extreme weather, is putting food production at risk. All of us count the cost of depleted soils, polluted streams, and vanishing species.

But things are changing. Farmers understand more than ever that we can play a key role in helping to get to net zero. COP26 reminded us all that we need to end the use of coal, oil, and gas. It also focused on agriculture’s role in net zero more than any previous UN climate summit.

Now is the time to help farmers to turn politicians’ promises into action. Whether it's nurturing the soil using plants instead of chemicals, growing vegetables in greenhouses warmed using renewable energy instead of gas, or replacing synthetic fertilisers with compost and animal manure, there are a range of techniques available. But agroecological techniques are not widely understood. Farmers need help now to weaken, and break, our industry’s reliance on fossil fuels."