AMID conflicting demands for natural capital, public goods and food production, farmers should beware losing control of their land by getting locked into other people's long term plans.

According to the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, farmers are now facing a generation’s worth of change in just one decade, with the removal of support payments combined with Brexit, the drive to net zero and new political and public demands.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, secretary and adviser to the CAAV, Jeremy Moody, noted that two-thirds of the retargeted Basic Payment money in England will go to changing habitats, while Scotland was aiming to increase forestry, restore peatland and reduce farm emissions by 31% by 2032: “Such policies might help or hinder farmers but the real decisions over land use are theirs to take. This decade offers the transition period in which to manage this major change.”

Mr Moody said that farmers should beware the 'obligations and restrictions' of some environmental land use agreements, as they could find themselves tied into restrictive management for 30 years or more. In some cases – like solar leases – that might be attractive, but agreements based on outcomes rather than actions would be even more limiting: “If you’re paid to provide services that’s one thing, but once the buyer takes control of the carbon, biodiversity or other outcomes you may have lost control of the farm, with restrictions and penalties to protect what the buyer has bought.

Read more: Carbon credits must not be pulled from under the feet of farmers

“Carbon is also a paradox: It is very important to the farm but has a trivial market value,” he said. “Selling carbon credits looks to handicap farmers who will be expected to reduce their own carbon footprint; it is counter-productive as the farmer will then have to find that carbon reduction again.”

Mr Moody suggested that farmers were also unlikely to be wooed by forestry, given the permanent land use change and loss of options it involves – but new markets for biodiversity net gain and nutrient neutrality could be potential options in future. “However, biodiversity net gain agreements are set at over 30 years, and nutrient neutrality could take even longer.”

Given rapidly advancing scientific knowledge and technology, as well as evolving natural capital markets, the agricultural world could be a very different place in 30 years, he warned: “These are very big decisions that are as critical as any that we’ve faced in living memory. Be sure to do things on the right terms for the right reasons and the right money.”