Lots of 'talking heads' in the media are advocating 'burning down the farmhouse' because it needs a lick of paint.

Watch out: If they get what they’re after, the results won’t be pretty.

Men have found ways to kill each other since the dawn of history, but if you want megadeath on an industrial scale, then what you really need is a fool with no practical knowledge to advocate massive structural changes in agriculture. The 20th century is littered with horrific examples, but Stalin and Mao were the worst by a country mile.

Between 1932 and 1933, Stalin tried to force the Kulaks (farmers) into collectives. This led directly to an estimated 8-11m people starving to death.

Mao must have known about this dark episode in Marxist history, yet it didn’t stop him trying his own version in China. Between 1958 and 1962 he forced villagers and city dwellers into communes in his 'Great Leap Forward'. Predictably, the Great Famine was the appalling result, and 45m people perished.

Of course, communism is quite different from the type of radical changes in farming which some are promoting in the UK and I’m not for one minute suggesting that those doing so are bad people. Far from it.

I do think it is foolish and misguided of the ‘talking heads’ to suggest that good farmland should no longer be about growing food for people, however. They think climate change and biodiversity should trump everything.

Any financial support for agriculture should be solely based on these two pillars of piety. We no longer need food security, despite the increasing political and climatic uncertainty and instability in the world. We can rely on food to remain incredibly cheap by importing from abroad where ethical, environmental and climate change standards are lower, exporting our problems out of sight and out of mind.

We can create a green and pleasant forested paradise in one of the few remaining parts of the world that has an abundance of water and a temperate climate and import our food from places which are desperately short of both.

Alternatively, we can forage for food across the wilderness, clad in homespun nettle loincloths.

We can do all of these things, but important as climate change and biodiversity are, it wouldn’t be wise or right to. Why is that? Because things are not as bad as they are often made out to be in the press.

Conventional farming does not necessarily mean an environmental desert, particularly on a mixed farm. We have abundant wildlife living on our farm, from roe deer to buzzards to reed buntings, yellowhammers, goldfinch, tree sparrows, grey partridge, curlews and lapwing, to name but a few.

We make incremental changes carefully over the years to try and improve our efficiency and yields, which in turn lead to a lower carbon footprint. We don’t like spending money on fertiliser, diesel and electricity, so where we can, we reduce our use of them.

One of the ways we reduce our use of nitrogen fertiliser and lock up carbon on this farm is by having grass in our arable rotation, which we keep cows on. We finish them quickly and keep them outdoors.

Consequently, our carbon auditor tells us we only produce 24kg of CO2 per kg of beef, which is well below the average. There is still much to be done, but it is in our financial interests to do it.

Agriculture makes up just 1.5% of UK CO2 emissions, according to the latest government statistics. If you include methane, mainly from livestock, and nitrous oxide, mainly from fertilisers, emissions by agriculture in the UK are 10% of the total.

Methane, in particular, is part of a cycle and breaks down after 12 years, so provided livestock numbers don’t increase – and there is fat chance of that with beef prices where they are currently – it is not adding to global warming. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything to reduce that figure, but it also doesn’t mean that we should stop growing food.

Other sectors have far more work to do. According to the national statistics, 31% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were from transport, 27% from the business sector, and 22% from the residential sector.

Planting trees will not solve the problem either, unless we stop using fossil fuels. A mature acre of trees only locks up 2.6 tonnes of CO2 per year, but a car emits almost double that.

There are 39m vehicles registered in the UK, including lorries. So, we would need to have at least 78m acres of mature woodland just to offset our current vehicle emissions. The total area of the UK, including all of the towns and the cities, is 60m acres.

The numbers aren’t even the 'real' numbers. I had an interesting conversation with a forestry broker, recently. He told me that fast-growing Sitka spruce is the tree of choice from a commercial and a carbon capture point of view, but 7% of every plantation is left unplanted to give space for nature and 7% is given over to broadleaves.

The government figures for tree planting don’t take into account the space not planted. Of course, that space is being rewilded naturally, and there will be some carbon capture, but it is too slow compared to trees to meet our climate targets. If we are accounting properly, the new planting figures should be reduced by 7%.

It is my understanding, also, that the much-regaled figures for planting are gross, not net – an awful lot of forestry is being cut down to fill biomass burners at the moment and that is not subtracted from the total.

What are my conclusions from all of this? The climate debate is far too heavily focussed against agriculture at the moment. People who should know better are diverting attention from the elephant in the room, fossil fuels.

There will be many opportunities for us to improve our carbon footprint, and we definitely need to make changes in agriculture, but it might be a good idea not to risk starving half the population to do it.

Before we make any drastic changes, let’s know what the consequences are. Keep calm and carry on farming folks!