FARMING organisations have responded to a report which called for a cut of up to 50 per cent in UK sheep and cattle numbers and a huge increase in planting trees and energy crops.

The Committee on Climate Change published its report into reducing greenhouse gas emissions through changes in land use.

Its recommendations included the 20 to 50 per cent reduction in cattle and sheep numbers to reduce emissions which would release three to seven million hectares of grassland for tree planting and energy crops.

The committee wants tree planting to rise from 9,000 hectares a year to 20,000ha by 2020 and 27,000ha a year by 2030, extending this further to 2050.

However Minette Batters, NFU president, was disappointed the report recommended reducing livestock numbers. She said. "The report simply does not recognise the environmental benefits grass-fed beef and sheep production brings to the UK.

"It would be a fundamental mistake to design a farming system solely around an approach that mitigates greenhouse gases without any regard to the wider impact of such a policy for our environment and our food supply. It risks producing a one-eyed policy."

Guy Smith, NFU deputy president, said: "Any future farming policy must enable farm businesses to meet the food production needs of the nation, alongside environmental ambitions."

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive, said sheep play a huge role in helping to keep the uplands in good condition and improving lowlands in terms of soil quality and a return to mixed farming.

He said NSA supports multifunctional land use. "We support more trees and hedges integrated into the farmed landscape, provided they contribute to a viable business," he said. "There are large areas of the UK where grass and grazing animals are absent yet would contribute positively to the environment, soil quality, and sustainability generally. Putting sheep back into arable rotations results in a natural regeneration of soil quality and fertility - something that is sorely needed.

"Some people seem hell bent on portraying sheep as the enemy, but they deliver far more than just high quality and nutritional meat, and could be argued to be the ultimate in renewable technology."

Susan Twining, CLA chief land use policy adviser, said they support the need for the industry to play a strong role in climate change mitigation through changes to land use and farming practices. "Doing nothing is not an option," she said.

"Converting agricultural land to non-agricultural uses such as forestry has significant mitigation benefits for farmers. We welcome the committee's recommendation that land managers should receive extensive support to help transition to alternative land uses but we are clear that food production should remain the priority."

She said it was vital that any future policy takes into account potential advances in production methods that will reduce climate emissions. "The importance of tackling emissions from agriculture, and the need for early intervention is acknowledged by the committee, but what is missing in the report is how this will be achieved."