Nature Means Business - the business case for nature-friendly farming

United Kingdom
Northern Ireland
NFFN Reports
Maximum Sustainable Output

Nature-friendly farming makes good business sense because farming with nature means long-term resilience, reduced financial overheads and improved profitability. In a series of reports, we make the economic case for nature-friendly farming, featuring evidence from farms across the UK.

Nature Means Business

The Nature Means Business report (published in 2020) brings together evidence and farmer stories that present the business case for farming in harmony with nature. This evidence can be used by policymakers and the farming industry to help them make real commitments and practical actions to support sustainable climate- and nature-friendly farming.

Building on a significant amount of work from Nethergill Associates, new on-farm research helps us understand the underlying economics of farming and how these can be improved to both benefit the environment and increase the financial resilience of these businesses.

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Maximum Sustainable Output

Maximum Sustainable Output (MSO) is a metric for analysing the holistic success of a farm business devised by Nethergill Associates which determines at what point a farm achieves its optimum output while harnessing the natural resources available to it. It divides a farm’s variable costs into Productive Variable Costs (PVCs), which are incurred while working within nature’s boundaries, and Corrective Variable Costs (CVCs) which come up when production is overshooting the land’s capacity. CVCs include artificial fertilisers, bought-in feeds and plant protection products.

MSO has been created to counter the idea that increasing outputs will always result in a rise in profits. Instead, it aims to show that farms reach a point where inputs are reduced and output is maximised while efficiently using their natural resources. Beyond this point, the additional inputs required to increase output further come with significant costs. Analysis suggests that when CVCs account for 85% or more of total costs, every £1 of revenue generated above the MSO level comes with around £7.50 of costs.

This evidence is backed up by personal stories from nature-friendly farmers across the UK, who highlight the nature-friendly changes they have made to their farms and how this has made their businesses more resilient and profitable.

Following the initial Nature Means Business (2020) report, we've since published research across the UK exploring on-farm trials of the MSO framework:

  • Striking the Balance, Northern Ireland, 2023

  • Farming at the Sweet Spot, England, 2023

  • Nature Means Business in Wales, 2023

Striking the Balance (Northern Ireland)

Working within environmental limits could result in impressive economic gains for Northern Irish farms by reducing or eliminating expensive inputs such as fertilisers and feeds, suggests our latest study of 17 farms in the country in our report, Striking the Balance.

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Farming at the Sweet Spot (England)

Farming at Sweet Spot finds up to a 45% increase in commercial return for nature-friendly farms. It reveals a viable business model for farmers to move towards production systems which increase profitability, reduce reliance on external inputs, and contribute to environmental recovery.

The research, conducted by Nethergill Associates, looks at 165 farm business accounts detailing how agricultural outputs can be made more profitable before support payments and other revenue streams are taken into account. It finds that maximising production is both financially and environmentally unsustainable if reliant on large quantities of fossil fuels, artificial fertilisers, and animal feed.

Download 'Farming at the Sweet Spot'

Download the report here

Nature Means Business in Wales

Our report, Nature Means Business in Wales, shows how regenerative farming in Wales is making farms more financially resilient and improving the environment.

It argues that increasing inputs doesn’t guarantee higher rates of profit if the natural environment is damaged or pushed beyond its natural capacity. In 2020-21, the average farm income in Wales was £34,300 – the lowest in the UK – two-thirds of which came from public money. In Wales, feed costs are the largest contributor to farm expenses, accounting for 35% of all inputs, followed by pesticides, fuel and artificial fertilisers.

Download English language report

Nature Means Business Wales

Download the report

Download Welsh language report

Nature Means Business Wales

Download the report