Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


21.10.14 Theme of the month: Energy generation

We are completely reliant on energy as farmers, from powering machinery and lighting sheds, even just moving around the farm, energy is indispensable. However international oil prices have quadrupled in the last ten years, and coal and gas prices more than doubled, and further increases are expected. There are also long term energy supply challenges as fossil fuels are used up, therefore as farmers and growers we need to take action to cushion the impact of these twin factors.

This month therefore we will be looking at energy generation, and how it can give you higher energy security, lower energy prices, lower carbon emissions and an additional income stream to the farm.  Farming is inherently by its very nature energy intensive.  Generating your own energy can give you control over price and the ability to forecast costs and introduce additional income to the farm business.

Renewable energy covers all energy from a source which is naturally replenished when used.  The main sources of renewable energy are – energy from sunlight, heat from the earth, air or water sources, plants grown for fuel (biomass or biofuel), waste and the movement of water (hydro) or wind.  

What do I need to consider?

Before installing a particular technology on-farm there are various factors that are useful to consider.

Consider your energy use – what gets used and where?

Wherever possible, reduce your energy demand through energy efficient measures before considering installing renewable energy technologies

Identify any opportunities or constraints to renewable energy on your site

Check with the local planning authorities whether there are any planning issues

Seek independent advice

Speak to others who have already installed generating equipment

Choose technologies based on suitability and fitness for purpose rather than the promise of additional income

Get quotes from different installers

On-farm renewable energy options

Renewable energy can provide power (electricity) for lighting, machinery and appliances and direct heating or cooling for sheds, farm buildings, grain storage and offices. All installations should be carried out by MCS accredited companies (Government approved installers) and the installer's financial and energy generation projections examined carefully before committing to a project.

We cover farm-use scale projects below, but we as farmers are in a unique position compared to other industries, in our ability to consider large scale projects on our land. Such projects (typically over 2MW in capacity) are technically, financially and legally distinct from smaller scale projects and require detailed, tailored advice.

Some statistics

WIND – currently we have 4570 onshore turbines, equating to a onshore capacity of 7534 MW (Renewable UK)

SOLAR PV – In August 2014 the UK reached 5GW installed capacity with the south west the leading region in terms of capacity (Regen SW)

AD - There are now over 100 AD plants (that are outside of the water industry) that are operational (WRAP).  This figure is growing rapidly.

Renewables share of electricity generation was 16.8% in 2014, up 0.9 percentage points on the share in 2013 (DECC)

So for the rest of this month, we will be looking at various issues concerning renewable energy generation on-farm, hearing from a couple of familiar faces from FCCT who generate at home, and looking at the future in terms of where we go from here.  For more information on the different technologies, do have a look at the FCCT Toolkit pages here.

14.10.14 The Farm Crap App - efficient manure management

So some of you may know that as well as working for the fab Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, I also work on the SWARM Hub which looks at sharing information on resource management for farmers and growers from a website.  It started out as a European funded project in the South west which was tasked with translating scientific research into farmer friendly material on soil, nutrients, water and energy management; analysing data from advice schemes to see what was happening on farms in the south west in terms of managing our resources and trying to come up with novel ways of spreading the key messages.

Throughout this journey we were fortunate enough to attend lots of different events, speak to lots of different farmers, students, advisors and researchers about issues we face as an industry moving forward.  Making better use of resources on-farm including the soil, livestock, manures, water and energy will enable us to create a far more resilient agricultural industry than if we have to rely on inputs to remain profitable.  

One of the topics that we came up against time and time again was manure management.  Through research that we conducted in the south west, we found that farmers were undervaluing manures produced by their livestock as a nutrient source as well as the value they produce in terms of minimising bagged fertiliser applications and improving soil structural quality and organic matter levels.  The sticking point came around application rates – being able to visually assess what was being applied and what that application was giving you in terms of crop available N, P and K (and as such equivalent fertiliser value) depending on when it was applied and to what crop.

Thus the Farm Crap App was born.

The app which is free to download and available on Android and Apple devices, allows you to visually assess what is being applied and calculates what that application is providing you in terms of crop available nitrogen, phosphate and potash.  It uses data from Defra’s RB209 and matches the information with an image library of different spreading rates of cattle slurry, farmyard manure, pig slurry and chicken muck to allow you to factor manure applications into your nutrient management planning.

In terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions better manure management is a great place to start.  If we are applying manures at a point where the crop is actively growing the nitrogen will be sucked up by the plant and will be at a much lower risk of sitting in the soil and being emitted as nitrous oxide.  Accurate knowledge of what is in your manures and more importantly factoring that into fertiliser planning will also minimise the risk of over application (which again will reduce the risk of emissions).

Last week was a great week for the app, as we went and presented at the Soil Association Annual Conference at their Innovation Awards.  Following a presentation, the attendees voted for the most pioneering idea in farming and growing across the UK in 2014, and despite stiff competition from some great innovators, we won!  The prize funds will allow us to further develop the app and ensure that we can make it a really useful tool for farmers and growers and the increased attention will hopefully allow more people to hear about it, download it and make better use of their manures.

For more information on how to download the app for free please click here.

13.10.14 The controversy around fracking


So just to finish this month’s theme off looking at attitudes, we are shifting the focus slightly away from climate change in general and looking at something which has received a lot of media attention recently, the recovery of shale gas by fracking.

Why do we need gas?

A third of UK energy demand is met by gas. In 2012 around a quarter of gas used in the UK was used to produce electricity, about a fifth by industry and around 40% to cook food and heat buildings.

In 2003 the UK were a net exporter of gas, but North Sea production is now declining and the UK is a net importer. By 2025 it is expected that the UK will be importing near to 70% of the gas consumed (DECC figures) if we don’t use shale.

DECC’s aim is to secure energy supply by maximising UK production of the fuels that we need, increasing generation from renewables and using energy more wisely.

So how does fracking work?

Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. It is done by drilling into the earth and directing a high pressure water mixture at the rick to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rick at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process can be carried out vertically or horizontally by drilling and can be used to extend existing channels or create new pathways.

How does it score on emissions?

The process of extracting the gas, which includes exploratory drilling, hydraulic fracturing, gas production and well abandonment phases, has the potential to release methane into the atmosphere. These emissions could increase the carbon footprint of shale gas and in large quantities it could lessen the climate benefits of using natural gas when compared to oil and coal.

At exploration stage there is usually no use for the gas and so it is burnt off (or “flared”) to minimise emissions. Flaring reduces GHG emissions by about 80% compared to allowing it to escape into the atmosphere. When it is in full production operators capture as much of the methane as possible and export it by pipeline.

Minimising the carbon footprint

A study by the chief scientist for DECC looked at the effect of emissions, and found that the carbon footprint for shale gas is significantly less than for coal when it is used for electricity generation. Most carbon emissions will come from its final use as a fuel.

Why is it controversial?

Fracking has been used extensively in the US and has raised some environmental concerns. The environmental concerns focus around three key issues:

1. Water use – the process of fracking uses a huge amount of water that needs to be taken to the fracking site at significant environmental cost

2. Contamination of groundwater – Some of the chemicals that are used in the fracking process are nasty and there is a fear that potentially carcinogenic chemicals could escape and pollute groundwater around the fracking site.

3. Tremors – there are also worries that the fracking process can cause small earth tremors.  In 2011, in Blackpool two small earthquakes were reported following fracking.

Environmental campaigners suggest that fracking is distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Attitudes towards fracking

Put fracking into a Google search and as well as a range of imaginative (and not so imaginative!) puns around the word “frack”, you will find a whole heap of campaigns, articles, and blogs from people who are opposed to fracking. Below are just a selection

Dangers of Fracking

In Texas, traffic deaths climb amid fracking boom

Fracking is too dangerous; it threatens the water we drink, the air we breathe and our health”

A colossal fracking mess

What is the effect on farmers?

Just last week the NFU released a statement saying that farmers need assurances of compensation if fracking reduces the value of their land. Interestingly this article from the NFU and the issue of declining land value above fracking sites, all comes down to public perception. NFU members are fearful that the value of their land above fracking sites could be reduced “because of current attitudes and perceptions of fracking” event if no harm was actually caused.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock from the NFU said that the NFU are seeking assurances from the government that landowners will be protected against any possible indirect impacts of fracking.

DECC have responded to the NFU with the following statement: “Whilst the shale gas industry in Britain is in its infancy, extensive research confirms that we – in the UK – have the right regulations in place to ensure that drilling so farm underground has no negative impact on the surface.  Of over half a century of oil and gas production in the UK there has been no evidence that house prices have been impacted and there should be no reason for this to change for shale gas.”

The debate continues...

2.10.14 How do we adapt moving forward?

So following on from the blog at the beginning of the week about communicating climate change and some of the issues surrounding attitudes, this is “part 2” for the end of the week about what this means going forward.

The research from Wiles in 2012 came up with some recommendations for policy makers following on from their discoveries surrounding farmers understanding and interest in climate change and reducing GHG emissions. These included

1.To develop clear and simple information and guidance on climate change and on the mitigating actions that may be taken by farmers. The guidance should be developed through further research and better understanding of farmer perceptions of climate change and the actions needed to mitigate emissions.

2.Encourage positive action and a clear message through the media and other communication pathways.

3.Use financial incentives to encourage practice change

This will all help to achieve the “vision of success” that the UK Government has come up with where agriculture is “efficient, competitive and climate friendly. Very little biomass is landfilled, emissions are tightly controlled and material formerly landfilled is used for renewable energy, compost and fertiliser.”

Scottish data

Research from Scotland is coming up with the same sort of messages. Their research into effective communication messages concludes that “invoking both the profit and stewardship motives” in farmers, would be likely to encourage a balance of business and environmentally oriented behaviours.

What now?

So how do we move forward? Do we need to regulate reducing emissions in order to get everyone engaged? Or do we target grant schemes to those farmers who are engaging with the agenda? Do we install a “carbon compliance” along with cross compliance requirements? There are various options available to those who are making the decisions.

Regulation – placing restrictions on what farmers are legally allowed to do and prohibit undesirable management practices. This works best in situations where the target group is already, or can quickly be persuaded that regulated actions fall below an acceptable, reference level of responsible farming practice.

Economic incentives – taxes and subsidies are the most widely used and analysed methods

Market led and voluntary approaches – promoting environmentally beneficial management practices to encourage higher standards of environmental behaviour among farmers. These have significant potential to encourage high standards of management practices on-farms and are attractive because they offer win-win options to motivated producers, but are unlikely to be sufficient to drive enhanced management of the countryside as a whole.

Education / information provision – raising awareness of environmental issues, including what can be done to address then and why this could be beneficial to farmers.

Opportunities for retailers to help drive up standards?

All major UK supermarkets are currently promoting low carbon products and encouraging producers to calculate the GHG emissions of their products.

Is this an opportunity for retailers to promote emissions reduction methods for producers and include them in their reduction target plans?

What do we do as an industry?

So which of the options do we take? Do we use the stick first and regulate practices that are damaging in terms of emissions? Or do we use the next round of grant funding that will be coming out over the next few months and prioritise those applications which are reducing emissions and sequestering soil carbon? Or do we remain as it is now that if farmers are interested and adapt voluntarily then they will achieve the business benefits, or do we just raise the education level?

One thing is for sure, is that it’s not going to disappear? So what do you think is the best way to make British Agriculture more sustainable and reduce its emissions? Why not let us know now?

29.9.14 How farmers’ perception of climate change alters how we communicate

So as part of this month’s theme of looking at attitudes towards climate change, I thought that I would look at what the social scientists have done in terms of research around farmer attitudes and how this shapes how the messages are communicated. This has involved delving into a subject that I haven’t had many dealings with before, surrounding how you quantify behaviour change and attitudes towards things.

However before we start, I will just first offer some reassurance that I am not going to spend this blog trying to explain the complicated world of social science, but merely look at some of the results that have come from the clever people and places who have asked the questions.

The decision making process

If we look at the general population, in going about their daily lives, people generally do what they have done, what impulse tells them to do or what their neighbours or friends do even when this might not be the most beneficial option for them. The decision making process is complicated. I myself am guilty of putting things off that I don’t want to do and doing all the things that are easy first, or eating a chocolate biscuit when I know that I really shouldn’t. The decision making process for farmers is inherently more complicated as there are numerous factors at work. And when we include climate change in the mix it becomes more complicated again as it is such an important factor in profitability. Climate is the primary determinant of agricultural productivity, and therefore changes in the climate influence many components of agricultural systems, including crop and livestock production, input supplies, soil quality and water supply.

Climate change threatens the long term capacity of food production through increased soil erosion and reduced soil fertility. The certainty of an increased need for food to feed a burgeoning global population and the uncertainty of the short and long term effects of climate change on agriculture combined make efforts to enhance the resilience of agricultural systems a top societal priority. If policy makers, climate scientists and advice programmes are to effectively support farmer adaptation to climate change then farmer’s attitudes towards climate change must be understood.

Put simplistically, for successful policies to help us adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change, farmers need to be concerned about climate change and understand the vulnerability of their business to changing weather patterns. It is probably a good idea at this point to clarify the difference between adaptation and mitigation in terms of effects on behaviour.


Adaptation in this context refers to adjustments in ecological, social or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. It is much more related to actual threats from the climate and the adaptation of management practices to deal with their effects.


Mitigation (in a climate change context) means implementing policies on-farm that are directly related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or improving the level of carbon sequestered in the natural environment (trees, soils, hedgerows etc).

In terms of adjustments of farmer behaviour, adaptation is all about changing due to perceived vulnerability (risk management), whereas mitigation is more about acknowledging that human activity (including agriculture) is a cause of climate change and developing management strategies to reduce those.

Some studies around the world.

American data

The data below comes from an American study based in Iowa. This region (sometimes referred to the Corn Belt) contains some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world. Whilst it only occupies a fraction of US farmland, it produces over half of all US corn and soybean. As a state, it has experienced extreme weather events that have had adverse impacts on agricultural production and the natural resource base.

The data below summarises what they found when they interviewed 1,300 farmers from Iowa. To read the full paper click here.

  • 68% indicated that they believe climate change is happening

  • 10% attributed climate change mostly to human activities

  • 35% believed that climate change is occurring and caused equally by human activities and natural variation

  • 23% attributed climate change primarily to natural causes

  • 28% of farmers indicated uncertainty

  • 5% of people did not believe that climate change is happening

English data

A study by Wiles et al in 2012 (full text here) looked at farmer’s perceptions of climate change and found that:

  • The impacts of climate change are not seen as a pressing threat, nor are extreme weather events regular enough for the majority of farmers to invest time and resources into taking immediate action. Farmers are working to prevent the impacts of short term impacts and maximise opportunities rather than mitigate long-term risks.

  • The majority of farmers are sceptical about long term projections of climate change noting they are confusing lacking consistency and clarity. Instead farmers are likely to take actions based on their own perception of short term variations in weather.

  • There is a disconnect between understanding climate change and taking action to mitigate that change. Lack of government support, information and financial incentives to take action are all noted as key factors.

  • Farmers of necessity are first and foremost focused on profit and performance management of their farms, hence any incentive to take action will need to make sense financially.

  • Scottish Data

    In Scotland as part of a national project evaluating factors influencing farmers’ attitudes and behaviours towards climate change, 550 farmers were interviewed.

    • 50% of respondents believed that average annual temperature will increase in the future

    • 32% agreed that climate change will only impact negatively in the long term

    • 16% were receptive to adopting practices which would reduce emissions

    This work also looked at the different sets of factors that influence decision making, grouped into 4 categories – economic, external, internal and social.

     Economic factors

    Market volatility – agricultural systems are dynamic, since producers and consumers are continuously responding to changes in crop and livestock yields, food prices, input prices, resource availability and advances in technology.

    Economic motivation – only once economic condition had been satisfied , could land managers focus on other priorities.

    Whether or not to participate in economic schemes – economic considerations are acknowledged to be the primary driving force behind participation (along with fit with existing farm management).

    Issues relating to non-profitable farming systems – to maintain high nature value sites.

     External factors

    Capacity to change – regardless of how willing the farmer is to alter their management practices, they must also have the capacity to change.

    Farm size and type – including the theory that larger farmers are more likely to participate in schemes, some research has suggested that farm type is a more significant factor than size.

    Farmer demographics – a massively complex issues that spans subjects including age, tenancy status, education level etc

    Internal factors

    Attitudes, values and beliefs – again massively complex issues which ranges from perceived threat level from effects of climate change to risk management.

    Social factors

    This section deals with the fact that attitudes and behaviours don’t take place in a vacuum, but are influenced by the social content in which they occur.  Decisions are affected by the views and behaviours of their peers and neighbours as well as other family members and society at large.  Also included in this category is the whole area surrounding decision making on the farm.  There is evidence to suggest that in larger complex farm businesses, in particular, decision making is spread among family and non-family members.

     So what does this all mean in terms of moving forward?

    Since farmers are influenced by their social networks, desired behaviours in the innovator / early adopter group need to be encouraged, endorsed and promoted.  Highlighting what farmers are doing to both adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change at the farm scale will help to encourage more to engage with the climate change agenda.  This will be discussed more next week.

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