Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


24.10.14 New guidance released on good practice for solar farms

A new document was released last week which describes good practice and opportunities to manage small livestock enterprises and ground mounted solar panels concurrently. The "Agricultural Good Practice guidance for Solar Farm" has been developed by a number of UK solar farm developers and organisations concerned with agriculture as well as the NFU.

Why has this come about?

Field scale arrays of ground mounted PV panels are a relatively new development seen in Britain only since 2011. As part of the “10 Commitments” of good practice, the majority of solar farm developers actively encourage multi-purpose land use, through continued agricultural activity or agri-environmental measures that support biodiversity, yielding both economic and ecological benefits.

In many planning applications for large scale ground mounted systems it is often included that the land between and under the rows of PV modules, should be available for grazing of small livestock. There are obvious practical considerations with larger animals including horses and cattle, as well as pigs and goats which may cause damage to cabling, however sheep and free ranging poultry can be used to manage grassland surrounding the panels.

Opportunities for cutting hay or silage or strip cropping of high value vegetables or non-food crops need careful layout with regard to size of machinery, however other productive options (for example bee keeping) could be used. The aim is, that the terms of the solar farm agreement should include a grazing plan which maintains access to land by the farmer, ideally in a form that enables the farmer to claim support through the Basic Payment Scheme.

This guidance covers lots of different aspects of management for solar farms and livestock and includes:

Conservation grazing for biodiversity

  • Solar farm design and layout
  • Eligibility for CAP support and greening measures
  • Long term management, permanent grassland and SSSI designation
  • Good practice in construction and neighbourliness
  • Research needs

Case studies

As well as this it has some case studies of different farmers who are managing to successfully combine solar modules and farming including:

Benbole Farm, Wadebridge – One of the first solar farms developed in Britain in 2011, this 1.74MW installation on a 4ha site is grazed by a flock of 20 geese. A community scheme enables local residents to benefit from free domestic solar panels and other green energy projects.

Higher Hill, Somerset – A third generation farmer, installed a 5MW solar farm on his own land. Located near Glastonbury the site has been grazed by sheep since its inception in 2011.

Wyld Meadow Farm, Dorset – Farmers continue to graze their own Poll Dorset sheep on this 4.8MW solar farm established in 2012 on 11ha. The solar farm was designed to have very low visual impact locally with an agreement to ensure livestock grazing throughout the project’s lifetime.

For more information and to download the guidance click here.

24.10.14 Low carbon growing event

A one day course to understand how to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration in horticultural systems.

Featuring Iain Tolhurst, organic grower for nearly 40 years, on how he manages carbon in his veg growing business. Jonathan Smith, Director of FCCT and co-founder of the Farm Carbon Calculator will give an understanding of how to calculate carbon footprints and manage carbon.

Venue:       Tolhurst Organic, near Pangbourne, Oxfordshire

Date:          Tuesday 11th November

Time:        10.00 - 16.00

Cost:         £38.40 for eliglble delegates, including organic lunch

To book please email Becky Willson, FCCT project co-ordinator at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The day will feature group discussion, a workshop and a farm walk. The emphasis is on gaining understanding of the important areas to focus on in your business and practical solutions to help reduce your carbon footprint.

This event is applicable to growers on all scales, whether organic or not.


10.00 Registration and coffee

10.15 Welcome and outline of day

10.30 Group - who you are, what you do, what you want to get from the day, experiences so far

11.00 Why carbon matters - Jonathan Smith

11.30 Tea break

11.45 Low carbon growing at Tolhurst Organic and workshop session - Iain Tolhurst

12.15 Examples from other horticultural farms - Jonathan Smith

12.45 Questions and discussion

13.00 Organic lunch, based on Tolhurst Organic veg

14.00 Farm walk - practical measures to reduce carbon emissions and build carbon sequestration

16.00 Finish

This event is supported by

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...

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