Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit

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18.08.14 Agricultural statistics and climate change

So following on from the introductory blog last week, this week’s blog is a little bit more detail on the newly released Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change report compiled by Defra and the Office for National Statistics.

This report provides an update on how the UK Agricultural Industry is doing in responding to the need to reduce GHG emissions from agricultural production by 3Mt CO₂e by 2020 (from 2007 baseline levels).

Methodology and data collection

So in order to calculate how we are doing, the people who do the number crunching and create the statistics use a variety of data. Data on land use and livestock numbers comes from Defra’s June Census information. When it comes to looking at what is happening out on farms and what practices are being used, a couple of studies are used including Defra’s Farm Practices Survey as well as the British Survey of Fertiliser Practice. These sets of data allow the researchers to look at whether we are changing what we are doing out on farm in terms of fertiliser applications, livestock diets, planning nutrient applications and managing the farm business and what the drivers are behind it.

This data is used alongside a model developed by ADAS and Defra called Farmscoper. Farmscoper is a decision support tool which can be used to assess diffuse agricultural pollutant loads on a farm and quantify the impacts of farm mitigation methods on those pollutants. The model also determines the potential additional consequences of adopting these mitigation methods on biodiversity, energy and water use.

The headline results.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be delving into some of the sections in more detail, but to start things off here are the headline results that have come out of the study.

There are 10 indicators used in this study to look at how we are progressing in terms of minimising GHG emissions. These indicators (which are described a bit further down) suggest that by early 2014 a 1.15MtCO₂eq reduction in GHGs has been achieved (a reduction of 33% when compared to the 2007 baseline).

Results from the different indicator measures

Attitudes and Knowledge

7% of farmers reported that it was “very important” to consider GHGs when making farm management decisions while 39% thought it fairly important.

59% of farmers were taking action to reduce emissions (within this percentage there were more large farms than small

Uptake of mitigation methods

By Feb 2014 approximately 1MtCO₂e reduction in GHG emissions had been achieved from the uptake of key mitigation methods

Mitigation methods related to nutrient management (for example calibrating your fertiliser spreader) collectively provide the greatest potential to reduce emissions

The technical potential reduction (if methods were implemented on all farms) is 3MtCO₂e

Soil Nitrogen balance

Surplus N in soils provides environmental risks in terms of pollution and water quality. This indicator shows potential environmental pressure from agricultural production.

Over the longer term the N surplus (kg/ha) in England has fallen by 18% since 2000. The main drivers have been a reduction in applications of bagged fertiliser (especially to grassland) and a reduction in manure production (due to falling livestock numbers).

As well as these three indicators, there are also a host of sector specific indicators which are listed below.

  • Pig sector – feed conversion rate for fattening herd
  • Grazing livestock – beef and sheep breeding regimes
  • Dairy sector – ratio of dairy cow feed production to milk production
  • Poultry – feed conversion ratio for table birds
  • Cereals and other crops – manufactured fertiliser applications
  • Slurry and manure (storage, use and application)
  • Organic fertiliser application


So although we are making progress against the targets there is scope for us to do more in terms of reducing GHG emissions. Simple measures like calibrating your fertiliser spreader, ensuring that nutrient applications are planned and take into account field conditions and crops grown as well as optimising efficient livestock production will all help not just in terms of maintaining profitable farm businesses but also reducing GHG emissions and increasing the sustainability of agricultural production, a challenge for us all to think about moving forward.

To read the full report click here, or keep an eye on the blog as we will be looking at more statistics from this report throughout the month.

Why not have a go at using the FCCT Carbon Calculator to take stock of where your business is now and see where it may be possible to reduce emissions?

08.08.14 Theme of the month calculators and metrics

The old adage of you can’t manage what you don’t measure is the underlying message for this month’s theme.

The issues of carbon calculators, emissions factors, efficiency measures and how to unravel it all to aid management decisions for the farm business is a fairly complex situation and one that we will be attempting to sort out. So at the beginning of the month, here’s a quick summary of what we are going to be looking at and what the issues are.

Carbon Footprinting

Identifying the carbon footprint of a farm business is the first vital step in being able to quantify the contribution that the farm is making to climate change. A carbon footprint calculation identifies the quantity and source of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted from the farm (as well as carbon sequestered in soils and woodland) highlighting areas where improvements or changes can be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Action Plan

This initiative which is managed by an industry partnership, has been set up to look at options for producers to reduce emissions on-farm. The action plan sets out how reductions in emissions can be made through greater resource efficiency, generally involving changes in farm practices which are also good in terms of business operations through more efficient use of fertiliser or more efficient animal husbandry.

Targets and Statistics

Without getting too caught up in policy, targets and figures we will also bring you an update on what’s happening in terms of agriculture and climate change mitigation in the UK. Statistics produced include data on emissions and links to information on farmer attitudes to climate change mitigation and uptake of mitigation measures. The latest edition of Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change (a fascinating document albeit very long at 115 pages!) looks at the effect of management practices on the emissions data. Without giving away the results, before a blog on it in the near future, current indicators suggest that by early 2014 a 1.15MtC0₂ equivalent reduction in GHGs had been achieved, around 33% of the estimated maximum technical potential.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking your business is a valuable tool in order to evaluate and asses how you farm is performing. It helps to formulate and frame the right questions, highlights strengths and weaknesses and all this enables greater focus on priorities for further assessment and better use of resources.

There are a wide range of opportunities for benchmarking various commodities and production systems within agriculture (for example crop bench, milk bench) as well as the Farm Business Survey and Key Performance Indicators.

So that’s a quick run down of what we will be up to this month. So for those of you who aren’t sat on a combine and might have a spare few minutes, why not have a look at the FCCT carbon calculator and see how your business is performing in terms of emissions. We’ll have more detail on it, as well as a couple of farm examples later on in the month.

06.08.14 Spotlight on: Regen Ag UK

RegenAG UK promotes the use of tools and techniques which regenerate the triple bottom line of farming; net productivity, the ecosystems that relies on, and the people involved with and affected by it. We deliver courses and co-ordinate peer-peer learning with regard to specific tools, techniques, and understanding which support optimization of ecosystem services whilst significantly reducing inputs and simultaneously increasing net productivity and are developing a ‘community of practice’.

Our focus was inspired by the work of Darren Doherty of Regrarians Ltd, who uses P.A. Yeomans’ Scale of Permanence as a base to a framework for farm design. He integrates Allan Savory’s Holistic Management decision-making framework as well as Holistic Planned Grazing and Joel Salatin’s pioneering example of intense sustainable diversification, internships and apprenticeships which increases the productivity of an given area of land manyfold. Alongside this Darren (and RAUK) promotes the use of biofertilisers and soil chromatography as cheap methods to understand soil health (or lack of and what is required) and remedy imbalances between microbial, mineral and organic matter elements.

Holistic Management (HM) and Holistic Planned Grazing(HPG):

Holistic Management is a decision-making framework applicable to any scenario but developed particularly with land-management in mind. Place a ‘W’ at the front of ‘holistic’ and it’s nature becomes more apparent in that it helps us make and test management decisions with the benefit of different wholes in mind (the family, the estate, the business, the community, etc.).

HPG is based on insights about the ways that grazing patterns affect not only plant growth but also soil health and wildlife biodiversity, and the ways in which all these factors interact in terms of improvement in one feeding back beneficially to the others. Grazing is managed in a way which mimics the movement of large herds of stock across the landscape, as they did as many ecosystems developed, and the careful attention to timing (long rest periods with short but intense grazing periods) has been shown to result in benefits in terms of production and animal health as well as to the environment.

Courses are running in October, with funding available to help with the cost for English farmers – for more details click here


05.08.14 GHG emissions from dairy production systems

GHG emissions from dairy production systems have a large impact on agriculture’s carbon footprint, with approximately 20% of the industry’s emissions attributable to dairy production.

Efforts to reduce this figure have primarily concentrated on making the production system more efficient, creating animals that produce high milk yields and have a good feed conversion efficiency. This logically would then suggest that selection for yield and the pursuit of high milk output per cow would be the most effective way to lower the carbon footprint per litre of milk.

This would also indicate that those systems which rely more heavily on grass and forage based feed and are less focused on pushing for yield and more on producing long lasting animals that are more dual purpose (in terms of milk and meat), are less efficient in terms of GHG emissions.

This research has moved slightly away from the traditional use of Life Cycle Analysis for a product (for example the GHG emissions per litre of milk or kg of meat) and has tried to create a model which takes into account the overlap into the beef supply chain when male dairy calves are reared for beef.

There were two phases to this research:

Phase 1

-looked at the impact of animal welfare improvements on GHG emissions (for example lameness and mastitis) and found that they could produce up to 10% improvements in GHG efficiency.

Phase 2

-compared different production systems, looking at GHG emissions from a high yielding herd versus a pasture fed dual purpose system including the impacts on beef production. Modelling results in this phase showed that these moderate output grass based dairy systems were as GHG efficient as high yield dairying. Utilising the male dairy calves for beef production increased GHG efficiency.

So what does it mean?

The study concluded that efforts to utilise grass, increase beef production from the dairy industry and linking up the dairy and beef supply chain were all valuable ways to maximise the efficiency of milk production and GHG emissions.

Interestingly it also recognises the value of grass based systems using low cost, low input resources to produce milk. The UK’s climatic conditions are well placed for growing grass and in the face of rising feed prices and increasing competitiveness for arable crops for human food production, systems that can utilise cheaper and more resilient feed resources (i.e. grass) are more preferable in terms of sustainability.

The study recommends that we put effort into linking up the dairy and beef supply chain and look at where they overlap in terms of emissions so that we can maximise efficiency. For more information and to read the paper please click here.

26.07.14 Carbon conscious farmers

Our message about good soil management has just spread a little but further with an article in Resurgence and Ecologist written by FCCT Director Jonathan Smith.

Drawing on our event in March on building soil carbon, it outlines some of the techniques three of our speakers are using on their farms, and the impacts if such techniques were deployed on a wider scale.

Read it in our Resources section here http://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/resources/articles/309-carbon-conscious-farmers

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