Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


03.10.16 Farming, Soil and Water in the time of Climate Change

Source: New England News Collaborative, August 24th, Jill Kaufman

In the Northeast, according to the USDA, about 175,000 farms produce more than $21-billion a year in food, hay and flowers. But not this year. Many fields are bone dry, with extreme drought conditions in parts of Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire and severe conditions across much of the region. The climate — and how it’s changing — has many farmers thinking about how to manage their land, their animals and available water.

Having an irrigation system on your farm doesn’t mean you escaped this summer’s drought. Mike Wissemann at Warner Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, knows from experience. On a hot mid-August day, Wissemann stood in the shade of barn, pointing to a a dry, unplanted field a few hundred feet away.

“Irrigation is irritation,” Wissemann said.

Pumps break. Hoses kink. “We just couldn’t work the land [because] we were so busy trying to put out irrigation pipe. We depend on getting second crops in [and] we were unable to do two to three crops of sweet corn and another planting of summer zucchini, he said.”

Warner Farm, which Wissemann runs with his family, is right on the Connecticut River in Sunderland, where glaciers thousands of years ago left behind a mix of silty clay. It’s loam-rich soil, and tends to hold water well. That can only help so much in a drought.

Irrigation from the river, Wissemann said, can’t be a primary source of water. To get hydration to one field, another has to go without. Building a larger system would be prohibitively expensive. Wissemann thinks his tenth-generation farm lost tens of thousands of dollars this year.

Help, or at least advice, is on the way, from soil and crop researchers like Masoud Hashemi at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On a hot summer morning, Hashemi, some students, and a few new farmers have just come back in to the barn from research fields in South Deerfield. The UMass farm is picturesque, laid out between a river road and towering Mt. Sugarloaf. In this dry season, it is surprisingly  green.

“We got a lot of farmers calling us, asking for some information about transitioning  to no-till,” Hashemi said, referring to a land practice of leaving fields unplowed, and planting crops on top of leftover vegetative matter from preceding crops. It’s a practice researchers at many agriculture schools in the United States are preaching, to prevent soil erosion. The unturned earth can take on the qualities of a sponge.

Even some states are pushing the practice. In Vermont, new mandates go into effect by the end of the year, meant to encourage no-till farming. While the state decision is more an attempt to keep fertilizers from leaching into lakes and rivers, no-till farming, Hashemi will tell you, is “sustainable farming.” By definition, it is the Hippocratic oath of farming: grow food for people and don’t cause environmental harm doing so. It is, Hashemi said, the future.

“How we manage the soil is the key the sustainability of farming, and it remains for generations to come,” Hashemi said.

Soil is something cattle farmer Bill Fosher is also thinking about. He grazes his animals at Edgefield Farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and also lived through this summer’s protracted dry spells, interrupted by heavy downpours. That’s “climate change” in the Northeast, Fosher said.

Fosher chose to sell some of his animals when he saw the way the season was going, so his bottom line is not as bad as some other nearby farmers. He said he knows farmers who wonder if this year’s drought will put them out of business. The fields don’t have enough forage with the lack of rain, and that’s causing farmers to dip into their feed-reserves.

“People are having to feed the hay that they were expecting to use this winter in order to get through the drought,” Fosher said.

Without rain, hay fields that usually yield two or three cuttings are yielding only one. Fosher said farmers will have to buy hay from farms in the Mid-Atlantic, if it’s available. It won’t be cheap to truck up.

Beyond this season’s drought, Fosher is among those pushing farmers to manage their land more proactively. For instance, don’t let animals graze fields down to the ground. Fosher said farmers need to rotate their animals between fields after a few days, and make sure to leave some growth on the land. Bare dirt isn’t good to see, Fosher said. It doesn’t hold water if rains do come.

These annual weather patterns aren’t going to change anytime soon and Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, sees many farmers already adapting to a new climate, but he said, it’s on an as-needed basis.

“You’ve got this apathy when times are good, and then you panic when you’re in the middle of a drought,” Svoboda said.

The satellite-activated U.S. Drought Monitor, which Svoboda monitors from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, is the go-to online map for farmers, tourism officials and governors alike, in the Northeast and beyond.

The satellites can detect if a drought is on its way. Cropland and pastures have their own drought signatures, Svoboda said. “And these satellites can see that even before the human eye can see it.”

Advance warning is good. So is thinking ahead, farmer Bill Fosher said. Farmers can’t just wait for the rain anymore. They need a plan. Is three months of reserve hay enough? Are farmers prepared to move their animals to find grass? It’s not going to be easy.

“Drought is a very demoralizing affliction for a farmer to face because — with drought — even if you did do everything just right, it still wouldn’t matter,” Fosher said, because all the processes farmers need to produce food start with water.

In general, large-scale irrigation in the East is not an option, like in the West, and some of the new farm management methods being encouraged by farm bureaus and educators are still considered kind of “out there.” But Fosher said he did hear that next spring, a few farmers near him may give no-till a try.

03.10.16 Would you like to increase the health and productivity of your land and animals?

An Introduction to Holistic Management with specific focus on Financial and Grazing Planning with Tony McQuail, and Rob Havard

Co-sponsored by Holistic Management International (HMI)Holistic management international

Three Parishes Hall, Grafton Flyford, Worcestershire, WR7 4PG - plus various holdings in the area

21st-23rd November, 2016

Would you like to increase the health and productivity of your land and animals?

As a farmer or land manager you know that one of your greatest assets is the land you work with, and managing that land can be tough due to weather conditions, environmental pressures and high input costs, and farming is still a business.  This course was designed to help you regenerate your land for better soil health, bio-diversity, productivity and profitability through the practice of Holistic Planned Grazing and Holistic Financial Planning.  We know that to create a sustainable, healthy agricultural enterprise, you need to run it like a business and we've created this course to give both new and experienced farmers and land managers the knowledge and tools they need to do just that.

Holistic Management is a farm planning and decision making process developed to help farmers and land managers achieve a triple bottom line of healthy land, people and profits. It has a full toolbox of planning resources to help farmers reach this goal. In this three day workshop we will be focusing on the Financial Planning and Planned Grazing systems and will highlight the key features of each which make them so effective.  This is an active hands-on course and by the end of the three days you will have completed a draft financial plan and grazing plan.

This is a participatory workshop. Registrants will be encouraged to bring questions and information about their own operation which they can use during the workshop to develop resources they can use when they return to their farm.

Tony McQuailTony McQuail is the workshop leader. He and his wife, Fran, have operated a mixed livestock farm since 1973 in the rolling hills of Huron County, Ontario, Canada inland from Lake Huron ( They are in the process of transitioning their farm to their younger daughter, Katrina.

McQuail credits the Holistic Management Course they took in 1995 as being transformative for their farm family and a major reason their daughter wants to return to the farm.

“The course helped us develop a farm that was profitable, enjoyable and improving ecologically. We were able to manage the farm so that it felt like the farm was working for us – not us slaving for the farm.”

McQuail is a founding member of the Ecological Farmer’s Association of Ontario which has been providing farmer to farmer education, farm tours and courses for over 35 years.

HMI will be issuing certificates to those who demonstrate competence in the material covered

Thanks to the support of HMI, we also have a limited bursary fund. The intention of these scholarships is dual purpose:

- To train those who would like to first learn and apply, and then share with others their Holistic Management experiences (perhaps by hosting a future training program) for the purpose of spreading the regenerative practice of Holistic Management.

- To allow spouses or partners of paying registrants to attend with their partner.

For those who both enroll before the Early Bird deadline (10th October) and fulfill the requirements for certification, HMI is additionally offering a free online‘Getting Started’ class - note that there will also be a new Cropping Planning module available in early 2017. 

The Course will include:

Financial planning

- Introduction to the key concepts and steps in financial planning.

- Planning for profit and paying yourself first.

- Using the enterprise weak link analysis to prioritize expenses to generate new wealth.

- Develop an appreciation for the power of “planning, monitoring, controlling and re-planning” as an approach which can keep a financial plan on track to meet a farm family’s larger goals.

Planned Grazing

- Introduction to the key concepts in Holistic Management Planned Grazing.

- Discussion of recovery periods and how to manage livestock to improve both pastures and livestock performance.

- Use of the Planned Grazing Chart and how to use the concept of Animal Units to evaluate pasture productivity and plan paddock utilization and moves.

Please bring: appropriate clothing for the weather (remember that we will be outside for a significant amount of time - a hat is no doubt a good idea); clean boots (think biohazards); notebook and pens; flask.

HM Tony McQuail

Fees (Booking Essential):

All fees include a £15 per day charge for full refreshments including lunch; we will do our best to cater for medical diets when given appropriate warning.

Early Bird Rate is applicable for bookings paid in full by 10th October.

Early Bird Rate (for independent individuals): £295

Standard Rate (for independent individuals): £345

Organisation/Institution/Business Rate (for representatives of larger organisations - those which will be taking their learning back to benefit a larger organisation, who are claiming the cost on the expenses of that organisation): £495 (or £395 Early Bird rate)

Fee includes a substantial lunch plus refreshments through the day; closer to the time we will evaluate whether it is feasible/desirable to have shared meals in the evening too (in which those who partake will be expected to help with the preparation and clear-up)

Booking: email Natasha or call 07866 674 205

28.09.16 Carbon reduction in Australia

So you might have guessed from the title, that I am in Australia for 3 weeks, for the first long trip of my Nuffield experience. I have been here for a few days now, and apart from still waking up ridiculously early due to jet lag, it has been pretty good so far.  Having spent the last few days in Sydney and now in Melbourne for a couple of days for meetings though, I am looking forward to seeing some countryside (I’m not really a city girl at heart). 

However while in Sydney I got the chance to go to meet with Irene Sobotta, who works for Meat and Livestock Australia on sustainability research.  She was also part of the team that developed the Farm 300 project (which initially inspired my Nuffield) so I was very pleased to be able to have a meeting and find out more about how the project was designed, and how it had been taken up by farmers.

The Farm 300 project

Funded by the Australian Government the key objective of this project was to improve knowledge and skills of Australian livestock producers leading to a 10% increase in on-farm productivity and profitability and a 30% decrease in GHG emissions intensity.  Those are quite big targets and especially given that the timescale for projects was a little over a year. 

What initially interested me about this project was the fact that instead of training the farmers, they were training the advisors, and then letting the advisors adapt that knowledge to local conditions that their farmers were facing.  The basic process of the project was to work with advisors and producers, and then find and support coaching programs developed  by advisors which are relevant to local needs and which increase profitability and decrease GHG emissions intensity. This is based on the research that there is no universally applicable list of mitigation practices; practices need to be evaluated for individual agricultural systems and settings. The advisors task was to interpret materials and the wider challenge of lowering emissions into regionally adapted programmes that can be used with producers at a local level. 

The project was very much focussed on business and really making the link between productivity and lower GHG emissions. This focus on business was necessary to get farmers interested in the process.  It was business that was the priority for the farmers, as such the environmental messages had to be communicated in such a way that they could be directly linked to the impact on profitability and productivity.

Farmers were given one to one coaching as well as the opportunity to benefit from farmer to farmer learning through peer discussion groups that were managed by advisors as well as the use of benchmarking to document impact.

The use of coaching

The reasons from the MLA for using coaching were simple.  “Livestock farming is complex,” Irene explained, “coaching has been proven to be an effective method of developing farmer skills and achieving practice change at a systems level, which is what we need.”

This continual learning allowed the farmers to build their skills and knowledge. The advisors became the farmer’s coaches, as in sport, helping them see what needed doing and giving them the skills to work out how to make it better.  , to practice and adapt depending on what works. This process is called supported learning.

The overall objective was to improve the farmer’s skill level. By taking small steps and gradually working through issues and by sharing experiences with other farmers there is an opportunity to gain inspiration as well as motivation to keep going. 

The benefits of benchmarking

Benchmarking is also a key part of the puzzle, understanding why things are the way they are and where things can change. The research MLA have done shows that the longer that the farmers are in a skills development programme the higher the return on capital becomes within the business.

The peer to peer element of the programme also allowed for a supportive environment in challenging environmental conditions.  “We’ve seen floods, droughts and wildfires during the program” Irene explained, “and these totally devastate farm businesses and livelihoods.  Having a supportive social environment created through the groups helped the farmers cope with what was happening.”


The GHG emissions intensity were calculated using models and it is this modelling approach which has helped to shape the next phase of the project.

The Farm 300 project has now finished and has been replaced with the Carbon Farming Initiative.  What’s exciting about this initiative is that there is now an approved methodology for beef (and soon to be sheep) producers to join in with the scheme and get payments for adopting certain management practices that have been shown to reduce emissions.  This is a great step forward.  I’m due to be meeting another person from MLA next week that makes all the models for calculating emissions reduction potential as well as leading on the methane reduction programme over here, so there will be more on this soon!


The project finished last year. However the methodology that MLA piloted in this project, was such a success, it is to be rolled out through the other research strands that are funded. The premise of the approach was putting the emphasis on continual learning, and teaching new skills through a combination of one to one advice on-farm, discussion with farming neighbours including benchmarking progress, and sharing ideas and knowledge.  

The project allowed the formation of discussion groups with the overarching subject of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the farmers in the groups set the topic that they wanted to focus on, thus investing their time and efforts into the scheme.  The advisors, who were trained on climate change, also got access to the latest research to disseminate to farmers, but needed to switch dissemination method from one of ‘telling’ to one of ‘showing.’ This recognition of the need to include farmers in generating solutions and equipping advisors with the most up to date knowledge about the subject so that they can suggest locally relevant mitigation measures and then facilitate rather than lead discussions should enable a longer legacy of these practices on-farm. 

28.09.16 Are farmers in the UK taking climate change seriously enough?

Source: Business Green

More than half of 2,000 farms in England surveyed by Defra do not consider greenhouse gas emissions in their decisions on crops, land and livestock.

Only 9% of respondents to Defra’s annual Farm Practices Survey 2016 covering larger holdings in England believed it was ‘very important’ to consider greenhouse gas emissions in their decision making, while just 39% thought it was fairly important.

In contrast, 43% said they did not attach importance to emissions in their decisions and 9% claimed their farms did not produce any greenhouse gas emissions whatsoever the survey revealed.

Furthermore, the results show a slight decline on the previous year’s survey in terms of the proportion of farmers attaching some importance to emissions, although there has been little overall change in farmer’s attitudes in recent years, with the 2016 results broadly similar to those in 2013 and 2014.

The survey was sent to approximately 6,000 farm holdings in England over a specified minimum size, from which Defra received responses from around 38% or around 2,280 farms.

The findings have prompted concern from environmental groups over a lack of awareness of climate change issues in the agricultural sector, an industry that is already struggling to deliver emissions reductions even as other sectors start to decarbonise. But Defra and the NFU say there has been significant progress on reducing emissions from the sector and they are working towards cutting them further.

According to the latest government statistics, total emissions from the UK agricultural sector have fallen since 1990 but there has been little change over the past decade. 

In 2014, emissions from sources such as livestock, agricultural soils, stationary combustion sources and off-road machinery were responsible for 9% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.

GHG reduction practices in farming

First published in May, the latest Farm Practices survey results were this week compiled in the seventh edition of Defra’s Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change report which brings together all emissions data from the sector collected since 1990.

The survey also reveals some of the practices undertaken by farmers towards reducing their emissions and highlights why some farmers may not be undertaking these practices. 

According to the findings, 57% of farmers were taking action to reduce emissions in 2016, which shows a slight decrease in the previous year’s figures. 

Of these, larger farms were more likely to be taking action on emissions (73%) than smaller farms (49%) while grazing livestock farms were less likely to be taking action than other farm types.

The most common action taken by farmers towards reducing emissions was recycling waste materials from their operations, followed by improving energy efficiency and improving nitrogen fertiliser application.

And, of those farmers taking such action, 85% considered it good practice to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with 65% citing the environment as a strong positive motivator for their actions. A slightly smaller number 55% were motivated to take such actions to improve profitability or to meet market demands. 

Behavioural change

According to the survey document, “behavioural change can be a long process” but it also stresses that “farmer attitude is not the only driver for adoption of mitigation processes” pointing to research suggesting understanding business sustainability and financial implications are also important drivers for changing farmer behaviour.

With better targeted and measured action, Defra estimates a reduction of around 10% in England’s agriculture emissions is possible by 2020 through improvements in production and management efficiency.

19.09.16 Caring for 'underground livestock' is key to Colorado Farmer's Success

This article below comes from the magazine No-Till Farmer and can be seen in full through clicking this link

It was written by Ron Nichols, from Natural Resources Conservation Service at the USDA. 

He’s 28-years-old, doesn’t own a single acre of land and farms using principles that are virtually unheard of in northeastern Colorado.

So why are landlords entrusting John Heermann with 1,600 acres of their land?

Heermann offers this explanation: “By improving their soil and improving the land that they own, I’m putting money in their pocket essentially by increasing the value of their land.” 

Despite the fact that his farming principles are unconventional for this part of the country, Heermann said landlords are increasingly realizing the value of improving the health of their soil. 

But Heermann, himself, only recently discovered the untapped potential of soil health. After he graduated from the University of Nebraska with an Ag Economics degree, he came back to the farm where he grew up and farmed with his father for another 5 years. During that time, he started attending workshops and learning from other farmers like soil health advocate Gabe Brown. 

What he witnessed at one of those workshops, presented by the NRCS, completely transformed his farming philosophy.

“Watching the NRCS rainfall simulator in action is what turned me 180 degrees,” he says. “Seeing how water would not infiltrate in a conventionally tilled or even a no-till soil with no ground cover was eye-opening. In my area where we get 17 inches of average rainfall, water is one of the most limiting factors. So if I can do anything with my farming practices to capture more moisture or utilize that moisture more efficiently, ultimately I will have better yields and a better bottom line.”

Now farming on his own, Heermann is using an approach that’s completely rooted in improving soil health.

“We have been trying to farm growing things in ‘dirt’ and I think we need to change that attitude and look at the soil as what it is — a living ecosystem,” he says. “If you don’t have anything growing out there, you’re not feeding your soil biology.”

To more fully enable that soil biology, Heermann has transitioned to no-till plus diverse cover crops and rotations, which keeps living roots in the soil year-round, feeding the microbes that feed his plants.

“Every farmer has livestock,” Heermann says. “It’s just some of us might not have livestock with four legs. We all have livestock underground. But if you’re not growing anything on your fields, then you are not feeding your livestock a diverse diet. That is where cover crops come into play.”

By using cover crops, Heermann has also been able to improve soil aggregation and structure to capture and retain more of the precious precipitation falling throughout the year.

“By improving soil structure, I can actually use the precipitation that falls,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what your precipitation average is, or your total is, if half of that runs off and is in the corner of your field, or in the ditch.”

The resulting improvement in water infiltration has resulted in an immediate pay-off for both Heermann and his landlords.

“Before the landlords were only seeing a crop once every 2 years, whereas through this continuous system, they are getting a crop off all their acres every year, so there is a bump of income as well,” Heermann explains.

But farming using no-till, cover crops and diverse cropping rotations in a 17-inch precipitation zone is not without its challenges and its risks, so Heermann is continuously educating his landlords about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

“Some of my landlords live off the farm and others never lived on the farm, but they are really open to the idea [of improving soil health],” he says. “For all of them, I just try to educate them and give them tidbits on what I’m doing and why it’s important.”

Another key point Heermann tries to convey to his landlords, is the notion that soil health restoration takes time.

“One of the biggest things I try and tell them is to be patient. I’m still kind of in the transitioning phase and I’ve had some setbacks and things that haven’t gone my way, but I think in the next 2-3 years, my landlords will really start to see a change.”

To help ensure that longer-term success, Heermann has 5-year leases with his landlords.

“I have to invest a lot of upfront money and time to figure out how to do this out here, so the 5-year lease provides some certainty,” he says. “But as I figure things out, I think the results will speak for themselves.”

Heermann’s focus on soil health has not only changed his farming system, but it has also fundamentally changed his business model — to one that values efficiency over size.

“When I first came back I thought the only way I could be a viable producer was to acquire more acres. But now I think it has more to do with utilizing what you have more efficiently,” he says. “If I can intensely manage what I have now, and start reducing my input costs and start turning my ‘dirt’ back into soil I think we can do a lot more with a lot fewer acres.”

While his soil health management efforts make good business sense, the young farmer is also harvesting another benefit that you won’t find in his financial ledger: An appreciation for the abundant and continuous life in his fields.

“For me it is just fun to drive by my fields and see something growing out there,” Heermann said. “Growing these cover crops and seeing things start to change, seeing wildlife and animals and seeing the soil structure start to change, that’s just fun for me.”

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