Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit

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18.12.14 New report on the effect of feeding regime on GHG emissions in dairy cattle

Dairy farming is responsible for a significant release of GHGs from various aspects along the production process. Globally the dairy sector contributes 4% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Most of these emissions are from the biological processes that underpin the daily rhythms of the cow, such as feeding and dunging and are inherent in the production of milk. However, as with most complex biological processes, there are a range of factors that influence the scale of these emissions and many of them are open to management changes and improvements.

The most significant emission is from 'enteric fermentation' from the cows themselves as the micro-flora in their rumens breakdown the forage, with the subsequent release of methane (CH4) which is then emitted out by the cow. If the dairy industry is to meet the growing global demand for dairy products, ways to minimise greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product will become increasingly important.

New research

Improving milk production through livestock feeding and genetics, has been advocated as a promising approach for reducing GHG emissions from dairy production systems. This recently has been investigated in a study published in Livestock Science from the Scottish Rural University College. The study investigated the emissions intensity output of high producing dairy systems. It compared the results for cattle fed a high forage and low forage diet, and within each group compared cattle with high genetic merit (top 5% of UK genetics for milk fat and protein) with control animals. Data was analysed using Life Cycle Analysis to evaluate the effects of the rations on the whole emissions picture from the farm (so including effect on emissions from manure, fuel used to grow the crops for the diets and nitrous oxide emissions from soil).

What they did

Animals were placed into two feeding groups, high forage and low forage. The high forage group were fed a TMR ration, of which 75% was made up from home grown forage crops, and the remainder from concentrates (that were bought in). The high forage group were also grazed outside on ryegrass when conditions allowed (through March to November).

Animals in the low forage group were fully housed all year round and fed a TMR ration which was made up with 45% forage and 55% purchased concentrate feeds.

Within each forage group, there were two contrasting sets of animals in terms of genetics. Control animals were bred to be of average genetic merit for milk fat and protein production, and select animals represented the top 5% of UK genetic merit.

What they found out

This was a long term experiment that looked at emissions from the whole farm system. There was huge amounts of data that was all crunched together by some very clever people and the main results are below.

If you want to read the full paper (and fully digest the stats!) then follow this link.

The most GHG efficient system was defined as having the lowest emissions intensity per unit of product. The low forage diet with the selected genetic merit cattle was the most GHG efficient system. The high forage diet control cows had the highest emissions intensity. Looking at the split between the three most greenhouse gases, methane contributed the highest to the overall GWP (global warming potential), comprising 51-52% of the total, and on-farm CO₂ emissions making the lowest contribution in all systems.

What does this mean?

This research then suggests that there is potential to reduce the GWP per unit of milk yield of a typical conventional dairy system by up to 24%. By improving the genetic merit on its own, a reduction of 9% could be possible. Genetic improvements obviously take time through breeding and could realistically take several years to return results. Long term results from this study however found that the higher genetic merit delivered an 18% increase in milk yield and contributed significantly to lowering overall emissions intensity.

When looking at dietary strategies, the results suggest that switching to the low forage regime holds potential to reduce GWP by up to 16% per unit of milk production.

The results in this study agree with the findings of previous studies who found that improving milk yield of the herd would significantly reduce enteric methane emissions and overall emissions per unit of milk. Furthermore results of this study confirm that implementing a low forage regime reduced the GWP per kg of milk production irrespective of the cow’s genetic merit. It is important to remember however that when looking at the whole farm system, the low forage regime is much more sensitive to the by-products market than home grown forages.

For more information on strategies to reduce methane emissions from cattle, please visit the dairy section of the Toolkit.

Source: Ross, S.A et al., Effect of cattle genotype and feeding regime on greenhouse gas emissions intensity in high producting dairy cows. Livestock Science (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2014.09.011 

9.12.14 Theme of the month: Livestock Diets

With the festive season upon us, and with us all turning our attention to the meals that we will be having towards the end of the month, here at FCCT we thought that we would focus on livestock diets and the effect that diets have on greenhouse gas emissions.

Animal production is a significant source of GHG emissions both in the UK and worldwide.  The main processes that contribute to direct non-C02 greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are enteric fermentation and manure decomposition.  These processes are the largest sources of methane and nitrous oxide from any animal production system.

Enteric fermentation

So how does it work?  Ruminants digest fibrous plant materials by fermenting them in their rumen (which contains a complete mix of microbes).  In this mix of microbes are methanogens, which produce methane as a by-product expelled in the breath when the animal burps.  Monogastric animals such as pigs and poultry produce much less methane than ruminants.  Methane production captures the hydrogen produced during fermentation.  There are however competing fermentation pathways in the rumen that do not produce methane.  There are a variety of dietary and other possible approaches to promote alternative fermentation pathways to reduce methane emissions.

Quantifying the emissions

There are various figures quoted as to the amount of methane emitted due to enteric fermentation, and the range is somewhere between 12,800 - 17,600 MTCO2e of methane annually in the UK.

Improved feed formulation

Methane production in the rumen is driven by the content of the food supply.  Fermentation with higher proprionate concentrations in the rumen have been widely associated with lower levels of final methane emissions.  There are a variety of nutritional management strategies to bring about reductions in enteric methane that have been suggested and these will be discussed in more detail.

Dietary strategies to reduce emissions

There are various strategies advocated to reduce methane emissions which will be discussed this month.  They include:

  • high protein
  • high sugar
  • high quality forage
  • high starch
  • oils and fats
  • supplements

Final thoughts

It has been suggested that ruminant livestock production and consumption makes a large contribution to GHG emissions, which can be attributable to food production.  It is important to remember however that ruminant livestock play an important role in global food security as they can convert the ligno-cellulosic and non protein nitrogen compounds found widely in plants, but indigestible to all monogastric animals including man, into high value protein for human consumption.  Future ruminant agriculture will need to capitalise on this important benefit.  Ruminant agriculture therefore has a key role to play in maintaining and enhancing the provision of quality proteins and essential micronutrients in man's diet, provided that the challenge of reducing GHG emissions and methane in particular can be successfully addressed.


08.12.12 Assessing farm woodland and hedges for woodfuel

Until now there has been no simple way of assessing the potential of small woodlands and hedges on the farm to deliver sustainable biomass for energy. However recent cross channel co-operation with areas of northern France has enabled the Cordiale Project to develop a new toolkit. In parts of Brittany and Normandy hedges are now coppiced and the resulting timber is chipped to provide fuel for domestic, and district heating schemes.  At present in the UK hedge trimmings are simply allowed to rot, representing a wasted resource that could replace fossil fuel use on the farm.

A toolkit to assess the sustainable harvest from farm hedges and woodlands has now been evolved, based on the French model, in collaboration with the Silvanus Trust and Devon Hedge Group. The methodology is now being further tested on a variety of farms in Devon and Cornwall and further afield. Hedges and woodlands are surveyed and the data entered into spread sheets that then generate the potential output in terms of biomass, energy and financial value.

The work is being co-ordinated through the Tamar Valley AONB who managed the woodfuel element of the Cordiale Project under an Interreg Programme. For more information and to try out the toolkit on your farm please contact Corinna Woodall at the AONB office on 01822 835037 or email on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Wood Fuel from Hedges

If you would like some more information on how to manage hedges for woodfuel, the book described below has been recently produced.

How to manage and crop hedges in south-west England for fuel by Robert Wolton

This A4 illustrated handbook is packed with up-to-date, clearly worded technical information on how to manage hedges for wood fuel. It includes legal advice, facts about yields, fuel types, efficient woodchip production, cropping regimes, production costs, environmental benefits, planting new hedges and much more. Managing hedges for wood fuel will help ensure that our distinctive hedge networks will survive and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as farm and domestic heating costs. Focused on south-west England, information is based on recent research in Devon and Cornwall and considerable experience from Normandy and Brittany.

Published 2014 by Tamar Valley AONB, the Devon Hedge Group and Devon County Council, price £5.00 plus £1.25 available from the Tamar Valley Centre, or send cheques made payable to Cornwall Council. For card payment, tel 01822/835030 Website www.tamarvalley.org.uk

ISBN 978-1-83785-042-3, 21pp, paperback, full colour

21.11.14 Farm Power - Putting Agriculture on the grid

The Farm Power Coalition, an organisation made up of a growing number of farming bodies, businesses and NGOs has released a report today detailing their vision for Farm Power in 2020.  

The vision highlights how UK farms and rural communities will be making a significant contribution to a resilient, low-carbon energy system by 2020.

The report shows that there is at least 10GW of untapped resources across UK farms, equivalent to more than three times the installed capacity of the proposed new nuclear power plant at Hinckley Point C and a significant increase on current levels.  But despite various efforts to help farmers negotiate the energy landscape farmers are not yet fulfilling their potential as significant players in our energy system.

The vision is displayed below. To read the full report please click here.

Farm Power's Vision for 2020

By 2020, UK farms and rural communities will be making a significant contribution to a resilient low-carbon energy system.

We believe that:

♦  Despite the pioneering efforts of some, the considerable potential of farms and rural communities to contribute to the energy system remains largely untapped;

♦  The potential can be realised in a manner that enhances food production  and a variety of other societal goals including:

 the provision of essential ecosystem services, such as improved carbon,                                                       biodiversity, water and land management; and

 job creation and rural economic development;

♦ These broader goals - and the potential for energy investments to support them - must be explicitly factored into decision making around the UK's energy future (yet are currently largely ignored);

♦ The income provided by energy production will increase the economic resilience of farms and thus the UK food system

♦ Farm-based energy provides an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between farmers and their communities through mechanisms such as shared ownership and jointly-constructed community energy plans;

♦ Investment in sustainable farm-based energy is a means to kick-start the inevitable transition to a smart, dynamic and increasingly decentralised energy system.

To achieve this the Farm Power Coalition will:

♦ Help farmers make informed choices about the best technologies and options for their businesses

♦ Work with Government and business to:

 Break down the barriers that are stifling investment in sustainable farm-based                           energy

 Put in place a supportive regulatory, planning and financial environment

◊Ensure that energy assets are located appropriately, and are designed to maximise                     co-benefits;

♦ Strive to create markets for sustainable farm-based energy, both within local communities, and along the corporate agricultural supply chain (and beyond)

♦ Work to ensure that farms and rural communities have easy, fair and affordable access to the grid.


24.11.14 On-farm renewable fuels

Mike Woollacott, Greenwatt Technology

Transport is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Around a quarter of domestic carbon and other GHG emissions in the UK come from transport. Current studies on the links between transport and the environment are almost entirely focussed on urban systems and neglect to look at the environmental, social and economic transport issues and opportunities from a rural perspective.

With an increasing demand for food provenance and quality, UK farming is set to maintain it’s primary role and importance of feeding the nation. However what is also evident is that the industry can make a significant contribution to the UK renewable energy supply whether in the form of electricity, heat or transport fuel.

Emissions from Agricultural transport

British Agriculture represents around 8% of all UK transport GHG emissions, coming from on and off-road transport and other fossil fuel driven machinery.  The UK farming sector will be expected to implement changes to mitigate against environmental pollution, as well as taking positive actions to reduce the energy and fuel costs incurred in livestock and arable enterprises. In mitigation, farms have the potential to be a significant source of renewable energy generation and sustainable transport fuel production. The prospect of running farm, commercial (HGV) and passenger vehicles on renewable electricity, on biomethane (AD biogas upgrading), on biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol), from biomass processes (gasification, pyrolysis) and from hydrogen could have a direct impact upon the farm and rural economy as well as the environment.

To understand the key issues for more sustainable low emissions farm and rural transport and to stimulate the application of low carbon transport technologies and fuels on-farms and rural businesses, the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) commissioned the study “Refuelling the Countryside.” The aim of the study was to investigate the potential for innovative, low carbon transport technologies and fuels on-farm which could reduce farm transport fuel costs, lower the carbon footprint of agriculture and meet the transport needs of rural businesses and communities. The report was prepared by farm energy and renewable transport consultants Greenwatt Technology.

The report draws on national and international research, interview and case studies, and identifies activities already underway as well as reviewing a range of new energy and fuel technologies which will provide opportunities for farming communities who are open to investing in these innovations.

The study shows that there is a clear lack of field performance data relating to renewable transport fuels on-farm, which means that there is little evidence to demonstrate the real economic and environmental benefits of a shift away from high emission fossil fuels. Such technology developments could offer significant cost savings whilst reducing the carbon footprint of British agriculture.

Future innovations

Diesel has been the fuel of choice of farmers for many years and a shift to alternative more sustainable fuel sources will be neither easy nor straightforward. The study analysed a number of likely farm energy scenarios for the future and the main drivers of change that would influence each one. These scenarios highlight the relevance and impact that low carbon fuels can make for farming, the rural communities where they are located and the wider population they can both feed and fuel.

The electric farm of the future

Many farmers already produce renewable energy (RE), from solar panels, wind turbines or AD plants through CHP units. In the electric farm of the future we will see not only an increase in the amount of RE produced on-farms but also a greater focus on how that electricity is used, stored or sold. This will encourage storage solutions such as hydrogen.
Click here to enlarge image

The biogas farm of the future

Biogas generated from an AD plant has three potential uses:

♦ To power a CHP unit – with the electricity used on site or exported to the grid and the heat used on-farm or distributed to local users via district heating schemes

♦ To be upgraded to biomethane and injected
Click here to enlarge image                                   directly into the national gas grid (assuming the                                                                                                farm is close to a gas grid pipeline

♦ To be upgraded to biomethane for use as a renewable transport fuel. Biogas (biomethane)( fuelled tractors are already in operation in Germany, Scandinavia and the USA. Other farm vehicles could benefit through conversion to biomethane / CNG. With legislation in place, on-farm biomethane could service local collection / delivery transporters (like milk tankers) as well as local delivery vehicles.

The hydrogen farm of the future

Storage of renewable power will receive increasing attention from research and development programmes in the future. With most of the on-farm renewables being dependent on natural patterns or variable weather conditions, and national grid demand for electrical power fluctuating at peak times, hydrogen provides a likely RE storage solution.
Click here to enlarge image


In the future wind and solar energy will be used to power an electrolyser which splits water generating hydrogen and oxygen and stored in secure tanks. This stored hydrogen can then be used for fuel cell powered vehicles for farm transport needs, or converted back to electricity.

Hydrogen will lead to more autonomous farm vehicles (tractors of the future) powered by fuel cells and being used across the farm for arable cultivations and livestock operations.

Recommendations for policy makers

The report also introduces a number of policy recommendations, such as the creation of a Rural Green Energy Task force that could implement strategy, build upon local initiatives and co-ordinate inputs and engagement of rural businesses, community groups, representatives of land based organisations and other stakeholders.

Building upon the innovative reputation of British Farming, the UK could become a global example of a successful transition to a low carbon agricultural economy. Technological development will be driven by several factors – the need to farm more efficiently and sustainably, the importance of reducing soil compaction, the improvements needed to maintain farm productivity and improve farm income and the need to control and reduce the economic and environmental costs of farm transport and GHG emissions.

To read the full report, including lots of examples and case studies of farmers and rural communities already implementing some of this technology please click here.

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