Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


17.04.14 Theme of the month: Fertilisers and Fertility

So its time for the monthly to change again here at FCCT.  Last month we were concentrating on tillage, it's effects on emissions and how to reduce fuel use and environmental impacts through changing management practices.  This month with the arrival of Easter we are going to be concentrating on fertilisers and fertility building.  Over the next few weeks, we will have guest articles from fertiliser manufacturers on the methods that they are having to take to reduce the carbon footprint of fertiliser production, as well as taking a look at some of the new innovations that are out in the market to help farmers reduce emissions from fertiliser applications (including nitrification inhibitors).

We will also be looking at how to build fertility in your soil and reduce reliance on artificial nitrogen, through maximising the use of clover and legumes within rotations, and explore some practical examples of how farmers are using these plants to grow profitable crops.

For anyone who missed it, we uploaded a blog a couple of weeks ago looking at the issues and emissions from using Nitrogen fertiliser and practical measures that you can use to reduce losses (and costs) when you are out in the field.  Read the blog here.

For more information on the issues surrounding fertilisers and their application, why not read the cropping section of the Toolkit, which has lots of useful info and advice on what you can do on your farm.  As ever, we are always on the lookout for farmers who are doing something different to share their experiences, so if you are looking at reducing emissions or just have a comment, get in touch!

09.04.2014 Resources from soil carbon masterclass

Last month we held our Soil Carbon Masterclass. For those of you that couldn't make it, we've got loads of resources from the event for you to look at:

  • Speakers presentations
  • Photos
  • Write up
  • Interviews with three of the presenters

We hope it's useful! Please see it all here:

16.4.14 Farmer case studies

Following on from the blogs over the last few weeks on different tillage options and fuel saving strategies, here at FCCT we thought it would be a good idea to highlight some case studies of farmers achieving savings on-farm. Below are a selection of case studies on farmers who are implementing management changes to drive efficiencies, reduce emissions and maintain profitability.  Click on the pictures to access the case studies in more detail.

John Lewis – adjusting tyre size and pressure to reduce fuel use

In tests run by Efficient 20 farmer John Lewis, fuel consumption was cut by 5% through correct tyre inflation and a staggering 30% reduction in fuel use was seen through selecting a larger tyre size.

Ed Lea – Sandfields Farm, Warwickshire

This case study from the Efficient 20 project and featured in Farmers Weekly documents the effects of adopting eco driving measures, altering tyre pressures and using ballasting to save fuel. Adjusting tyre pressures saved 22% of fuel which converted to 40 litres per day.

Andrew Bult –Precision farming and soil management

This case study from the SWARM hub focuses on Andrew Bult, an arable farmer near Taunton who uses precision farming to help get the most out of his soil and manage large fields, and uses controlled traffic farming to minimise compaction and maximise crop production.

East Hedred Estate, Saving resources and money using Controlled Traffic Farming

Farm manager Julian Gold has adopted CTF and minimum tillage to reduce emissions and save fuel.

James Barbour, Farming Futures

Norfolk based farmer James Barbour uses a unique wide span system combined with controlled traffic farming. James has reduced the levels of compaction in his heavy clay soil but also has saved fuel and labour costs.

So if reading about these farmer experiences has got you inspired about taking action on our farm, we would love to hear from you! We are always looking for more farmers who would be up for doing a case study to feature on the FCCT website. Get in touch here

03.04.14 Fuel Use strategies - driving efficiency

With the economic and environmental problems concerning the dependence of our society on petroleum products, comes and increasing pressure on agricultural viability and for very good reasons: fuel use in farming machinery represents more than a third of the energy consumed in agriculture and fuel costs represent about 40% of total costs of tractor inputs (Efficient 20, 2013).

Reducing costs and emissions

Alongside the cost implications of fuel use, there are associated environmental impacts with greenhouse gas emissions from the fuel consumed on-farm. Fuels including diesel and LPG are derived from fossil fuels and as such when they are burnt they release stored up carbon in the form of CO₂ gas. The SRUC have documented that each litre of diesel that is burned will results in emissions of about 2.6kg of CO₂ to the atmosphere. Compared to other sources of emissions from farms this is quite small, but with rising costs savings can be made to the bottom line as well as long term sustainability.

The Efficient 20 project was a Europe wide funded initiative to help farmers and foresters to reduce their fuel usage by 20%. Although this project is now finished, it produced lots of great resources and found that this 20% saving was achieved quite easily and with minimal costs and bother to the farmers.

Ways to improve fuel efficiency

The first step to improving your fuel efficiency is to know how much diesel you are currently using for each type of farming activity. Once you have made some precise measurements you will be able to monitor the effect of changing the way that you work. Below are some options to consider that have all been proven through on-farm experiments done by the Efficient 20 project to save fuel. For more information on these results please check out their website. There is also a section where you can see what the average fuel consumption is for all different types of cultivation so that you have a comparison to what you are using on-farm.

Method of cultivation

It’s not rocket science, if you direct drill your fields you will use less diesel than if you do a complete plough and reseed. Diesel consumption for different crops amounts to 60 – 120 litres / ha depending on the labour intensity (for example how you prepare and drill the field). Changing onto a min till system will definitely save on fuel, however it is not suitable for every farm and soil type. If the use of a min till system is a step too far, consider how you might combine operations across a field and consider whether what you are doing is completely necessary. Direct sowing only needs 11% of the fuel needed for conventional ploughing.

Tyre pressures

The choice of inflation pressure has a massive impact on the fuel consumption of the tractor. Being aware of tyre pressures and adjusting them depending on task and field conditions will save you fuel and may also help avoid compaction (which will then require correction. A trial with farmers in Belgium confirmed this. Farmers were drilling crops and found that by adjusting the tyres to suit the field conditions 10% of fuel was saved. In addition to this they noticed a reduction in wheel slip and a 3.5% increase in hourly output.

Adjustment of cultivation depth

By slightly reducing working depth and working speed savings of up to 30% can be achieved. A French fuel consumption test was run looking at the effect of depth on stubble ploughing and tillage under dry conditions. Results showed:

  • Being 5cm deeper meant 46% more fuel consumption
  • Minus 0.6 bar on tyre pressure allows savings of 2 litres per ha
  • Driving 4 km/hr faster meant 14% more fuel consumption

Avoid soil compaction

Compaction increases required power and also the fuel consumption. On average fuel consumed per hectare rises from 13.2 – 15.3 litres per hectare when the soil is compacted.

Maintenance of equipment

Only through careful maintenance can you be sure that the energy needed to power the tractor is being removed effectively. Regular maintenance of tyres, oil coolers, fuel filters, fuel and hydraulic pipes, and oil filters and ensuring that implements are regularly maintained and properly fitted can increase efficiency of fuel use. If tractors and implements are not regularly maintained there can be a 5 – 10% loss of fuel efficiency.

Driver speed and Eco driving techniques

Field travel speed is a major factor in matching the right tractor to the right implement. For many field operations the optimal travel speed is 5-7 miles per hour as most implements are designed to perform high quality work at these speeds. Eco driving techniques cover being able to get the most power from a tractor whilst using the least fuel, and include driving at the most efficient rpm, adjusting tyre pressures and using ballast to reduce wheel slip. A test by Efficient 20 in France looked at fuel consumption in loading manure. On the same day farmers loaded the manure in the morning, then listened to the presentation about eco driving techniques, and then repeated the same task in the afternoon. A 43% fuel saving was found for the afternoon session, to load the same quantity of manure in the same time.

Is it worth the effort?

The greatest incentive is the almost certain reduction in costs that will be experienced through applying simple fuel efficiency measures. With an annual fuel consumption of 20,000 litres per year, a 20% reduction would save over £2,500 per year (2014 prices). With fuel prices likely to continue to rise, lowering fuel consumption is an effective way of preventing escalating input costs from eroding farm profit.

1/4/14 IPCC report what it means for farmers and growers

Yesterday, (31st March) an international group of climate scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which explains how climate change will affect the world and what we will need to do to adapt to it.

The new report which was released yesterday explains how climate change is already contributing to the problems we are facing including the issues of flooding, food supply and species migration and extinction.  It details that the effects of climate change will be severe and irreversible, and its impacts will be far reaching.

However it is not all doom and gloom.  If we are proactive and take adaptive action now, we can affect the risks of climate change throughout the 21st century and the degree to which our farm businesses feel the effects.

The report sets out the issues and adaptive options for a wide range of ecosystems and industries including agriculture and food production.  The main risks for agriculture moving forward are summarised below.

Impacts of climate change on food production the key facts

Background and the current situation

The impacts of climate change on food systems are expected to be widespread, complex, geographically and temporally variable and will be influenced by socio economic conditions.  Despite this, efforts to increase food production are increasingly important as 60% more food will be needed by 2050.

The effects of climate change on crop and food production are evident in several areas of the world

Over the last few years, globally we have experienced several periods of rapid food and cereal price rises following extreme weather events in key producing regions.  This shows how sensitive our current markets are to climate extremes.

Negative yield impacts are forecast for all crops past 3˚C of local warming without adaptation

There is scientific evidence that changes in CO₂ levels and ozone levels in the atmosphere have differing effects on cropping systems, including some beneficial effects.  More work is needed into the specifics of differing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and ozone, but the consensus is, that if the climate warms by 3 degrees, then the impacts will be negative and impact on yields.

Changes in climate and CO₂ concentration will enhance the distribution and increase the competitiveness of invasive weeds

Evidence is pointing towards the fact that the geographical ranges of pests and diseases will be increased, meaning that farmers will have to adapt to more threats from agronomic weeds, pests and diseases.  This is also happening at the same time that the environmental impact of chemical use is being explored, and in the future, we may have less options available to use as part of a control strategy.

All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change including food access, utilisation and price stability

The extreme weather conditions and the increase in temperature will increase the variability of crop yields in many regions.  Without adaptation, local temperature increases in excess of about 1˚C above is projected to have negative effects on yields for the major crops in tropical and temperate regions.

Changes in temperature and rainfall without considering the effects of CO₂ will contribute to increased global food prices by 2050 with estimated increases ranging from 3 – 84%.

This highlights the need for us as farmers to ensure that our production systems so that they are as resilient as possible, and we are insulated against external price rises.  The benefits in yield terms of adapting crop management is equivalent to a 15-18%.

Adaptation in livestock production will be strengthened by adoption of multi – led adaptive strategies to minimise negative impacts

There are a range of methods that livestock producers can use to help adapt to climate change, including using breeds of livestock that are better adapted to the climate and matching stocking rates with pasture production.  There is also the issue of increased pests and disease pressures.  For example climate change facilitated the rapid spread of bluetongue virus into Europe.  Ticks that carry zoonotic diseases have also likely changed distribution as a consequence of past climatic trends.

A range of potential adaptation options exist across all food systems activities, not just in food production but also innovations in food processing, packaging, transport, storage and trade are insufficiently researched.

Farmers and researchers are therefore at the forefront of finding new and innovative ways of adapting to the effects of climate change.  As food producers we are on the front line of adapting to the extreme weather events and trying to find ways of making our businesses more resilient and sustainable.  We may well be forging ahead of the current research as it is the practical application that is our reality every day.

Potential adaptation methods that the report advocates moving forward

The main recommendation is that we need to look at embedding these adaptive tecniques in wider farm systems. The FCCT Toolkit provides more detail on some of these methods.

Cropping systems

  • Flexibility in planting dates and varieties according to seasonal conditions
  • Breeding drought tolerant crops
  • Improving cultivar tolerance to high temperatures
  • Improved water use efficiency
  • Diversification of cropping

Livestock systems

  • Matching stocking rates with pasture production
  • Adjusting water management
  • Managing diet quality (considering the use of legumes, forage quality and pasture fertility management)
  • More effective use of silage
  • More suitable breeds
  • Biosecurity issue and monitoring of pests and disease incidences

To read the report please click here

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