Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit

News

08.02.16 Human influence on climate in the 2014 southern England winter floods

This information comes from a recently published study in the journal Nature Climate Change.  To read the full article click here.

Storms which took place over southern England in 2013 / 14 caused severe floods and serious consequences for infrastructure and livelihoods. 18,700 flood insurance claims were reported leading to £451 million insured losses in southern England. Whether man made climate change contributed to the event was very much discussed at the time, with Prime Minister David Cameron quoted as saying to Parliament that “I very much suspect it is.”

This study used a range of models and observations and used ‘citizen science’ to model a large number of weather simulations under different climatic conditions as might have been with or without human influence on conditions.

In a large ensemble of climate model simulations, the study finds that as well as increasing the amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold, anthropogenic warming caused a small but significant increase in the number of January days with westerly flow, both of which increased extreme precipitation.

Flood risk mapping showed a small increase in properties in the Thames catchment potentially at risk of riverine flooding, with a substantial range of uncertainty, demonstrating the importance of explicit modelling of impacts and relatively subtle changes in weather related risks when quantifying present-day effects of human influence on climate.

 

08.02.16 Increasing sustainability credentials on Irish beef farms, new report released

Figures from the Bord Bia Sustainability Report 2015 show that, on the average suckler beef farm, increasing the calving rate from 80% to 92% would potentially reduce the carbon footprint by 10% and increase the financial performance of the farm by 2,300 Euros per year.

Alternatively the figures state that a number of small adjustments, such as increasing the length of the grazing season by 18 days to 263 days; reducing age at first calving by two months; increasing calving rate to 85%; lifting lifetime average daily weight gain by 50g/day and changing the proportion of slurry spread in the spring from 50% to 70% would also amount to this improved financial gain.

Launched in June 2012, Origin Green is the world's first sustainability programme for a country's entire food and drink sector. Since Origin Green was established, more than 55,000 Irish Farms and 122 food and drink companies have become fully verified members of the programme. These farms account for 90% of Ireland's beef production and half of its milk output, while the companies are responsible for 85% of the country's food and drink exports.

A feature of Origin Green is the practice that all participating farms be audited and carbon foot printed once every 18 months. Since its launch, almost 90,000 carbon assessments have been carried out on Irish farms.

The Bord Bia report indicates total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could be reduced by 6% or by 1m tonnes if the lower-performing beef and dairy farms were brought back in line with the national average. Ireland's dairy herd already enjoys the joint - lowest footprint in the European Union, while its beef herd ranks at number five.

Under Origin Green, food and drink companies are required to create three to five year sustainability development plans in which targets are set in areas such as raw material sourcing, energy usage and emissions, water and waste management and social sustainability such as producing healthier foods and investing in their communities.

Source: Farming Futures

25.02.16 Flood related soil erosion, the impact of farming practices

How can land management can affect surface runoff volumes, and whether, in some circumstances, better soil management can help reduce flooding risk.

Recent extreme rainfall events in parts of the UK had devastating impacts on rural areas in parts of North Wales, Northern England and Scotland. Severe flooding led to damage to transport routes, collapse of infrastructure (including bridges, walls and buildings), accelerated soil erosion and loss of livestock.

The way soil and land are managed can influence water movement and some farming practices may have contributed to increasing surface runoff and the speed with which flow increases in ditches, streams and rivers.

David Harris, an ADAS consultant in this area explains that “soil compaction on arable land has been a concern for some time and changes in soil management practices may help reduce its impact on production and the environment. Recently, it has become apparent that many grassland soils are in moderate or poor condition, and this may be due to increases in the size of machinery in recent decades, the extent of tracking, treading by livestock and the greater area that larger farmers need to manage in often narrow ‘windows’ of good weather.”

Recent work involving ADAS has looked at tyre choice and management, tramline management and removing compaction in grassland.

“We have been able to increase water infiltration in grassland where topsoil structure has been degraded using techniques such as mechanical loosening, and on arable land to reduce surface runoff by over 90% by methods such as tramline disruption” says David.

Although there is much talk of the damage caused by surface runoff it is not always easy to see what the problem is or to relate it to your own farm. When high intensity or persistent rain falls on bare soil and/or compacted ground, the nutrients and sediment in surface runoff and the organic loading from recently applied organic materials can have significant impacts on the ecology of rivers and lakes.

“For the farmer, the losses of soil and nutrients may seem minor” David explains, “however, recent work from the ‘Demonstration Test Catchment’ (DTC) project (Defra) has indicated that soil and nutrient losses can be worth around £100 per hectare for a typical dairy farm. Furthermore, surface runoff can also result in the loss of soil organic matter, making soils more difficult to manage and less resistant and resilient to further damage from compaction and erosion”.

Soil losses from a field are not necessarily apparent when the erosion is in the form of a sheet of water moving across the soil surface (i.e. ‘sheet wash’). This is particularly the case in grassland. Nevertheless, losses from sheet wash over a number of hectares can still be significant. Rill erosion in the form of small channels is more common in arable soils and for a farmer may be no more than a minor embarrassment that is easily rectified through cultivation at the end of the season, but a number of small rills can add up to large volumes of transported soil.

“Recent work in the DTC project has shown that soil losses from grassland can be as high as 1.3t/ha and from arable crops up to 30t/ha. Whilst this may not look too disastrous spread over a whole field, it would look far worse if focused as gully erosion in a confined area” explains David.

In grassland, surface compaction can reduce infiltration of rain water and the proliferation of roots through the topsoil and into the subsoil. In winter such soil compaction can result in prolonged waterlogging, while in a dry summer reduced rooting depth and proliferation can result in the earlier onset of drought. Both situations can impact the yield from more productive grass varieties and can over time can also favour the survival and persistence of less productive grassland plant species.

If you have been affected by the recent flooding, or have concerns about flood risk on your farm, talk to an ADAS adviser to understand more on the practices to build resilience and reduce the likelihood of your land being affected in the future. David Harris can be contacted on 01332 776150 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Source: ADAS News release

22.01.16 Sustainability is complex

This great article has been written by Peter Mundy, following a conference that was held last week in Bristol entitled Steps to Sustainable Livestock. This conference held in Bristol, brought scientists and researchers together to discuss the complexities and controversies that surround livestock, their impact on the climate and food security.

For the link to the original article and website click here.

We face huge challenges in feeding the world sustainably. But one thing is certain: Grazing ruminant livestock—and the high-quality food they produce—can and should play a key role.

With ongoing reports and media headlines about the negative impacts of livestock—particularly beef cattle—on the environment and our health, this might seem like an unscientific statement. After all, livestock are now widely considered to be unsustainable. So it might come as a surprise to know this support for grazing ruminants was one of the key conclusions from the first International Conference on Steps to Sustainable Livestock—a ground-breaking multi-disciplinary event involving leading scientists working to find solutions for global food security, hosted by the Global Farm Platform and University of Bristol Cabot Institute in Bristol, UK, on January 12-15, 2016.

Over the three-day conference, 50+ scientists presented the stark realities of industrial livestock production and the challenges we face in feeding the world: The significant direct and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; the widespread erosion and degradation of soils; the localized environmental pollution from concentrated output of fecal waste; and the human health threats posed by widespread farm antibiotic abuse. The list goes on. With the ever-increasing demand for meat and livestock products from a rising global population, it’s easy to think that ending all forms of livestock production—and adopting a plant-based diet—is the only answer. But it’s not.

We’ve said it many times before, but the scientific evidence presented at the Steps to Sustainable Livestock conference confirmed that grazing ruminant systems (in other words, managing cattle, sheep, goats and bison on pasture) can not only help feed the world sustainably, but also provide a number of important environmental and societal benefits.

Perhaps the most immediate take away from the Steps to Sustainable Livestock conference was that industrial grain-based livestock production is simply no longer justifiable—and may even be morally suspect. With over 800 million people on this planet going to bed hungry, and more mouths to feed every day, there was a near unanimous agreement at the conference that governments urgently need to pursue a ‘food not feed’ strategy, reserving prime agricultural land for growing human food—not livestock feed. Livestock currently consume around 70 percent of grains used by developed countries, and a staggering one-third (or 795 million tons) of all grain grown in the world, meaning that industrially raised grainfed animals are competing directly with hungry human beings for food. The very same concerns apply to the policy of using prime agricultural land to grow crops for biofuel.

Underpinning the Steps to Sustainable Livestock conference is the knowledge that ruminant animals have evolved the unique ability to convert high-cellulose plant materials (read grass and forage) that humans cannot eat into high quality meat and milk that we can, thereby allowing us to produce food from marginal land we could not otherwise use to grow crops. But the benefits of grazing ruminants do not end at utilizing vast areas of marginal land to produce much-needed food.

Grazing livestock are also a vitally important source of high-quality, protein-rich and nutrient-dense food. While no one can deny the excessive global consumption of industrially produced grainfed meat is simply unsustainable (not to mention bad for our health), researchers at the Steps to Sustainable Livestock conference praised the “extraordinary merits” of animal-sourced foods, arguing that modest quantities of high-quality pastured meat and dairy products (as part of a balanced diet) offer significant health benefits, providing a vital source of lean protein, healthy fats–such as omega-3s and CLAs—plus a smorgasbord of micronutrients essential for health, such as iron, magnesium and selenium. Changes in animal food consumption patterns have already had notable health impacts, with one researcher suggesting that a diet lacking the key micronutrients found in plentiful supply in livestock products (and milk) is resulting in serious emerging health problems—even in high-income countries.

We learned that grazing livestock systems result in many environmental positives—from improved biodiversity (above and below the ground) to the role of well-managed pasture and grassland as carbon sinks. While it is true that grazing ruminants produce significant levels of methane, researchers at the Steps to Sustainable Livestock conference argued that we must stop comparing livestock systems on methane emissions alone. Instead, we need to consider all GHG emissions and environmental impacts associated with all stages of any given production system—including the potential for well-managed grazed pasture to sequester significant levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. New research is already investigating the potential of alternative livestock diets to significantly reduce the amount of methane emitted, including new plant varieties and dietary supplements, while new livestock breeding strategies utilizing geonomics (not genetic engineering) can also aid the selection for positive methane emission traits. Potential solutions are emerging fast but we urgently need more research and support to encourage adoption of such practices at the farm and policy level.

Reflecting the multi-disciplinary and holistic nature of the conference, we were also reminded that animal health and welfare is directly related to our future food security. While welfare concerns might seem secondary to matters like maximizing animal productivity to feed a growing global population, researchers pointed out that healthy animals are productive animals and produce healthy, nutritious food. Conversely, unhealthy animals are not only less productive (and inevitably require routine drugs like antibiotics to maintain productivity), but can present a real disease risk to humans—as we are now learning at great societal cost.

The quest for sustainable food production is highly complex and there will be no one-size-fits-all solution. Indeed, the necessary solutions will inevitably be highly complex, multi-faceted and site-specific: it comes down not simply to what you eat, but fundamentally how it is farmed. There is no single diet solution for everyone, and consuming nutritionally appropriate levels of pasture-raised livestock products as part of a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of sustainably produced vegetables and fruits is not just an acceptable option, it’s a vital one. And while developed nations urgently need to reduce the production and consumption of unsustainable, low-welfare, intensively raised livestock products and highly processed foods (there’s a good chance many of us would feel a lot better for it), it is clear from current science that pasture-based livestock systems will not only continue to supply high-quality, nutritious food to global populations, but can help protect and enhance key ecosystem services and mitigate anthropocentric GHG emissions.

The International Conference on Steps to Sustainable Livestock marks a very important step towards sharing best practice on optimizing the sustainable use of livestock in many regions of the world, and challenging the industrial farming paradigm. As an organization that supports sustainable livestock farmers, it was refreshing and reassuring to hear that leading scientists from across the world believe that sustainably managed livestock have an important role to play in feeding the world, and to know that AWA’s farm standards already represent among the most sustainable methods available.

21.01.16 Bioturbation, worms at work

This time lapse film shows bioturbation (the mixing of plant residues into soils and sediments by biotic activity). This process is one of the fundamental processes in ecology as it stimulates decomposition, creates habitats for other (micro) fauna and increases gas and water flow through the soil.

Bioturbation - Worms at Work from Wim van Egmond on Vimeo.

Meet the film stars

There are three earthworm species involved in this film

Lumbricus terrestrius – an ‘anecic’ earthworm, feeding on leaves and living in deep vertical burrows; 2 of these are in the video.

Lumbricus rubellus – an ‘epigenic’ earthworm, feeding on leaves and living in shallow, non-permanent buows; 2 individuals present

Aporrectodea Caliginosa – an ‘endogenic’ earthworm feeding on decomposed organic matter and living deeper in the soil; three individuals present

Poplar leaves were applied on top of the soil as food for the earthworms. Different soil layers were simulated by mixing a topsoil (rich in organic matter) with quartz sand in various ratios.

The recording lasts for one month, and was recorded using time lapse photography, and was made in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Soil Quality of Wagengingen University in the Netherlands.

Types of Earthworm

There are hundreds of species of earthworms, but they can be grouped into one of three categories.

Litter dwellers (epigenic species)

  • Live in crop or forest litter
  • Not common in agricultural soils, more common in forest systems

Topsoil dwellers (endogeic species)

  • Live in the soil and feed on the organic matter they find there
  • Make horizontal burrows to feed in and move in

Subsoil dwellers (anecic species)

  • Make deep vertical burrows
  • They come to the soil surface in the evening and overnight to gather litter and fresh organic materials and drag them back down to their burrows

Assessment of populations

How many there are in your soil will be affected by a number of factors including

  • Soil type
  • Weather
  • Land management

As such just looking at one particular field at one time of year won’t give you a true representation of what you’ve got. In order to truly start to assess how full of life your soils are, you need to take a series of measurements across different fields over a number of crop rotations or years.

For more information in assessing biological populations in your soils click here.

Sources: AHDB Dairy, Healthy Grassland Soils, Penn State Extension, Crops and soils, Vimeo

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