FCCT director Jonathan Smith who grows organic vegetables on the Isles of Scilly has written an article on living with climate change for the Transition Network. Over last winter, with all the extreme weather events that we experienced, he felt first hand the effect of the weather on his business, and has made him consider carefully how to move his business forward in the future.
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!
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
- Write up
- Interviews with three of the presenters
We hope it's useful! Please see it all here:
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
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
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
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.
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.