Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit

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15.07.16 The science of soil health - going deeper

The video below comes from the USDA natural resources department and is all about soil.

The interview with Dr Ray Weil looks at the importance of managing soil and why, by digging a little deeper we can start to understand more about how our soil functions and how we can maximise its potential. 

Source: USDA NRCS - click here to read more

14.07.16 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report

Every five years the government must carry out an assessment of the current and future risks to the country from climate change.  The latest risk assessment has just been released detailing how climate change is impacting on different sectors.  The information below is dealing with how climate change is impacting on the natural environment.

Climate change is already having an impact on natural systems in the UK. Evidence of long-term shifts in the distribution and abundance of some terrestrial, freshwater and marine species due to higher temperatures is now discernible, despite complex interactions. These shifts can be expected to continue and become more widespread, with some species potentially benefiting, but others losing suitable climate space.

Climate change presents a substantial risk to the vital goods and services provided to people by the natural environment. The continued provision of key goods and services provided by the natural environment, including clean water, food, timber, pollination, carbon storage and natural flood alleviation are at risk from climate change.

Climate change risks and opportunities for the natural environment

Cross cutting Issues

Pests and Diseases

Ne9: Risks to agriculture, forestry, landscapes and wildlife from pests, pathogens and invasive species.

Natural carbon stores

Ne5: Risks to natural carbon stores and carbon sequestration

Landscape and Sense of place

Ne14: Risks and opportunities from changes in landscape character

Key risks for natural capital from climate change include:

The majority of agricultural land in the eastern side of the UK is projected to become less suitable for farming due to reduced water availability, increased soil aridity and the continued loss of soil organic matter. 

Reduced water availability in the summer, combined with increased water demand from a growing population, is likely to challenge the ecological health of rivers and lakes.

The loss of habitat and sediment in the coastal zone from sea level rise will have implications for the long-term viability of coastal defences, which often rely on natural buffering to absorb wave energy.

A combination of ocean acidification and higher temperatures is already having an impact and could result in fundamental changes to marine food chains and the fisheries that they support.

Priorities for further action and research include:

More effort to end damaging management practices and deliver the widespread restoration of degraded habitats.

Take more flexible and integrated approaches to managing natural capital. 

Assess the nature and scale of changing land suitability, including research into more resilient crop varieties and farming systems.

Better understand the magnitude and scale of risks to marine ecosystems and fisheries from climate change.

To read the briefing further please click here.

Source: UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report, Natural environment and natural assets, Chapter 3. 


11.07.16 Agroforestry in practice - results from the SOLMACC project

Climate friendly practices applied: Agroforestry

Source: SOLMACC bulletin, Details on implementation

During the past three decades, agroforestry has become recognized as an integrated approach to sustainable land use because of its production and environmental benefits. It is recognised as a greenhouse gas mitigation strategy and has great potential as a strategy for biological carbon sequestration. The perceived potential is based on the premise that the greater efficiency of integrated systems in resource (nutrients, light and water) capture and utilisation than single species systems will result in greater net C sequestration.

At the various SOLMACC farms, agroforestry elements exist as shelter belts of one or more rows of trees planted, as riparian buffers to filter surface runoff, protect stream banks and shorelines from erosion, as alley plantings in single or grouped rows, and with agricultural crops grown in alleys between tree rows.

Click on the link below to read about how SOLMACC farmers in Germany, Italy and Sweden implement this practice and which challenges some of them are facing.

Click here to read the case studies

What is SOLMACC?

SOLMACC is a LIFE co-funded project that aims to demonstrate that by applying optimised farming practices organic farming can be climate - friendly. 12 demonstration farms are therefore adjusting their famring techniques under the close supervision and monitoring of agricultural scientists.  Find out more about the wider project here.

04.07.16 DC Agri bulletin 9 - Compost and digestate resources in your hands

The project DC Agri (Digestate and Compost Use in Agriculture) has come to an end and released it's final bulletin this week. 

What did it find?

DC - Agri has shown that while digestate and compost are valuable renewable fertilisers some straightforward steps should be followed to maximise their benefits.  All these best practice guidelines as well as resources such as videos, training materials and a renewable fertiliser matrix are available through the project website. 

The value of robust evidence

This project's results provided clarity that both compost and digestate have no negative effects on crop quality or safety and that compost can increase soil organic matter more quickly than other organic materials. 

Just as importantly, the results support clear guidance on how and when to apply renewable fertilisers in order to avoid unnecessary cost and potential harm to the wider environment. 

Download the final bulletin here.

To go to the project website please click here.  

01.07.16 New research on carbon sequestration and grassland

Huge amounts of soil carbon have been discovered up to 1 metre below grassland in a recent UK study.  Yet most carbon inventories do not assess soil deeper than 30cm.  Furthermore this research suggests that intensive management of grassland, involving high rates of fertiliser use and livestock grazing may deplete carbon at these depths.

Source: Science for Environmental Policy briefing, 24th June 2016

Globally soil contains more carbon than all the Earth's plants and atmosphere combined.  Much of this carbon can be found in soils beneath grasslands, which are estimated to cover 20-40% of the Earth's surface.  Amongst biomes, grasslands are the third largest global store of carbon (after wetlands and boreal forests). 

Grasslands and the carbon they store, can be influenced by human activities, including intensive farming. However there is uncertainty over the effects of land management and land use change on soil carbon stocks, partly because most studies only consider the top 30cm of soil, which is easier to access. The IPCC's 2006 Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas Inventories recommend soil carbon accounting for the top 30cm, but also advocate sampling beyond 30cm. However this deeper sampling rarely happens.

To help address this gap in knowledge, the researchers measured carbon in grassland soils at different depths of up to 1 metre across the UK. They assessed soil taken from 180 sites which represented a range of grassland types: acid, calcareous, mesotrophic and wet. At each site they took samples from three different fields which were of the same soil type, but managed in different ways: intensively, extensively or intermediately.

Intensively managed fields typically received over 100kg of nitrogen fertiliser per hectare per year (N/ha/yr). They were heavily grazed by animals (stocking rate of 2-3.5+ livestock units per ha), cut two or three times a year for silage and had low average plant diversity of just 10 species per m2. They had been managed intensively since the 1950s.

In contrast, extensively managed field received less than 25kg N/ha/yr, were lightly grazed (less than 1 LU/ha), were cut just once a year and had high plant diversity (average of 21 species per m2). They had been managed in a traditional way for many decades.

Intermediate land received 25-50kg N/ha/yr, had stocking rates of up to 1.5LU/ha, were also cut just once per year but had middling plant diversity (average of 15 species per m2).

Total percentage carbon in soil (organic and inorganic) was significantly lower in soils from intensively managed fields - 19% lower than in intermediately managed fields and 25% lower than in extensively managed fields. The researchers estimated that intensively managed grassland soil contained around 40.3kg of soil carbon per m2 going 1m below the surface, compared with around 41.4kg of soil carbon per m2 in extensively managed land and around 44.6kgCm2 in intermediately managed land.

Based on their figures, the researchers estimate that 2097 teragrams (teragrams - 1million metric tonnes) of carbon is stored in all UK grassland soils to a depth of 1 metre. This is over double the amount of carbon estimated if only the top 30cm of soil is considered.

Soil carbon stocks were higher in intermediately managed land than extensively managed land; the researchers suggest that this can be partly explained by differences in soil bulk density, likely due to compaction and to fertiliser application rates. High levels of fertiliser reduce soil carbon through over stimulation of plant decomposition rates, whereas modest levels of fertiliser allow plants to accumulate carbon by not over-stimulating decomposition.

There are many complex factors which influence soil carbon, and the study did not directly explore these; they include the impact of soil cultivation during reseeding of perennial ryegrass on intensively managed grassland, which releases large amounts of carbon (usually every 10-20 years) and also the findings of recent studies into the importance of considering sampling depth when investigating soil organic carbon sequestration.

Other factors which affect how much carbon is in the ground include: the release of carbon dioxide by plants to the atmosphere, soil erosion, leaching into waterways and removal of grass by harvesting or grazing animals.

The study supports the IPCC's recommendation for deeper soil testing in carbon accounting. It also suggests that reducing the intensity of farming in the most highlight managed and fertilised grassland would bring future benefits for carbon sequestration.

Source: Ward, S.E., Smart, S.M., Quirk, H., Tallowin, J.R.B., Mortimer, S.R., Shiel, R.S., Wilby, A. and Bardgett, R.D. (2016). Legacy effects of grassland management on soil carbon to depth. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13246


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