Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


27.03.15 FCCT Loves Soil

Just a quick blog to round the week off, before a week of peace and quiet next week while I’m away!  While doing some research for the global stuff we are focussing on at the moment, I came across this little project that is focussing on spreading the love of soils around the world.  So here is FCCT’s effort, the gauntlet is thrown down – I’m sure that you can all do better!  At the moment there are no pins on the map from the UK, so lets change that.

It also got me thinking about all the great functions that soil performs; soil underpins life.  Below are some of the things that I came up with.

Have a great Easter.

26.03.15 European Soil carbon research

The information below comes from a project called SmartSOIL. This project is a European wide project aimed at looking at sustainable farm management that will reduce the threats from climate change. It looks to reverse the current degradation trend of European Agricultural Soils by improving soil carbon management in European arable and mixed farming systems. To read more about the project please click here

What soil organic carbon measures are the most cost –effective?

Research conducted through the Smart-SOIL project looked at the cost effectiveness of implementing management to improve soil carbon stocks across 6 case study regions. The regions involved in the study are:

  • Zealand, Denmark
  • Central Region, Hungary
  • Tuscany, Italy
  • Mazovia, Poland
  • East Coast, Scotland
  • Andalucia, Spain

Cost effectiveness of the measures was assessed in terms of the impact on the typical gross margin per crop. The results indicated that in each of the case study regions, there was potential for the uptake of measures that produced benefits to the farmer’s bottom line and the soil organic carbon levels.

Measures were grouped into three broad categories.

Reduced input costs: Measures such as minimum tillage and the use of manures are estimated to be highly cost-effective event where modest reductions in yield occur because of the potential to reduce input costs. These input costs include:

The fuel and time required for cultivation relative to conventional tillage and reduced mineral fertiliser costs (manures)

Zero tillage performs less well as there is a cost incurred for increased cost protection spraying.  The inclusion of legumes in the rotation also appears to be cost effective due to the reduced need for mineral fertiliser input; however, our analysis does not consider impacts over the course of a rotation.

Loss of revenue from by-products – Residue management has a high potential for soil organic carbon increase in most case study regions, but this could only be achieved at a loss of revenue from selling straw as a by-product.

Increased input costs. Under assumptions of unchanged or reduced yield impacts, cover crops were estimated to result in a large reduction in gross margin due to the additional costs or seeds and cultivation. But where yield was assumed to increase the cost-effectiveness improved for some crops in some regions. This highlights the potential role for good agronomic advice to ensure that the benefits of SOC measures can be fully realised.

A significant barrier to implementing soil carbon management is that most farm production related decisions are taken in the short-term, whereas managing soil carbon effectively needs a long term approach. Key barriers to uptake of practices include: perceived difficulty in demonstrating the positive effects of soil carbon management practices and economic benefits over a long time scale; and advisers being unable to provide suitable advice due to inadequate information or training. Most farmers were unconvinced of the economic benefits of practices for managing soil carbon. Incentives are therefore needed either as subsidies or as evidence of the cost effectiveness of practices.

Real life case study

Rafael Alonso Aguilera runs the family owned Oro del Desierto farm in Andalucia in Spain. It is a 650ha organic mixed farm with 110ha olive groves, cereals, vineyards and pasture for livestock (irrigated systems). He has loam, sandy-loam and sandy soils but manages to avoid soil erosion problems and water shortages common in the area due to managing the organic matter in the soil using minimum tillage, gutters or infiltration canals; terraces, control furrows, cover crops, inert cover (mulch) and adding organic matter (their own compost).

Rafael comments “We have analysed our soils and we have recorded that the soil organic matter is increasing compared to the beginning. We realise that leaving the pruning debris and grass and the applications of composts have largely contributed to an increase in the soil organic matter and in turn soil fertility. Thanks to these practices, the soil water retention is much better, erosion is reduced and the soil biology populations are larger. You can obtain many advantages from sustainable management.”

Why not check out our soil carbon pages for more inspiration?

25.03.15 Global Strategies to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture

This is the interesting theme that we are going to tackle for the next month here at FCCT. Although we have enough in the day on our own farms to deal with, especially with spring being a busy time of year for most, it is interesting (for us anyway!) to look at what other nations are doing to reduce emissions, and see if there is any overlap.

There are projects all across the world which are dealing with the same sort of issues that we are here. Reducing GHG emissions, improving productivity and efficiency whilst maintaining profitable businesses is not unique to British agriculture. We all have targets of one type or another concerning emissions and some nations are experiencing a more dramatic shift in climate patterns which is affecting production capabilities as well.

To start the month off, I thought that we would have some food for thought. The material below comes from a report written in the US by California Environmental Associates in 2014 which looks at Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change in Agriculture and the issues globally which we need to consider. The link here is to the abridged report (still 84 pages long), but if you are interested and are up to date with all your jobs outside, the link to the full document is here (146 pages).

Agriculture contributes substantially to global climate change. The sector accounts for roughly a fifth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when one considers the full life cycle of production including agriculture’s role in deforestation. This is a massive number, comparable in scale to the transportation sector. Further, this ratio can be even higher in developing countries where the agriculture and forestry sectors together often account for a majority of total emissions. Yet, historically, climate negotiators and policy makers have paid relatively little attention to the agricultural sector in the global effort to slow climate change.

Key global agricultural producers that can achieve major productivity goals

Reducing enteric fermentation emissions from Brazil’s cattle population and India’s dairy

The mitigation opportunities are large, would yield productivity gains, and ought to be in the best interest of the farmers and governments. In each case, the opportunity involves improving the quality of livestock diets so that farmed animals can reach market weight more quickly, and produce more meat and milk. These changes not only result in lower emissions on per unit of product, but also improve the economics and productivity of the herds, and can allow smaller animal populations to support a sustained production level.

Increasing the efficiency of nutrient use on China’s croplands

China is believed to have the greatest overuse of fertilizer globally. Simple measures can greatly reduce GHG emissions from fertilizer application in China without harming yields. In many cases, reduced fertilizer application would benefit yields and long-term soil fertility. In addition, securing major industrial inefficiencies in China’s fertilizer production would yield very significant GHG

Reducing rice emissions in Southeast Asia.

Although this opportunity is spread across a region instead of a single country, rice farming has both high emissions and mitigation potential due to the amount of rice grown in flooded fields. Many of the interventions used to reduce rice emissions are complementary with productivity gains, such as adding irrigation to better control water, which allows for double cropping.

Improving stored manure practices in industrialized livestock systems.

While mitigation interventions that target stored manure management do not benefit productivity, they also present no serious food security risks and have other co-benefits (e.g., water quality).

Unlike many mitigation options, manure management has been addressed through progressive policies in many countries.

These are some of the issues that are being discussed on a global research scale. However the report also throws up some other questions that we will be looking at, including creating a robust methodology to measure emissions that can compare results between countries and conflicting national and regional policies and pressures to reduce emissions.

Sitting comfortably?!

23.03.2014 Water capital grant scheme opens for applications

£10 million available to farmers and land managers for water quality improvement works.

How much is available?

Farmers and land managers in England can now apply to Natural England for a water capital grant of up to £10,000 to help them carry out works that will improve water management and quality on their land.

Providing a total of £10 million worth of funding to the farm industry these government grants will fund new projects that reduce the impact agriculture can have on our water quality.  Applications to the water capital grants fund can be submitted from 2nd March 2015 and must be received by Natural England on or before 30 April 2015.

The water capital grants make up the first phase of the governments new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Set to be rolled out in full later in the summer, Countryside Stewardship will commit around £900 million to benefitting the environment over the next 6 years. This will help farmers and land managers develop environmentally friendly techniques and adopt initiatives such as restoring hedges, planting woodland, enhancing wildlife habitats and improving water quality.

What can be funded?

Water capital grants are one-off payments towards the cost of specific items or activities, and land managers can select from a wide range of practical projects that will attract different amounts of funding. There are more than 40 items eligible for grant funding including:

  • installing biobeds
  • preventing livestock access to watercourses by erecting watercourse fencing
  • providing drinking troughs as an alternative to watercourse drinking for livestock
  • relocation of sheep dips and pens
  • roofing of sprayer washdown areas, manure storage areas, livestock gathering areas, slurry stores and silage stores.

Funding will be competitive with grants awarded to applications that best meet the scheme's priorities and have the greatest environmental benefits.

How to apply

Anyone interested in making an application to the grant fund is strongly advised to contact their local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer or Catchment partner for advice before making an application. Support is available to help identify the main opportunities for water quality improvements, provide advice on what capital work could be eligible and help with completion of  the application.

Applications will only be accepted from land holdings in a priority catchment.

For more information please click here.

23.03.15 Climate metrics and footprints

This information below comes from a research letter published in a journal recently entitled Climate metrics and the carbon footprint of livestock products: where's the beef?, and deals with the subject of metrics and greenhouse gas emissions. I must confess that I glanced at this paper last Friday afternoon, and quickly moved it to my Monday pile, and have now re-read it refreshed after the weekend, when it now makes more sense.

Metrics are inherently fairly complicated things, and measuring the Carbon footprint of products has never been an easy task.  Add to this the intricacies which come with measuring the footprint of agricultural products and it tends to make the brain hurt.

As an industry however we need to reduce the carbon footprint of our products in order to minimise the warming potential, the effects of climate change, and improve business efficiency.

Because of this, there are a group of clever scientists that have devoted their careers (and still are) to developing robust methodologies to measure climate impacts. The “Global Warming Potential (GWP)” is a commonly used method which assigns different values to different greenhouse gases and provides a common figure that can be comparable.

However when looking at agriculture, unlike many other industries, carbon dioxide isn’t really the big problem. Emissions of nitrous oxide (from soils and fertilisers) and methane (from ruminant livestock and manure storage and handling) pose much more of a problem than the carbon dioxide that is used on-farm. Add to this that the “intensity” of these gases in terms of their effect on climate change is higher and we start to see the difficulties that arise.

Due to this large share of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions that arise from agriculture, the way that the calculation is done and the method used is crucial when policy makers and scientists are looking at the contribution of agriculture to global greenhouse gas emissions.

This paper (which if you are in the mood for, you can read in full here), examines this issue in lots of detail and looks at whether in agriculture, instead of using the 100 year global warming potential (GWP100) there is a better way of describing it. The method that it looks at is the global temperature change potential.

A couple of definitions

Global Warming potential (100 years)The Global Warming Potential (GWP) is a useful metric for comparing the potential climate impact of the emissions of different Long Lived Greenhouse Gases. Global Warming Potentials compare the integrated radiative forcing (the change in energy in the atmosphere due to a greenhouse gas) over a specified period (e.g., 100 years) from a unit mass pulse emission and are a way of comparing the potential climate change associated with emissions of different greenhouse gases.

Global Temperature change potential (GTP) – the global temperature change potential can be defined as the temperature impact at a future point in time due to an emission pulse of the gas, divided by the temperature change of an emission pulse of carbon dioxide.

The study recommends that metrics used to assess greenhouse gas emissions should be re-examined. We all recognise that agriculture is a dynamic changing system and assigning values to products will always be challenging. The study argues that basing current GHG metrics solely on temperature impact in 100 years is inconsistent with the current global climate goal of limiting warming to 2degrees C, a limit that is likely to be reached well within 100 years.

A reasonable GTP (global temperature change potential) value for methane, (accounting for current projections for when 2 degrees centigrade warming will be reached) is about 18, which calculates the carbon footprint as being 20% lower than if it was measured using GWP.

However by using this GTP method and using a 2 degrees C limit, this results in the methane valuation increasing rapidly over time as the temperature ceiling is reached. This means that the carbon footprint would rise by around 2.5% per year, and as such would then overtake the original result using GWP in 10 years.

This shows that using the GTP method would show positive results in the short term, however over a longer term the impact on the livestock sector would be much larger.

So what does this mean?

For me, having read it through twice, it means that although this other method seems to show the emissions in a more positive light in the short term, it catches up in the long term. It just goes to show that statistics can be made to show different things depending on how they are reported. However it’s good that the statisticians and other clever people are at least recognising that agriculture is complicated in terms of measuring and that it needs more thought.

In the meantime, what does this mean on the farm?  Well to me, it shows that while they argue over the best method, we all have a chance at home to make our systems as productive as possible (which will be a good thing for the carbon footprint of the farm, and our pocket).

To read it in full please click here.

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