Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


20.03.2014 Fertiliser use - spreading efficiency and lowering emissions

At this time of year, with the weather finally on the turn, and a spell of dry days, fields have been buzzing with tractors out spreading fertiliser.  Within conventional agriculture, fertiliser is a fundamental part of growing crops and early season applications will stimulate plant growth.  However there are associated environmental effects of fertiliser, whether it is applied from a bag, or as organic manures that impact on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.  The most significant greenhouse gas emission from arable cropping in the UK is associated with the use of artificial Nitrogen fertiliser.  In fact 60-70% of GHG emissions from arable cropping are related to artificial Nitrogen production and application.  The effects of nutrient application on emissions are twofold.  Firstly the associated emissions that are involved in manufacturing inorganic fertilisers. As farmers by the time the fertiliser is unloaded off the lorry on-farm there is not much that we can do about this, however it is an important component of emissions and accounts for around 50% of emissions from fertiliser.  The other 50% of the emissions are more directly attributable to farm management practices and are dependent on the timing, method and conditions when the fertiliser is applied to the field.

Fertiliser manufacturers have strict targets that they have to adhere to in terms of emissions from fertiliser production, and are striving along with the chemists to find more efficient methods of producing fertiliser.  Throughout April we will be looking at the topic of fertilisers more closely and will have a guest blog from a fertiliser manufacturer who will be able to explain what is happening in more detail.

There are some easy things that every farm can do to reduce emissions from fertiliser application.  These include:

Apply Nitrogen fertiliser to meet and not exceed crop requirements.  If you are not already planning nutrient applications, start now.  Making sure that you are only applying what the crop needs will make sure that you are not leaving pools of nitrates sitting in the soil to be lost either through volatilisation as ammonia up into the atmosphere, or by leaching through the soil profile and into the watercourses.

Grow grass and other high Nitrogen demanding crops in your driest soils

Maintain drainage to minimise soil wetness – nitrous oxide emissions are highest in soils that are warm and wet.  If drains are maintained and the soil profile is well structured, then not only will you grown better crops but nitrous oxide emissions will be lower.

Optimise soil pH to encourage nutrient uptake – a basic fundamental of crop and soil management, but it is essential to maintain the right soil pH in order to ensure that you can get the highest proportion of available nutrient to the crop to grow.  Regular soil testing will enable you to have an accurate assessment of soil pH and remediate any acidic soils with the application of lime.  General targets for pH for grassland are between pH6 – 6.2 and for arable is between pH6.2-6.4 (Defra RB209).  Soils with pH lower than the recommended values will have significantly reduced nutrient availability to the crop, especially in the case of phosphate. Micro nutrients are also significantly affected by pH and decisions to apply additional nutrients should only be made after underlying pH issues are remedied.

Calibrate your fertiliser spreader for an even spread pattern - inaccurate spreaders can result in inconsistent application of fertiliser across the field. Over application can result in increased nitrate leaching losses as well as reduced crop yields through lodging.  It is possible to achieve a reduction in nitrate leaching losses of 5% as well as the associated reduction in nitrous oxide emissions.

Timing of applications – as well as applying the fertiliser when it is going to be taken up by the growing crop, weather and soil conditions will affect the nitrous oxide emissions as well.  The best conditions for spreading fertiliser is cool dry conditions, if it rains just before or after spreading emissions are much higher.  Warmer weather encourages bacterial activity, which increases the rate of denitrification (and associated emissions).  If your farm produces organic manures, consider the timing of applications of fertilisers and organic manures.  If you have applied fertiliser, make sure that you leave at least two weeks between the fertiliser application and applying slurry.

Type of fertiliser applied – if you are going to apply several times throughout the season (for example if you are taking silage cuts), look at applying urea in the spring as it is less susceptible to emissions from high soil moisture levels, and apply the nitrate fertiliser later on (for example ammonium Nitrate, or calcium nitrate).

Science is also developing compounds that can inhibit the nitrification process and as such allow for reduced emissions from applied nutrients.  This will be explored further as we look at options for reducing emissions further in April.

Those who are growing crops and applying fertilisers and organic manures, have a good opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce emissions at the same time, thus reducing costs.  Fertilisers represent a huge cost associated with growing crops and are a resource that as time goes on will only become more and more expensive.  Anything that we can do as farmers to optimise their use and make sure that the fertiliser that we apply works in the best way possible for us makes good business sense and makes us more sustainable.

17.03.2014 March Newsletter out now

The March newsletter from FCCT is available now.  Click here to read all about what we've been up to over the last month, the search for new directors and potential funding opportunities for farmers and growers across the UK.

To sign up for the next newsletter so it arrives straight in your inbox, click here.






13.03.2014 Tillage: Cultivating sustainable farming

Theme of the month: Tillage

So spring has sprung and with the recent upturn in the weather, farmers and growers will be turning their attentions to the fields and getting on with some cultivation.  This month our blogs are going to be focusing on tillage; and are going to explore the different options for soil management and cultivation, as well as looking at the effects on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The tillage system that you use on-farm is important in terms of the long term sustainability of the business.  Ensuring that the system is suitably matched with the resources found on farm will provide economic and environmental benefits as well as a potential reduction in GHG emissions.

Tillage options

Tillage options can range from a no-till system with minimal soil disturbance through to conventional ploughing and planting with many combinations in between.  In terms of GHG emissions; field operations are the second most significant source of emissions after fertiliser.  This is because of the effect that cultivations have on the soil as well as the maintenance, wear and tear on the machinery involved with cultivation.

GHG emissions from the soil during cultivation occur as CO₂ and to a lesser extent methane and nitrous oxide.  This originates primarily as a result of the oxidation of soil organic matter (SOM) by microbial activity that is stimulated by available oxygen following mechanical cultivations.

In terms of reducing these emissions there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that the fewer number of passes and the less disturbance to the soil with each pass, the lower the GHG emissions from the soil will be.  This allows for less soil organic Carbon to be oxidised (as well as the benefits in terms of improved soil structure and increased soil organic matter) and is a viable management strategy for reducing GHG emissions.  As well as the advantages that come from reducing emissions there are also agronomic benefits, including a strong correlation between increasing soil organic matter in the crop rooting zone and an increase in yields.

What we will be up to

Over the next month we will be exploring the science behind GHG emissions from tillage and look at whether the science has proved that there is an optimal cultivation method for reducing GHG emissions.  We will also look at the different tillage options and their practical use on-farm and hear from some farmers who have implemented reduced tillage systems.  The fuel and fertiliser savings that come from implementing a reduced tillage system can contribute to a reduction in costs, and as such the profitability of the business.

Soil is one of our biggest assets in terms of growing profitable crops as well as being one of the most effective carbon mitigation tools.  As such maximising its potential and ensuring that it is in the best health possible will ensure that we are growing sustainable businesses moving forward.

Soil Carbon event

The effects of tillage on the levels of soil carbon will be a subject that is being covered at our Soil Carbon event on the 19th March.  Come along to hear how Julian Gold an arable farmer from Oxfordshire has implemented a controlled traffic farming system across his farm and the cost and efficiency savings that he now experiences.

We want your views

The Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit is always on the lookout for farmers and growers who are interested in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions or who are using a novel method of cultivation.  If you want to share your story with like minded farmers and growers This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it !

More information

If you are interested in minimising emissions from tillage, why not look at our Toolkit section on cropping and field management for more information on the emissions potential from cultivation?  Assessing where your farm business is now by using our Farm Carbon Calculator will also give you a good indication of where the emissions and sequestration is occurring and where changes in management will give you good results.

07.03.2014 Unlocking the benefits of soil carbon

An earlier FCCT blog highlighted the exciting Soil Carbon Coalition in America which was working hard to build organic matter levels in soils.  This week a new report has been published which looks at the potential for carbon sequestration to be a new weapon in the fight against climate change.

Locking carbon in the soil is one of the most important things that we can do as farmers and growers.  The benefits are multifaceted in terms of increasing not only farm profitability and crop yields, but also in helping mitigate the effects of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, and creating a more sustainable farming system.  Many scientists now concur on the fact that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO₂ whilst also boosting soil productivity and increasing flood resilience.

Rattan Lal, who is the director of Ohio State University Carbon Management and Sequestration Centre argues that “bringing carbon back into soils has to be done, not only to offset fossil fuels but also to feed our growing global population.”  Restoring degraded and damaged soils offer great potential in terms of increasing sequestration.  “If currently degraded soils were addressed, and brought back into sustainable management systems, there is the potential to store an additional 1-3 billion tonnes of carbon annually.”  This is a staggering figure.

So how do we maximise the potential of soils?  Research is ongoing at numerous academic institutions concerning the use of novel techniques to increase storage capacity of the soil.  The Nature journal published the results of one study in January this year, looking at the advantages of mycorrhizal fungi, and the effects of different types on the ability to stabilise carbon.  Understanding the mechanisms by which these fungi stabilise carbon is crucial to protect climate and future sustainability.

Going forward, sequestration is going to be critical to ensure sustainable growth and prosperity.  As farmers and growers we are in the prime position to ensure that we are farming in a manner that maximises the sequestration potential of our soils.  Indeed Ratten Lal concludes “Soils of the world must be part of any agenda to address climate change as well as food and water security.”

So what should we be looking at moving forward?  For anyone who is interested in how to maximise the sequestration potential of soils, the Building Soil Carbon Masterclass is happening on 19th March in Cornwall.  Find out more info here.  The event will look at the current science, as well as hear first-hand from farmers in arable and livestock systems as to what they are doing to maximise the carbon storage potential.

28.02.14 Funding opportunities for farmers and growers

At the moment, with all the CAP reshuffling there are lots of discussions going on nationally about future funding.  From the New Environmental Land Management schemes (or whatever acronym is found to be the winner), the new rural development budgets and other schemes yet to be finalised, there is a sense of unease about what will be possible in the future.  However for those farmers who are still interested in developing a project on-farm that increases productivity, or sustainability (or hopefully the two together!) there are a couple of options that are still out there that may be worth considering.  The schemes that are open at the moment, all have different entry requirements and timescales, so although I will put a bit of information about them below, if you are interested do make sure that you follow the links and get some more details.

EBLEX Farmer Innovation Grants

This new grant is available for groups of beef or sheep farmers who feel that they have an innovative idea that you feel could improve the profitability of a beef or sheep enterprise.

EBLEX is offering up to 6 awards in 2014 to support groups of farmers wanting to adopt and evaluate an element of best practice on their farm or try out a new piece of technology.

How much is available? The funding is made over a one year period and will generally have a ceiling of £5,000.  The funding allows groups of farmers to access technical help to set up their project and cover some of the associated costs.  One of the conditions of the funding is that a report will be provided to EBLEX so that lessons can be communicated to other levy payers.

Who can apply? All English beef and sheep farmers are welcome to apply.  There should be at least three farmers in a group and this maybe supported by a supply chain partner, vet practice or breed society.

Timescale – the grant window is open until 31st March 2014

How do you apply? To request a FIG form, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 0870 2418829

Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme round 3

FFIS is a grant scheme within RDPE, aimed at helping farmers, foresters, farming contractors, woodland owners and horticultural businesses in England to improve the competitiveness through investment that meets one of the objectives.  These objectives include reduced energy use, improved management of manures and farm nutrients, improved water resource management, improved animal health and welfare, and improved use of forestry resources.

How much is available? Up to £35,000 of grant is available per farm business at a 40% funding rate (non SDA areas) or a 50% funding rate (SDA).  The minimum amount of grant is £2,500.

Projects must be completed and grant claimed by 31st January 2015.

Funding priorities

There are five different priorities for FFIS, each with its own set of requriements in terms of the application process and supporting statements needed.  What each priority will fund is set, so what you want to install needs to be on the list of approved items. Check the applicant handbook for further details.

Energy Efficiency – the priority is for investment in technologies that recover or reduce energy consumption on farm resulting in a reduction of farm energy bills and the farm’s carbon footprint.  This could include heat exchangers, variable speed pumps or voltage optimisers.

Nutrient management – investment in and the adoption of practices that improve the nutrient management of slurries and manures leading to improvements in soil and land management practices, reduced reliance on fertiliser and a reduction in the cost of production.

Water resource management – investment in items that reduce the reliance of farms and horticultural businesses on mains water or bore hole water through harvesting, recycling and reuse of rainwater.

Animal health and welfare – funding items that improve the health and welfare of farm animals.

Forestry – aimed at improving the economic value of forests through improved processing and adding value.

Timescale – the grant window is open from 4th February until the 4th April

How do you apply?Click here to access the applicant’s handbook and download the application form.

Catchment Sensitive Farming Capital Grant Scheme

Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) was introduced to help land managers to tackle diffuse pollution through the provision of advice and targeted incentive schemes.  Capital items are funded to help farmers to address specific pollution risks.

Who can apply? Farmers have to be in a CSF target area.  These target areas have key pollutants that have been identified and set out within each priority catchment.  There are associated Funding Priority Statements that correspond with each area and set out the details.

How much is available? Up to £10,000 per farm business at a 50% grant rate.  For different projects the standard costs are available in the handbook and are taken as set costs, so there is no need to assemble quotes for different items.

Timescale – the grant window is open from 1st February until the 31st March 2014.

How do you apply? – all the info on the different target areas and how to apply is on the Natural England website here.

Farming Recovery Fund

This new fund has been designed to support activities that reduce the consequences of the recent severe flooding on agricultural land and help restore its physical capital.

What is able to be funded? Areas include the restoration of productive grassland, arable and horticultural land, the restoration of field access and trackways, and improvements to agricultural drainage on flood damaged land.

How much is available? Grants are between £500 and £5,000 and are available to any farm directly affected by recent flood events (since 1st Dec 2013).

Timescale – the fund opened on 28th February 2014 and will close on 9th May 2014.

How do you apply? – for more information download the guidance here.

So for the moment, while we wait to see what the future CAP and RDPE looks like, these are the options out there.  If you have installed something on your farm that is making a difference in terms of making your farming system more sustainable, or making better use of inputs, do get in touch and let us know.

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