Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


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.

20.03.2015 Building Carbon in farm soils

Carbon conscious farmers in the UK work with nature not against it, concerned about the health of their soils for future generation.  They use principles of 'feeding the soil not the plant', understanding and encouraging soil biology, and harvesting sunlight to maximum effect.  These farmers understand that we must repair damaged soils, and reduce our dependency on chemical fertilisers made from nonrenewable fossil fuels and that also reduce soil health.  These farmers are serious about building carbon in their soils, and their approaches are backed up by hard science.

This info comes from an article written by our very own Jonathan Smith from FCCT, that has just been published in Farming Matters.  To read the full article click here.

For more information on managing soil carbon please visit our pages here.

17.03.2015 The Shropshire Agroforestry Project

Getting in to Agroforestry

by Peter Aspin, Shropshire Agroforestry Project

My personal interest in silvopastoral agriculture (i.e. the integration of trees into permanent pasture) developed from two angles. Firstly, the observations over several decades of the interaction of cattle with trees in terms of using them for browsing - cattle are most definitely not simply grazing animals, and shelter, be it sun, rain, wind or cold. Secondly, becoming fascinated by the concept of forest gardening, the main practitioner of which in Western Europe was a man from the south of this county, Robert Hart.

As I developed a small forest garden, I became more fascinated by the concept of agroforestry throughout the world and began to develop a system here almost fifteen years ago, initially simply using ash and walnut trees but as my interest and knowledge and curiosity developed, planting many other species which I felt had a relevance and requirement of further research.

The integration of tree crops into pasture or arable crops goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Most people know of the age-old practice of growing cork oaks in pasture in the Iberian peninsula, known as “dehesa” in Spain and “montado” in Portugal. In the seventeenth century, the diarist and arboreal advisor to Charles II, John Evelyn, commented on the management of walnut trees in wheat fields in northern France and how little they affected the yield of corn.

Agroforestry systems are well-developed in much of Asia, especially China, but these are largely silvoarable in nature. The Holy Grail in agriculture has for many years, and continues to be, perennial corn and I often wonder why no independent farmers in the UK are prepared to research the likely candidates. But the ultimate perennial crop is the tree, with so many myriad uses of all its component parts.

How it started here

Climate was the spur to the research here. I sold the dairy herd here in 1996 and since then reared beef cattle bought in as calves. About half were black, either Limousin or Angus crosses. On hot summer days they were very uncomfortable in open fields and many spent large parts of the day in the buildings, which is obviously not good for liveweight gain.

We’ve probably all observed cattle in the shade of trees or hedges. The hot summer of 2013 was a perfect example of how not to keep cattle in large open fields without shade, resulting in many losses and production problems. We are told that the average temperature will increase by 2-3 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. But the mean figure inevitably hides the extremes.

Much work has been done in both the UK and the USA about the use of trees to moderate urban temperatures, none as far as I am aware in terms of crops or livestock, and this continues to be part of the research here. As well as providing actual shade, agroforestry also produces convection currents as the warmer air away from the trees rises, drawing in the cooler air from beneath the canopy. And trees in leaf produce copious amounts of oxygen as they separate the components of carbon dioxide.

How it works on my farm

Planting here is in rows aligned north-south at five metre intervals between individual trees, with slightly larger distances to the headlands for machinery operation. There is a single permanent electric fence either side of the row to prevent damage by livestock. Spacing between rows is twenty metres, which I felt was the absolute minimum where cattle are grazing, without resulting in a “corridor” effect where the cattle spend too much time and effort going up and down the alley, and not enough foraging. Therefore on this farm the cattle are allocated a length of, say, 100 metres or 150 metres, depending on forage growth, multiplied by the width of the alley, 20 metres.

The most efficient shape to graze is the square, maximum area, minimum length of boundary. If this had been a larger farm, then inter-row spacing would have been 30 to 50 metres, but as I needed to get as many trees as possible (500 plus) into the area (20 acres), options were limited.

Browsing animals

As mentioned earlier, bovines are to a considerable degree browsing animals. The main browsing tree in the past has been the English Elm, but since its demise its place has been taken by the ash. However, virtually any deciduous tree or hedging plant (especially at leaf emergence) will be readily consumed. A recently retired veterinarian I know jokes that he has the healthiest and quietest flock of sheep because of the salicilin (aspirin) they intake from the abundant willow in the hedgerows.

Indeed, livestock often prefer tree foliage to ground forage. And so many species of trees are grown here to provide forage for the cattle, and though the medicinal effects are vague and unproven, the very fact that there is developing such a varied diet as the trees grow, will manifest itself in healthier animals. The diet of so many farmed animals today is so frighteningly narrow.

We have all been made aware recently of the degradation of our soils, fertility and structure, that has taken since the last ice age to build up, being lost at an alarming rate. Virtually every time I am in the countryside, I see appalling land management which takes no account whatsoever of the long term damage to the land.

The finest soil conditioner of all is leaf litter and there are two methods of leaf fall in autumn. Wind induced defoliation disperses the leaves over a wide area. Frost induced defoliation concentrates the leaves below the tree, which can result in damage to and destruction of perennial crops. Some years in early winter harrowing is essential beneath mature oak, and especially sycamore, trees along the farm boundaries to prevent this. On the whole, the small leaves or leaflets of trees such as elm, robinias (black locust) or gleditsias (honey locust) are quickly absorbed . The larger leaves of trees such as walnut, sweet chestnut or sycamore take much longer to degrade or be taken below the surface by invertebrates. But generalisations are not possible.

The all-important tree of Chinese agroforestry, the foxglove tree (Paulownia spp.) has very large leaves but these degrade rapidly and are not problematic. The high calcium content of deciduous leaf-litter also tends to neutralise the soil (increase the pH), whilst, conversely, the leaf-litter of coniferous trees acidifies the soil over time.

Trees grown at Shropshire Agroforestry Project include:



Sweet chestnut





Monkey puzzle

Hackberry (Celtis),

Black and Honey Locust

Pasture management

As far as I am concerned, the plough is an instrument of last resort, a means to repair the result of poor management. Three alleys (6 acres) where the grass/clover components had become unproductive, owing to such poor management and excessive leaf fall damage, were reseeded in the autumn of 2014. It is ten years since any of the land was last ploughed and I foresee no need for it in the future. If any sward becomes short of an ingredient, perhaps clover, then I broadcast that just before grazing so that the cattle tread the seed in, so long as the ground is not too dry. This alley is then taken out of the grazing rotation and cut for silage seven to eight weeks later to enable the new seedlings to emerge and consolidate. I also use the traditional method of reseeding hay meadows whereby the sward is allowed to go to seed before cutting. The resultant tedding of the drying grass distributes the seed-heads across the pasture which the machinery wheels then incorporate into the surface layer.

The effect of this system of farming on drainage is very interesting. A few years ago a water mains burst in the main road running alongside the farm exemplified this. The alleys which had just been grazed were flooded owing to the recent soil compaction, but the rows where the trees were planted absorbed the water very quickly and the flooding came to a very sudden end by the third row. This outcome has also been observed after heavy thunderstorms. In the dry summer of 2014, narrow fissures running several inches deep along the rows of trees were conspicuous. Conventional thinking concerning field drainage is probably not appropriate in agroforestry.

The forage is conventional long- term organic seed mixtures with a fairly high proportion of white clover. Some herbs have been included in the past but the only persistent one has been yarrow.

Tree pruning

In the first few years after establishment, tree pruning to shape is essential. The ideal is to have a clear stem of about two metres with branches radiating out from this height. Much below this figure and ground shading would become a major problem affecting yields of the crop beneath. The usually accepted critical figure is one third canopy cover, below this level crop production is barely impacted, but above it production loss begins to become significant.

For similar reasons late leafing trees are necessary in agroforestry systems. In Asia the aforesaid foxglove trees (very fast growing producing timber for construction) are often grown with wheat, which invariably reaches its full height before the trees come into leaf, so all the corn then has to do is ripen as shading intensifies. Here, about forty varieties of walnut have been established, and some do not come into full leaf until the second half of June, so grass production is barely affected.

All crops grown under shade tend to become “leggy”, that is tall and thin. Here, this is especially apparent on the southern boundary where an existing mature row of trees shades the ground all year round. But this accidental shelter belt has benefited the rate of growth of trees planted within its influence. Conventional high-yielding ryegrasses prefer to grow in full sun whereas fescue grasses grow well in some shade. The reseeding last autumn included a percentage of Fest(ul)olium which is a ryegrass/ fescue hybrid in order to try to maintain high growth rates under conditions of some shade.

As well as walnuts, other nut trees established include sweet chestnuts, hazels, almonds, hickories, gingkoes and monkey puzzles (araucaria); browsing trees include a number of species of ash and elm, several varieties of hackberry (Celtis), black and honey locust trees (both also leguminous),timber trees include hornbeam and sweet gum (liquidambar) and Liriodendron (tulip trees) but there are also trees for rubber and cork production, even root beer. However, all trees by their very nature are multi-purpose: walnuts not only provide nuts and timber and edible sap but the smell of their foliage deters biting flies and when the cattle begin to browse the astringent leaves you know they are hungry and need moving on to the next rotation block.

Further developments

However, there is so much more research that needs to be done concerning the integration of trees and ground cover crops. I had hoped to establish a curvilinear system on another twenty acre field, to discover at what angle to due north yields were highest. Also which would depend on latitude, prevailing wind direction, strength of morning to afternoon sun etc., but that is for others now. On sloping land, contour and spiral contour strategies need to be assessed. If temperatures are to rise then wind velocities will become more problematic making shelter belts essential. And, of course, these landscapes/treescapes must be established decades before they are required. Finally, and in purely economic terms, it is usually accepted that production from an established agroforestry system has a fifty per cent higher total output than the same area of land devoted separately to conventional cropping and woodland.

Peter Askin

Shropshire Agroforestry Project

13.03.15 Planting trees on-farm: funding options

The Woodland Trust offers financial and practical assistance to help farmers benefit from trees, supporting business objectives and the environment.

Benefits from farm trees

Cost effective livestock shelter - extending the period animals can stay outside

Control stock movement - keep stock away from unsuitable areas

Shelter for crops - improve plant water efficiency by slowing wind speeds

Soil management - protect soils from wind and water erosion

Reduced flood risk - improve water infiltration by up to 60 times, helping water travel deep into the ground

Cleaner water - trapping agricultural pollutants

Reduce costs - by growing on-farm firewood supply or woodchip bedding

Boost pollinators - trees sustain pollinators when other food sources may be scarce

Sporting interest - provide valuable cover for game and other wildlife

Landscape value

Funding to plant farm trees

Through the PUR project farmers are able to access:

  • a whole farm tree assessment
  • thoughtfully designed planting schemes tailored to your farm business
  • advice on tree planting, maintenance and management
  • free trees and guards
The scheme is quite flexible and can be adapted to your needs - for example planting shelterbelts, riparian strips, pasture trees, woodland or developing agro-forestry systems
For more information please contact 01476 452356 or click here.

Watch the video of Stephen Briggs our great blogger from earlier this week.

Following on from the fab article that Stephen Briggs wrote earlier this week on implementing agro-forestry systems on his farm, here is a video produced by the Woodland Trust that shows him explaining his reasons behind the project and some great footage of the farm.

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