Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


20.06.16 Monitor farm helps cut milk production costs

Source: The Scottish Farmer, 9th June 2016, Gordon Davidson 

Monitor farm projects aimed at reducing Scottish dairy farmers cost of production have been of 'significant benefit' according to participants at the final project meetings at Glennap in the south west and Auchenheath in Lanarkshire.

Glenapp Estate manager, Charlie Russell, cited how the group has helped him achieve significantly lower cost of milk production: "When we first set out as hosts for the monitor farm project here in Glenapp, we were still on a steep learning curve, having only recently established the dairy enterprise. When the project first started our break even costs of production were 26 / 27ppl."

"Thankfully, having implemented many recommendations from the group meetings, I now see how we can get this to 16ppl. We won't get there this year, but I think its achievable," said Mr Russell.

"Making the best use of grazed grass has been key. Profitability is related indisputably to tons of DM utilised per ha, and our job is to maximise that intake. We have focussed on this at the meetings and we are now much more accurate at measuring grass cover and getting the most from our rotational grazing regime. 

"This past winter we also started experimenting with on - off grazing," added Mr Russell. "This meant putting cows out for only three hours per day, sometimes even less in the worst winter weather, but it certainly seems to have cut feed and forage bills.

"The group has helped to ensure that we have not cut costs to the detriment of output, in fact we are now consistently achieving our target of 2.0kg of milk solids. Tightening up calving patterns and importing the best genetics available have helped with this yield achievement."

Gavin Ballantyne, who hosted the central dairy monitor farm on his family's  140 cow unit at Auchenheath, commented: "Being selected to host the monitor farm project came about at just the right time for us. Prior to the project, and our expansion, Auchenheath was performing well, but standing still. The farm probably wasn't sustainable in the long term and therefore we had a get-in or get-out decision to make.

"Throughout the project the group has helped us face up to the challenges of growing herd by retaining home bred heifers," he said. "We have now reached our initial target of 145 cows in mill, erected the new slurry tower, built a new cow shed and bought 40 acres of rough ground into full production. 

"The reality is that if milk prices had stayed at 25ppl, which is what we were getting when this all started, we would now have grown our milk sales by 47%, which is £77k. These are great figures to focus on and hopefully achieve when the price does pick up. Our current milk price of 15-16ppl makes further investment plans very difficult, but no business can afford to stand still."

Looking to the future of the dairy monitor farm project, Glenapp group chairman Neil Wilson stated: "The funding from ScotGov and AHDB, and the support of Sharon Lauder from AHDB Dairy, have been instrumental in making this happen. Hopefully there will be similar support available to carry new dairy monitor farm projects on into the future."

Lesmahagow dairy famer Iain Armstrong summed up the feelings of monitor group members: "The monitor farm project has stimulated a lot of good discussion. I have only missed three meetings out of 17. I have learned a lot and it has made me rethink how we deal with challenges at home."

Source: The Scottish Farmer, 9th June, Gordon Davidson

09.06.16 Calling all solar farmers in the South West!

We are looking for farmers in the south west who have installed ground mounted solar panels on-farm and might be interested in taking part in a research project.

What's it all about?

We are looking at soil characteristics under solar panels, and what impact the panels have on carbon sequestration, soil structure and organic matter.  If you have solar panels on your farm and are based in the southwest and would be up for having some samples taken to provide baseline monitoring, get in touch! 

How do I take part?

At this point we are still in the planning stages, so if you are interested in finding out what could be involved, please contact Becky Willson on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by phone on 07875356611 or 01579 372376.

09.06.16 Event details for Farm Walk Tolhurst Organic

Farm Walk with Soil Farmer of the Year Runner Up - Iain Tolhurst

Come along to this event to find out more about this organic horticulture business and why they received runner up in our Soil Farmer of the Year competition.

The farm was awarded second place due to their impressive knowledge and understanding of how to maximise  soil biodiversity, and their innovative use of composts and green manures within his rotation as well as an agro-forestry system.  While this business has been established over 40 years, it continues to innovate, push boundaries and educate others. 

Event details

When? Friday 8th July

What time? 12.30 - 4pm


12.15 - 12.30 Arrival

12.30 Award ceremony

1.00 - 2.00 Lunch and discussion

2.00 - 4.00 Farm Walk

How do I book? 

Attendance at the event is free, but booking is required.  Please contact Becky Willson by email or phone / text on 07875356611

Click here to download the flier.

31.05.16 Predicting nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser applications, new research released

This information comes from a paper entitled “Spatially explicit estimates of N2O emissions from croplands suggest climate mitigation opportunities from improved fertiliser management” which has just been published in Global Change Biology journal and was written by Gerber et al.  To access the paper please click here.

The largest source of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from agriculture are synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser and manure applications to crops, which is projected to increase by around 50% from 2000 – 2050 (FAO, 2012). Between 2000 and 2011, annual N2O emissions from synthetic and manure fertiliser increased by 37% and 12% respectively.  Consequently reducing N2O emissions from croplands is critical for addressing climate change and ozone depletion concerns.

Whats the deal with N2O?

N2O is produced naturally from the processes of denitrification and microbally mediated nitrification in soils leading to emissions rates that depend on soil, weather and cropping conditions and are also highly variable over time. These emissions are classified as direct N2O emissions and are different from ‘indirect’ N2O emissions where N2O is formed from Nitrogen that is leached or volatilised from managed soils, and N2O emissions associated with land use change.

How does this link with reporting data and emissions factors?

Emissions factors are often used to relate applied nitrogen to N2O emissions across broad spatial scales.  Despite the relative ease of applying linear emissions models to estimate N2O emissions from crops, recent synthesis of field observations suggest a highly non-linear response.

What happens in the field is that nitrous oxide emissions accelerate with increased N applications. This superlinear response is due to the relatively greater excess nitrogen which is unused by the crop at higher fertilisation levels, and this extra nitrogen is therefore available to be emitted as nitrous oxide.  What has been missing from the models until now is any sub-national data or crop specific data that would allow a further understanding of what the effect is in different regions and with different crops.  This research therefore aims to try and fill some of these gaps by generating relatively accurate and crop specific nitrous oxide emissions data from global croplands as well as crop specific estimates of manure applications.  

This then provides an updated model and nitrogen fertiliser application rate to allow the researchers to calculate spatially explicit, crop specific global N2O emissions and contrast the results with what we currently have (IPCC Tier 1 accounting data). The aim (for practical reasons) should then allow for the identification of crops and regions where small changes in nitrogen application would generate large changes in nitrous oxide emissions.

What did they find?

By pinpointing crops and regions that were associated with disproportionally high or low N2O emissions it provides an opportunity to ask questions as to what the difference in management is between the two areas or whether it is  a cropping or climate issue.  

A geographical example that this model highlighted is below.

Shandong province in China emits around 4% of global cropland N2O yet comprises just 1% of crop harvested area.  Reducing nitrogen application rates by 5% in this province would cut provincial crop N2O emissions by 9% and global crop emissions by 0.35%.  Comparing this to increasing N fertilise application by 50% over sub Saharan Africa would increase N2O emissions by 2.7%.

Although there are always limitations with modelling studies, this research does provide some interesting policy recommendations.  It does show that increased fertiliser application is not strongly coupled to increased nitrous oxide emissions at low Nitrogen application rates, a major opportunity, given increased crop production is necessary to meet growing food demand. It also indicates that in areas with low N application rates, small fertiliser additions generate the most substantial yield improvements.  Conversely small reduction in fertiliser applications in high nitrogen input regions may result in substantially reduced nitrous oxide emissions from that cropland system.

Full reference

Gerber, J. S., Carlson, K. M., Makowski, D., Mueller, N. D., Garcia de Cortazar-Atauri, I., Havlík, P., Herrero, M., Launay, M., O'Connell, C. S., Smith, P. and West, P. C. (2016), Spatially explicit estimates of N2O emissions from croplands suggest climate mitigation opportunities from improved fertilizer management. Glob Change Biol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/gcb.13341

To access it online, please click here

19.05.16 Knowledge needs, available actions and future challenges in agricultural soils

"Enhancing soil health is key to providing ecosystem services and food security. There are often trade-offs to using a particular practice, or it is not fully understood. This work aimed to identify practices beneficial to soil health, and gaps in our knowledge. We reviewed existing research on agricultural practices and an expert panel assessed their effectiveness.  The three most beneficial practices used a mix of organic or inorganic material, cover crops or crop rotations. 

This paper which has recently been published in the journal Soil and written by Key et al, aimed to clarify research needs and identify effective actions for enhancing soil health at the farm level.

To read the paper in full please click here.

The benefits of soil management and its relationship with not just farm profitability, but sustainability and environmental resilience are well known.  Enhancing soil health is central to delivering food security and ecosystem services.  In addition to food production, healthy soils also underpin a wide range of ecosystem services, including the carbon sequestration, flood control and biological control of pests and disease which are crucial to underpinning sustainable development goals.

While many farmers are well versed in how to maintain soil health, they are often not aware of the trade-offs that exist between enhancing certain soil properties and maintaining the functions that underpin them.   An example of this uncertainty is the relationship between farming practices and the diversity and functioning of soil microbial communities that help transform nutrients into plant available form. 

As well as these trade-offs there are also discussions around the knowledge needs for policy, especially around the need for evidence based environmental policies for sustainable soil management as well as the identification of knowledge needs for researchers and farmers. 

The research that this paper describes aimed to identify effective actions that farmers could do that would enhance soil health and see where the gaps were in current research.  This was done by looking at a multitude of previous research (718 studies!) around soil management practices that were designed to maintain or enhance elements of soil health.  Once the literature had provided a list of practices, an expert panel was then selected (that included soil scientists and practitioners) that assessed the evidence to highlight actions that were beneficial and detrimental to soil health and actions that needed further investigation.  The expert assessment was based on four factors:

·         How effective was the action at enhancing soil health

·         How certain was the expert that the evidence was correct?

·         The strength of the potential negative side effects associated with implementing the action

·         What soil types or locations did the action cover?

What did it find?

Of the 27 actions that were evaluated, only 3 were considered to be unequivocally beneficial to soil health.  These were

  •   The use of a mix of organic and inorganic soil amendments
  •   Growing cover crops
  •    Crop rotation

There were then 4 actions that were considered likely to be beneficial:

·         Grow cover crops between the main crop (living mulches) or between crop rows

·         Amend the soil with formulated chemical compounds

·         Controlled traffic and traffic timing

·         Reducing grazing intensity

The only action that fell into the ‘likely to be ineffective or harmful’ category was reducing fertiliser and pesticide use, largely due to the consequent reductions in crop yields.

The majority of the rest of the actions, fell into the trade-offs category, where evidence suggested that the actions were either beneficial in specific circumstance or considered likely to be beneficial but with strong negative side effects.  This also suggests that there are a large number of current soil management practices that are based on non-scientific knowledge.

What did it recommend?

The use of both scientists and practitioners helped to identify existing knowledge that should be made more accessible to those who put research into practice and highlighted a wide spectrum of certainty regarding the actions covered in this review.

A key finding of the assessment was that it is not yet clear how effective the majority of the reviewed actions are for enhancing soil health. For actions that are considered to include trade-offs, and where there are clear benefits to implementing, more refinement may be needed to minimise any negative effects. 

What was also clear was that there were actions that weren’t included in the review that needed further research, one example being mob grazing. 

The other important point to remember is that farming is based on biological systems, that are site specific and as such this specificity shouldn’t be lost.  The condition of a site needs to be taken into account when recommending practices, given that the impact of various actions will vary depending on many factors, including soil type, the extent to which the soil is degraded, and local climate. This review could lead to targeted best-fit approaches that would be more beneficial to local soil health. 

The review identified that there were some major areas of uncertainty in relation to the effectiveness of certain actions and interventions that, if developed may help to remove the barrier to implementing action at the farm level.

Agricultural intensification is required to improve food security however this needs to be done in a sustainable way if we are to have more resilient agricultural systems in the face of climate change.

To read the paper in full and to look in more detail at the actions that were studied please click here.

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