Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


27.07.15 Global best practice guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock

The Livestock Research Group (LRG) of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) and Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform have joined forces to compile information about greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation options currently available, and a roadmap of emerging options based on current research, to help make progress on meeting global food demand while reducing the food industry’s contribution to global climate change.

The document summarises current best practices ready for implementation at the farm level, as well as emerging options at various stages of research to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of livestock production across a range of farm systems.

The document covers intervention options for animal feed and nutrition, genetics and breeding, rumen modification, animal health, manure, and grassland management. It provides a readily accessible guide to current best practices that can help reduce emissions intensity of livestock production, but also outlines current areas of active research that offer opportunities for industry to engage with the science sector to help expand the range of options and their effectiveness in different farm systems.

The document was commissioned by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) on behalf of the LRG co-chairs and the SAI Platform.

Download the guidance here.

Source: Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse gasses

24.07.15 Compost and climate change: a novel mitigation strategy?

Native soils are thought to take up more of the greenhouse gas methane than land used for farming. This study shows that, while agriculture can exert an adverse impact on soil methane uptake, the application of soil conditioners like compost may compensate for loss of the methane sink function. The researchers propose new land management strategies based on this finding.

Agriculture has become the most dominant land use in Europe. Traditional landscapes have been transformed into modern, intensive agricultural land, notably owing to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. This entails the increased use of soil conditioners, biobased residues added to soil to improve its quality and fertility.

While the addition of these residues may make the land better for growing, it can also decrease the methane consumed by agroecosystems. This is of concern from a climate change perspective as methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 30 times that of carbon dioxide. However, agricultural land does have the potential to take up methane, as well as emit it. Methanotrophic bacteria, which use methane as a source of carbon and energy, are found in wetland agricultural soils like rice paddies as well as dry (aerated) soils. While methanotrophs within rice paddies have been studied extensively, those in well-aerated soils have received little attention, as they are assumed to have a low capacity for methane.

This study is the first to properly test this assumption. The researchers measured methane uptake in two aerated soil types — sandy loam and clay — taken from two typical agricultural fields in the Netherlands. The researchers applied organic conditioners to the soil, then measured the effect on methane uptake. The conditioners tested were sewage sludge, aquatic plant material, compost, wood material and compressed beet leaves, added at amounts typical of intensive agricultural practice.

After being added to soil samples, the mixtures were incubated in a chamber for approximately two months. The researchers measured methane and carbon dioxide flows, as well as the rate at which methane was oxidised.

Their analysis revealed a surprising finding: the addition of the soil conditioners contributed to increased methane uptake. The researchers suggest the conditioners had this effect by increasing the nutrients available in the soil by introducing new methanotrophs, both of which can stimulate methane oxidation (although the latter by a lesser extent).

The researchers determined methane uptake rates at a range of methane concentrations using the untreated agricultural soils. The agricultural soils showed the ability to oxidise methane over a wide range of concentrations, from atmospheric levels to very high concentrations, but after treatment, methane consumption increased up to threefold higher than in the untreated soil.

Consistent in both soils, amendment with compost had the greatest effect, and was able to offset approximately 16% of net emitted carbon dioxide. Applying compost to agricultural soils could thus reduce the impact of carbon dioxide and methane emission — both of which are greenhouse gases.

The transformation of land for intensive agriculture is known to reduce methane uptake relative to natural landscapes. This study makes recommendations for management strategies to compensate for this. The authors suggest simple changes, such as the repeated application of compost, could reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to note that this research was conducted in the laboratory. The researchers therefore recommend field-based studies, as well as investigations of the impact of the intervention on nitrous oxide emission, another major greenhouse gas.

Source: Science for Environmental Policy, 23rd July 2015

16.07.15 Theme of the month: Nitrous Oxide

So we are having a bit of a change this month and focussing for the next few weeks on nitrous oxide and the issues that arise from agriculture and land use that concern emissions.

The deal with Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous Oxide is over 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, so reducing the emissions of this gas is particularly important.

About 66% of man made nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture. Within agriculture, nitrous oxide is emitted from the nitrogen in fertiliser, manure and slurries, and crop residues. The next most important sources are burning fossil fuels for energy and transport, making up 15% of emissions and forest fires and biomass cooking at 11%.

Warming impact

Although there is a far lower concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it’s a important greenhouse gas for two reasons, its very efficient at absorbing energy and it stays in the atmosphere for a long time.

Agricultural sources of nitrous oxide

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is produced naturally in soils through the microbial processes of denitrification. These natural emissions of N2O can be increased by a variety of agricultural practices and activities, including the use of synthetic and organic fertilisers, production of nitrogen-fixing crops, cultivation of high organic content soils, and the application of livestock manures and slurries to growing crops. All of these practices directly add additional nitrogen to soils, which can then be converted to N2O. Indirect additions of nitrogen to soils can also result in N2O emissions. Surface run-off and leaching of applied nitrogen into ground water and surface waters can also result in indirect additions of nitrogen to the soil. Nitrous oxide is also produced through the denitrification of the organic nitrogen in livestock manure and urine. The production of N2O from livestock manure is likely to depend on the composition of the manure and urine, the type of bacteria involved in the process, and the amount of oxygen and liquid in the manure system.

What can we do about it?

We can’t get away from the fact that nitrous oxide naturally occurs as part of the nitrogen cycle. However we can influence the amount of indirect emission by adapting the way that we manage our soils, manures, fertilisers and rotations. These are the things that we will be focussing on this month (and hopefully provide you with lots of useful insights for you to consider                                                                                        whilst sitting on your tractor for harvest!).

Sources: FCCT Toolkit, IPCC report, Davidson and Kanter, (2014) Inventories and scenarios of nitrous oxide; Environmental Research Letters

16.07.15 IYS2015 The Soil Atlas

The Soil Atlas 2015 presents facts and figures about earth, land and fields; its broad ranging significance and its current state in Germany, Europe and the world.

Price explosions and land speculation, increasing soil loss as a result of erosion and sealing, the effects of globalised agro-industry on production and food availability across the globe, the problems associated with the land distribution all impact on the management and risks for soils that we need to grow productive crops and feed the growing population.  These are all looked at in this new soil atlas.

The Soil Atlas provides insights into the current state of the soils on which we depend and highlights the threats posed to them in numerous illustrations and texts.

The Soil Atlas 2015 aims to inform and improve the ability of consumers to make informed decisions and sketches out pathways to a responsible agriculture and soil policy.

Download the atlas here. For more information on other soil resources for the International Year of Soils click here.

For more information on practical ways to build and maintain soils please visit the soils pages of the FCCT Toolkit.

10.07.15 Sustainable Intensification Platform, first newsletter out now

The Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) is a multi –partner research platform funded by Defra to explore the opportunities and risks for sustainable intensification, from a range of perspectives and at a range of scales across England and Wales.

There are three linked interdisciplinary research                                                                                          projects:

SIP 1: Integrated Farm Management for improved economic, environmental and social performance

SIP 2: Opportunities and risks for farming and the environment at a landscape scale

SIP 3: A scoping study on the influence of external drivers and actors on the sustainability and productivity of England and Welsh farming

The projects are being delivered by a consortium of academic research institutions as well as farming and environmental organisations.

What’s happening now

The first newsletter from the SIP network is now available to read. This edition of SIP Scene essentially forms an introduction to SIP and outlines the planned research as well as containing some wider thought pieces and views from in and around the Platform.

Download the current version here.

To make sure that you don’t miss out on subsequent versions, why not sign up to receive it straight to your inbox, by emailing Jennifer Preston at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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