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13.10.14 The controversy around fracking

Fracking

So just to finish this month’s theme off looking at attitudes, we are shifting the focus slightly away from climate change in general and looking at something which has received a lot of media attention recently, the recovery of shale gas by fracking.

Why do we need gas?

A third of UK energy demand is met by gas. In 2012 around a quarter of gas used in the UK was used to produce electricity, about a fifth by industry and around 40% to cook food and heat buildings.

In 2003 the UK were a net exporter of gas, but North Sea production is now declining and the UK is a net importer. By 2025 it is expected that the UK will be importing near to 70% of the gas consumed (DECC figures) if we don’t use shale.

DECC’s aim is to secure energy supply by maximising UK production of the fuels that we need, increasing generation from renewables and using energy more wisely.

So how does fracking work?

Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. It is done by drilling into the earth and directing a high pressure water mixture at the rick to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rick at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process can be carried out vertically or horizontally by drilling and can be used to extend existing channels or create new pathways.

How does it score on emissions?

The process of extracting the gas, which includes exploratory drilling, hydraulic fracturing, gas production and well abandonment phases, has the potential to release methane into the atmosphere. These emissions could increase the carbon footprint of shale gas and in large quantities it could lessen the climate benefits of using natural gas when compared to oil and coal.

At exploration stage there is usually no use for the gas and so it is burnt off (or “flared”) to minimise emissions. Flaring reduces GHG emissions by about 80% compared to allowing it to escape into the atmosphere. When it is in full production operators capture as much of the methane as possible and export it by pipeline.

Minimising the carbon footprint

A study by the chief scientist for DECC looked at the effect of emissions, and found that the carbon footprint for shale gas is significantly less than for coal when it is used for electricity generation. Most carbon emissions will come from its final use as a fuel.

Why is it controversial?

Fracking has been used extensively in the US and has raised some environmental concerns. The environmental concerns focus around three key issues:

1. Water use – the process of fracking uses a huge amount of water that needs to be taken to the fracking site at significant environmental cost

2. Contamination of groundwater – Some of the chemicals that are used in the fracking process are nasty and there is a fear that potentially carcinogenic chemicals could escape and pollute groundwater around the fracking site.

3. Tremors – there are also worries that the fracking process can cause small earth tremors.  In 2011, in Blackpool two small earthquakes were reported following fracking.

Environmental campaigners suggest that fracking is distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Attitudes towards fracking

Put fracking into a Google search and as well as a range of imaginative (and not so imaginative!) puns around the word “frack”, you will find a whole heap of campaigns, articles, and blogs from people who are opposed to fracking. Below are just a selection

Dangers of Fracking

In Texas, traffic deaths climb amid fracking boom

Fracking is too dangerous; it threatens the water we drink, the air we breathe and our health”

A colossal fracking mess

What is the effect on farmers?

Just last week the NFU released a statement saying that farmers need assurances of compensation if fracking reduces the value of their land. Interestingly this article from the NFU and the issue of declining land value above fracking sites, all comes down to public perception. NFU members are fearful that the value of their land above fracking sites could be reduced “because of current attitudes and perceptions of fracking” event if no harm was actually caused.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock from the NFU said that the NFU are seeking assurances from the government that landowners will be protected against any possible indirect impacts of fracking.

DECC have responded to the NFU with the following statement: “Whilst the shale gas industry in Britain is in its infancy, extensive research confirms that we – in the UK – have the right regulations in place to ensure that drilling so farm underground has no negative impact on the surface.  Of over half a century of oil and gas production in the UK there has been no evidence that house prices have been impacted and there should be no reason for this to change for shale gas.”

The debate continues...

2.10.14 How do we adapt moving forward?

So following on from the blog at the beginning of the week about communicating climate change and some of the issues surrounding attitudes, this is “part 2” for the end of the week about what this means going forward.

The research from Wiles in 2012 came up with some recommendations for policy makers following on from their discoveries surrounding farmers understanding and interest in climate change and reducing GHG emissions. These included

1.To develop clear and simple information and guidance on climate change and on the mitigating actions that may be taken by farmers. The guidance should be developed through further research and better understanding of farmer perceptions of climate change and the actions needed to mitigate emissions.

2.Encourage positive action and a clear message through the media and other communication pathways.

3.Use financial incentives to encourage practice change

This will all help to achieve the “vision of success” that the UK Government has come up with where agriculture is “efficient, competitive and climate friendly. Very little biomass is landfilled, emissions are tightly controlled and material formerly landfilled is used for renewable energy, compost and fertiliser.”

Scottish data

Research from Scotland is coming up with the same sort of messages. Their research into effective communication messages concludes that “invoking both the profit and stewardship motives” in farmers, would be likely to encourage a balance of business and environmentally oriented behaviours.

What now?

So how do we move forward? Do we need to regulate reducing emissions in order to get everyone engaged? Or do we target grant schemes to those farmers who are engaging with the agenda? Do we install a “carbon compliance” along with cross compliance requirements? There are various options available to those who are making the decisions.

Regulation – placing restrictions on what farmers are legally allowed to do and prohibit undesirable management practices. This works best in situations where the target group is already, or can quickly be persuaded that regulated actions fall below an acceptable, reference level of responsible farming practice.

Economic incentives – taxes and subsidies are the most widely used and analysed methods

Market led and voluntary approaches – promoting environmentally beneficial management practices to encourage higher standards of environmental behaviour among farmers. These have significant potential to encourage high standards of management practices on-farms and are attractive because they offer win-win options to motivated producers, but are unlikely to be sufficient to drive enhanced management of the countryside as a whole.

Education / information provision – raising awareness of environmental issues, including what can be done to address then and why this could be beneficial to farmers.

Opportunities for retailers to help drive up standards?

All major UK supermarkets are currently promoting low carbon products and encouraging producers to calculate the GHG emissions of their products.

Is this an opportunity for retailers to promote emissions reduction methods for producers and include them in their reduction target plans?

What do we do as an industry?

So which of the options do we take? Do we use the stick first and regulate practices that are damaging in terms of emissions? Or do we use the next round of grant funding that will be coming out over the next few months and prioritise those applications which are reducing emissions and sequestering soil carbon? Or do we remain as it is now that if farmers are interested and adapt voluntarily then they will achieve the business benefits, or do we just raise the education level?

One thing is for sure, is that it’s not going to disappear? So what do you think is the best way to make British Agriculture more sustainable and reduce its emissions? Why not let us know now?

29.9.14 How farmers’ perception of climate change alters how we communicate

So as part of this month’s theme of looking at attitudes towards climate change, I thought that I would look at what the social scientists have done in terms of research around farmer attitudes and how this shapes how the messages are communicated. This has involved delving into a subject that I haven’t had many dealings with before, surrounding how you quantify behaviour change and attitudes towards things.

However before we start, I will just first offer some reassurance that I am not going to spend this blog trying to explain the complicated world of social science, but merely look at some of the results that have come from the clever people and places who have asked the questions.

The decision making process

If we look at the general population, in going about their daily lives, people generally do what they have done, what impulse tells them to do or what their neighbours or friends do even when this might not be the most beneficial option for them. The decision making process is complicated. I myself am guilty of putting things off that I don’t want to do and doing all the things that are easy first, or eating a chocolate biscuit when I know that I really shouldn’t. The decision making process for farmers is inherently more complicated as there are numerous factors at work. And when we include climate change in the mix it becomes more complicated again as it is such an important factor in profitability. Climate is the primary determinant of agricultural productivity, and therefore changes in the climate influence many components of agricultural systems, including crop and livestock production, input supplies, soil quality and water supply.

Climate change threatens the long term capacity of food production through increased soil erosion and reduced soil fertility. The certainty of an increased need for food to feed a burgeoning global population and the uncertainty of the short and long term effects of climate change on agriculture combined make efforts to enhance the resilience of agricultural systems a top societal priority. If policy makers, climate scientists and advice programmes are to effectively support farmer adaptation to climate change then farmer’s attitudes towards climate change must be understood.

Put simplistically, for successful policies to help us adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change, farmers need to be concerned about climate change and understand the vulnerability of their business to changing weather patterns. It is probably a good idea at this point to clarify the difference between adaptation and mitigation in terms of effects on behaviour.

Adaptation

Adaptation in this context refers to adjustments in ecological, social or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. It is much more related to actual threats from the climate and the adaptation of management practices to deal with their effects.

Mitigation

Mitigation (in a climate change context) means implementing policies on-farm that are directly related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or improving the level of carbon sequestered in the natural environment (trees, soils, hedgerows etc).

In terms of adjustments of farmer behaviour, adaptation is all about changing due to perceived vulnerability (risk management), whereas mitigation is more about acknowledging that human activity (including agriculture) is a cause of climate change and developing management strategies to reduce those.

Some studies around the world.

American data

The data below comes from an American study based in Iowa. This region (sometimes referred to the Corn Belt) contains some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world. Whilst it only occupies a fraction of US farmland, it produces over half of all US corn and soybean. As a state, it has experienced extreme weather events that have had adverse impacts on agricultural production and the natural resource base.

The data below summarises what they found when they interviewed 1,300 farmers from Iowa. To read the full paper click here.

  • 68% indicated that they believe climate change is happening

  • 10% attributed climate change mostly to human activities

  • 35% believed that climate change is occurring and caused equally by human activities and natural variation

  • 23% attributed climate change primarily to natural causes

  • 28% of farmers indicated uncertainty

  • 5% of people did not believe that climate change is happening

English data

A study by Wiles et al in 2012 (full text here) looked at farmer’s perceptions of climate change and found that:

  • The impacts of climate change are not seen as a pressing threat, nor are extreme weather events regular enough for the majority of farmers to invest time and resources into taking immediate action. Farmers are working to prevent the impacts of short term impacts and maximise opportunities rather than mitigate long-term risks.

  • The majority of farmers are sceptical about long term projections of climate change noting they are confusing lacking consistency and clarity. Instead farmers are likely to take actions based on their own perception of short term variations in weather.

  • There is a disconnect between understanding climate change and taking action to mitigate that change. Lack of government support, information and financial incentives to take action are all noted as key factors.

  • Farmers of necessity are first and foremost focused on profit and performance management of their farms, hence any incentive to take action will need to make sense financially.

  • Scottish Data

    In Scotland as part of a national project evaluating factors influencing farmers’ attitudes and behaviours towards climate change, 550 farmers were interviewed.

    • 50% of respondents believed that average annual temperature will increase in the future

    • 32% agreed that climate change will only impact negatively in the long term

    • 16% were receptive to adopting practices which would reduce emissions

    This work also looked at the different sets of factors that influence decision making, grouped into 4 categories – economic, external, internal and social.

     Economic factors

    Market volatility – agricultural systems are dynamic, since producers and consumers are continuously responding to changes in crop and livestock yields, food prices, input prices, resource availability and advances in technology.

    Economic motivation – only once economic condition had been satisfied , could land managers focus on other priorities.

    Whether or not to participate in economic schemes – economic considerations are acknowledged to be the primary driving force behind participation (along with fit with existing farm management).

    Issues relating to non-profitable farming systems – to maintain high nature value sites.

     External factors

    Capacity to change – regardless of how willing the farmer is to alter their management practices, they must also have the capacity to change.

    Farm size and type – including the theory that larger farmers are more likely to participate in schemes, some research has suggested that farm type is a more significant factor than size.

    Farmer demographics – a massively complex issues that spans subjects including age, tenancy status, education level etc

    Internal factors

    Attitudes, values and beliefs – again massively complex issues which ranges from perceived threat level from effects of climate change to risk management.

    Social factors

    This section deals with the fact that attitudes and behaviours don’t take place in a vacuum, but are influenced by the social content in which they occur.  Decisions are affected by the views and behaviours of their peers and neighbours as well as other family members and society at large.  Also included in this category is the whole area surrounding decision making on the farm.  There is evidence to suggest that in larger complex farm businesses, in particular, decision making is spread among family and non-family members.

     So what does this all mean in terms of moving forward?

    Since farmers are influenced by their social networks, desired behaviours in the innovator / early adopter group need to be encouraged, endorsed and promoted.  Highlighting what farmers are doing to both adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change at the farm scale will help to encourage more to engage with the climate change agenda.  This will be discussed more next week.

    25.09.14 The People’s Climate March – changing attitudes

    The UN Climate Summit is happening this week in New York. This is a meeting with a lot of VIPs at it. The who’s who of international leaders (as well as Leonardo di Caprio) are gathering in New York to discuss the issues surrounding climate change and what we are going to do about it. It’s the first time that they are discussing it since Copenhagen 5 years ago where they didn’t manage to get a binding agreement and so stuck to voluntary pledges instead.

    These talks, being run by Ban Ki Moon are meant to be a chance for governments, cities and businesses to show some ambition on tackling climate change. The summit has two goals:


    • To mobilise political will for a universal and meaningful climate agreement next year in Paris
    • To generate ambitious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience.


    As well as world leaders, there has been a chance for industry and business leaders to attend. The World Farmers Organisation, chaired by Peter Kendall will attend, as part of the Global Alliance of Climate Smart Agriculture. This Alliance aims to make agriculture, forestry and fisheries part of the solution to the negative impacts of climate change.

    Normally this wouldn't make its way into an FCCT blog, unless the talks were concluding with some ground breaking new figures, pledges or statistics that applied to farmers and growers, but the thing that has made this somewhat different (and fits nicely into this month’s blog theme) is the marches that occurred last weekend before the start of the talks. On Sunday 21st September, 2,700 climate events happened around the world with campaigners taking to the streets to demand action on climate change through the People’s Climate March.

    Organisers of the event declared it an overriding success with the climate change profile being raised and over half a million people demonstrating, making it the largest climate change march in history. The march in New York topped 300,000 people and in London 40,000 people took part.

    Some people’s opinions for attending in London are below:


    “I’ve come along because climate change needs more attention. I’m hoping the numbers will be large enough to warrant some sort of attention”

    “It’s the biggest problem we've got to face, but we don’t because we think its too big and its too far off. Its not far off now. You’ve just got to do whatever you can so it goes up the political agenda. Its all our futures, our children’s futures.”

    “The Peoples’ Climate March made it clear that while some may choose to retreat from the inevitability of change, many more are embracing that change with passion, creativity and an unstoppable force. As I marched along with 40,000 others, I felt we were marching towards something rather than away from it. We made history on Sunday, in towns and cities around the world.”(Rob Hopkins, Transition movement)

    We fought apartheid, now climate change is our global enemy” (Desmond Tutu, not at the London March but in the newspaper).

    So will the march have any effect on the decisions coming out of the talks? Let’s wait and see (perhaps optimistically), and next year in Paris where targets may well be set. One thing is for certain, is that the climate change has moved higher up the agenda, and what we do now is crucial. Now is the time for all us to make a start and engage with the issues. There is also an opportunity now to respond to changing public perceoptions and educate people about how farming and growing are central to resolving the issues surrounding sustainable profitable food production and safeguarding natural resources.

    Some photos from marches around the globe

    Photo credit - Philip Barnes



       Photo from Melbourne

    Photo from Perth, Australia

    Sources: RTCC Website, Peoples Climate March website, UN Climate Summit pages.

    12.09.14 Theme of the month – attitudes to climate change

    In the general stresses that surround farming including making business decisions, not annoying the RPA, looking after stock and crops and coping with the weather, worrying about what is the carbon foot print of your business and how it will affect the climate in fifty years’ time for most farmers and growers doesn’t seem immediately relevant.

    Indeed one of the challenges for anyone concerned about the impact of climate change is not only that it seems a long way off from whatever it is that we’re doing at the moment and but also that there’s no tangible reward for possibly changing what we’re doing and making our lives any more complicated or hard work than they are currently.

    The statistical report compiled by Defra recently (that we have done a few blogs on last month) that looks at issues surrounding climate change has asked some questions regarding attitudes to climate change and to start the month, I thought it would be a good starter for 10.

    Research outcomes

    The report highlights some of the problems with adaptation and attitudes. Indeed it reports that “many farmers, but not the majority, recognise the importance of GHG emissions, but most remain unconvinced about the business benefits of reducing emissions. Ensuring a greater understanding of GHG emissions, whilst not a pre-requisite for changing practices and reduced emissions, is likely to be an important driver for change for some farmers. A greater understanding may also lead to the adoption of more measures and cost effective solutions for reducing agricultural GHGs that fit with the farm business.”

    There are numerous research projects that suggest practices that will reduce GHG emissions and provide a business benefit (win win situations). There is even now the terminology of “win win win” situations where not only are you reducing GHG emissions, and saving money, you are also sequestering carbon (who knows how many wins we could end up with?!). Practices advocated include better use of organic manures (and integrating their use with fertiliser applications to avoid over application), ensuring efficient livestock production, managing soil structure, tillage management and energy usage.

    The problems with GHG emissions

    The issue comes that all these practices that are advocated are long term solutions and results are  not visible immediately. If you have a cow that goes down with mastitis, you can treat her, and she will recover over a short time period, she returns to being productive with saleable milk and you can immediately see the business benefit. With management practices concerning GHG reduction, there is less immediate effect and sometimes the benefits are not so clear cut. If we return to our cow example, if cow A has mastitis (providing you know what strain it is and what antibiotic to treat it with), the cow will respond to treatment and return to production. It doesn't make much of a difference as to whether the cow is in Scotland or Cornwall, whether she is being fed a TMR or forage based diet or whether she is a high or low yielder the results will be the same. If we compare this to soil management, the scale of benefits you will see will depend on your soil type, its current state in terms of compaction and what you are growing (along with a whole other host of factors). Its much less clear cut.

    Most farmers are likely to be influenced to change behaviour and practice because it makes business sense; and so it is important when we are communicating research outputs that we highlight the practical and financial considerations.

    The other barriers

    Even considering all this, there are several key barriers to uptake which are non-financial, or not directly financial. Some of these aspects include a lack of willingness to undertake practices advocated, which could be due to limited trust in what is being asked and the outcomes that result, or a lack of ability to undertake (through a lack of understanding, skills, time or capital).

    The latter part (a lack of ability to undertake), can be addressed by making sure that we have effective dissemination of options available, and, if necessary, funding options available to farmers to implement them. Making sure that the information that goes out to farmers on how to reduce emissions is clear and considers all the impacts that the change will have on-farm (for example the effect on existing management, financial implications, suppliers and end market) is imperative. It does rely in part on two way communication, and farmers asking questions and challenging the researchers to get more information.

    The first part which involves a deeper level of trust from farmers and growers and a willingness to engage with the climate change agenda and reducing GHG emissions, is trickier, and will be one of the things that we will be considering this month.

    A call to arms

    Moving forward however, the very real risk is that because of the confusion over potential benefits or drawbacks of implementing one form of management or another, and the range of possible actions available, we are impassive to the whole thing and do nothing. And because we do nothing, and don’t pose the questions that we need answering and switch off from the whole thing, the mistrust and apathy continues.

    Doing nothing is not an option anymore.

    So the challenge this month is to do something. And even if that something is just to tell me that I’m talking a load of codswallop, that’s great too. Communication is the key, to enable us all to ask the questions to the right people and start to normalise discussions about emissions, to highlight practical implementation problems with research, to demand answers and get excited about it. Join in now.

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