Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit


05.02.2015 Spring Nitrogen Advice Update

ADAS have brought together data on excess winter rainfall and topical information to help farmers make correct nitrogen decisions this season.

In summary:

  • Rainfall data indicates that the majority of the UK has experienced average rainfall so far this winter.
  • Nitrogen leaching losses are likely to be close to average over most of the country.
  • The relatively mild autumn and early winter provided good growing conditions in most areas.
  • Early drilled, well established crops are likely to have taken up useful amounts of soil Nitrogen.
  • Updated rainfall maps will be issued in March.

This information has been provided by ADAS, and the in-depth advice sheet can be accessed here.

20.1.15 A new year challenge!

In going about the day to day business that is farming, including making business decisions, adapting to the weather and changing prices, making sure that you are not annoying the RPA, looking after stock and crops and finding a bit of time to get on top of all those maintenance jobs that need doing, worrying about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is not usually high up the priority list.

This has been confirmed in a recent opinion poll by Defra, which found that “many farmers, but not the majority, recognise the importance of GHG emissions, but most remain unconvinced about the business benefits of reducing them, and struggle to find time to do anything about it.”

So for 2015, the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit is trying to do something about this, by bringing together pioneering farmers and experts to show where the business benefits are from reducing emissions and show that everyone can achieve savings and increase profitability.

The conference entitled “Farming Profitably in a Changing Climate” is on the 3rd February at the Rural Innovation Centre in Cirencester, and will explore practical measures to improve profitability on-farm and reduce emissions.

“Far from being another opportunity to berate farmers about the challenges that come from managing resources, this conference really aims to highlight the positive economic benefits that come from reducing emissions” explains farmer and FCCT directors Adam Twine. “There is a real opportunity for farmers to make a difference to their bottom line by making small changes to management of soil, nutrients, livestock and crops in spite of difficult economic conditions.”

“This conference will champion real farmers who are achieving real savings and give them a stage to show others how to do it.”

The morning sessions will include a talk by Rebecca Audsley, Climate change project manager from Scotland who has been running a demo farm project with Scottish farmers for the last three years. These demo farms which span a wide range of farming systems have yielded real results in terms of cutting carbon and costs. “This will be a great opportunity to share what has worked well on other farms and get practical ideas to boost farm profits and cut carbon,” explains Rebecca. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is really about maximising resource efficiency, which can in turn benefit both the farm business and the environment.”

The chief climate change advisor from the NFU Dr Ceris Jones will explain the policy drivers behind the science and show that getting involved isn’t complicated. She confirms “if your aims for your business are to improve productivity and profitability, then it’s likely that you’re already on the road to becoming a lower carbon farmer or grower.”

The morning session will also include the retailer’s perspective, with speakers from Marks & Spencer and PepsiCo on what’s driving them to focus on carbon and sustainability. There will also be an inspirational key note address from Farmers Weekly 2014 Sustainable Farmer of the Year Richard Clothier on implementing sustainability and low carbon technology at Wyke Farms.

In the afternoon the fun continues with delegates able to attend either a livestock or arable focussed session. These will be led by farmers who are achieving a real difference on-farm and will be supported by scientists. For arable farmers Nick August, a champion of cover cropping and controlled traffic farming will share his experiences, ably supported by Dr Jenni Dungait, a leading research scientist on soil carbon, and fertiliser advice from Yara and Edaphos. For livestock farmers, Nuffield Scholar Robert Thornhill will share his experience of implementing sustainable grazing systems and dairy farmer Tim Lock who supplies Marks & Spencer will explain how he integrates carbon into his business. This session will be supported by FCCT’s Becky Willson who will lead a discussion on manure management.

It promises to be an interesting day, with lots of discussion and sharing of ideas as well as opportunities to be inspired and make a change to your bottom line at home.

When looking at greenhouse gas emissions and carbon on-farm, the real danger is that because there is confusion, we do nothing and ignore it. So my challenge to you is to get involved now. Come along to the event and find out how to reduce emissions in a practical way and increase returns to your business.

For more information and to book your place please contact Becky Willson at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or phone 0845 4587485.

This conference is supported by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for which Defra is the Managing Authority, part funded (or financed) by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.

16.1.15 Strategies for reducing enteric methane emissions in forage based beef production systems

Management strategies to reduce enteric methane emissions can be categorised into three sections, forage utilisation, feed additives and improved production efficiencies. The material from this blog comes from a review of scientific research into strategies for beef cattle and was done in Canada, as such some of the strategies that they recommend are not available in the UK.

Science has demonstrated that forage quality has a significant impact on enteric methane emissions. This can be seen both in conserved forage (when stock are fed hay or silage) and in grazing systems. The research suggests that animals fed higher quality feed, so hay and silage with a higher D value or animals allowed to graze pasture early in the season, emitted less methane than those fed on lower quality forage (either fresh and conserved). Emissions seem to be influenced by pasture dry matter availability and quality. High levels of enteric emissions would be seen when the animal is presented with poor quality forage and limited ability to select higher quality forage as a consequence of reduced dry matter availability.

Species included

There is research that suggests that inclusion of legume based forages in the diet is associated with higher digestibility and a faster rate of passage, which results in a shift towards high proprionates in the rumen and reduced methane production. The study that looked at this also found that because of this improved feed utilisation within the cow, as a consequence of reduced enteric emissions, growth rates were 11% higher in the legume mix pasture.

Feed additives

There have been difference additives produced that claim to reduce enteric methane production. Ionophores (the technical name of a class of additives commonly fed to cattle to improve feed efficiency and rate of weight gain. They are antibiotics that alter the chemistry of the rumen by changing the bugs in the gut to produce increased amounts of proprionic acid releases more energy per unit weight to the host cow upon oxidation than acetic and butyric acids do, as such is important to global beef production (not in the UK production). There have been studies done that show that these ionophores reduce methane emissions, but not over a long time period, effects “wear off” after around 2 weeks.

Another method that has been looked at is the addition of fat supplementation into high energy finishing diets. Results have shown a reduction in methane emissions of 33% when oil was added to a high concentrate diet (85%). Fat supplementation may well effectively reduce enteric emissions for finishing cattle, although there are not consistent results for emissions in low quality forage diets.

Improved production efficiencies

Consensus amount the research community is that a good strategy that all farmers can implement for mitigation is to decrease methane loss per unit of product (in this case per kg of beef produced). Using this approach, strategies should include effective management of feed resources other than forage, for example water quality, mineral supplementation, and ration balancing.

Other than effective management of feeding programmes, there are several other ways that will improve animal productivity, which include selecting animals for improved production, breeding and fertility management.

Adoption of strategies that serve to improve production efficiency, including feed analysis, ration balancing, pregnancy testing, and provision of minerals and quality water sources will not only serve to reduce enteric methane emissions but will also prove to be economically beneficial.

For more information on strategies to reduce emissions from beef production, please click here to visit the Toolkit.

05.01.15 Reducing GHG emissions from livestock - best practice and emerging options

This report has been released from the livestock research group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse gases and the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) platform.

As we have been focussing on livestock and especially the role of diets in GHG emissions. Livestock pays an important role in climate change. Livestock systems including energy use and land use change along the supply chain, accounted for an estimated 14.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2010. More than half of these (about 65%) are related to cattle. Direct emissions from livestock and feed production constitute 80% of total agricultural emissions and as such need to be part of any effort to reduce the contribution of food production to global climate change.

This report describes 6 broad areas where on-farm emissions from animal production can be reduced, broken down into different intervention options. Management strategies have been broken into:

Improving feed quality and digestibility

Improving animal health and husbandry

Manure management: collection, storage and utilisation

Precision livestock farming

Feed and nutrition

Feed and nutrition directly affects an animal’s productivity and health status and can strongly influence GHG emissions per unit of product. When dealing with ruminants, a large fraction of GHG emissions is caused by enteric methane production in the rumen. There are multiple ways in which feed quality and digestibility can be improved in all production systems, which will in turn improve rumen efficiency. As well as improving quality, there are substitutes and supplements that have been developed to increase resource efficiency and change fermentation processes in the animal to decrease GHG emissions intensity. The efficacy of upscaling these approaches however, may in some instances, conflict with food security if crops are used to feed animals instead of humans directly.

Improving forage quality

Grazing management and improving forage quality by changing forage species can equally contribute to an improved diet formulation in extensive systems which can substantially increase feed efficiency and production. Reductions in emissions intensity of 30% are considered possible in systems that currently use very low quality feed.

Dietary improvements and substitutes

Feed substitutes can change fermentation processes in the rumen and influence methane production. Feeding corn or legume silages, starch or soya decreases methane production when compared to grass silage. When looking at feeding alternatives, brassicas have been shown to reduce methane emissions in sheep and cattle although with differing implications for productivity. Another option investigated was the combination of maize and legume silage, which was found to reduce N wastage, providing improvements in terms of water quality and GHG emissions.

Feed supplements

Concentrate feed and starches will generally provide more digestible nutrients than roughages, which increases the digestibility of feed and generally lifts animal productivity. The sustainability of this approach (in terms of GHG mitigation) depends on the access to and availability of feed and potential competition with direct human consumption. There are a variety of cost effective lipid sources that are found in by products of industry, for example distiller’s grains, or meals from the biodiesel industry. Lipids seem to increase feed efficiency but their effect depends on feed consumption and the effect is limited on pastures. The long term effects on productivity and product quality need further research.

Precision feeding

The area of precision feeding is all about getting the right nutrient to the right animal at the right time. Understanding an animal’s need on a daily basis can result in major resource efficiency gains. Although direct mitigation effects are uncertain and hard to predict, precision feeding will increase feed efficiency and productivity and consequently can improve farm profitability.

Customised balanced feeding programmes in dairy cattle have been shown to be effective at increasing productivity and reducing methane emissions intensity (by between 15-20%) and also N excretion (20-30%) which results in reduced emissions from manure. Precision feeding has the greatest potential in high value systems that are already using technology on-farm.

What’s next?

Increasing animal productivity has financial benefits associated with it. In order to achieve this, knowledge and understanding of feed quality and the animals’ need is required as well as flexibility to change production systems to grow sufficient quantities and qualities of feed.

What are the barriers?

To implement precision feeding systems, investment will be needed in new technology as well as knowledge in how to run it, as well as the existence of adequate infrastructure and supply chains.

For strategies that involve using substitutes or supplements as well as system changes, new knowledge may be needed by farm managers and the impact on the whole farm and the wider supply chain of using different products will need to be monitored.

For more information and to read the report in full, please click here.


22.12.14 Seasons greetings

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