Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit

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02.09.14 Caplor Farm

So in preparation for our second field lab event looking at practical ways to reduce GHG emissions from farming, here is a blog written by our second host farm Caplor Farm, explaining a little bit about where they have come from and what inspired them to delve deeper into sustainability and issues surrounding carbon management on-farm.

Gareth Williams’ had been leading a 100 acre mixed farming family business, when in 2007 floods severely affected his potato crops. The farm, in Fownhope, Herefordshire has been run by the family since 1923. The extreme weather lead him to re-evaluate how best to manage his farm to ensure the future generations of the Williams’ family will be able to manage it successfully.

Image: Potato sorting on the farm

He found himself reading about Triple Bottom Line accounting and incorporating this approach into his business, providing him and his young family with a sustainable future whilst making the world a better place.

Image: Gareth Williams and Caplor Farm Solar Thermal and PV Array

Renewable Energy was a natural way for Caplor Farm to diversify after a 70kWp Solar Panel system was installed on the farm in 2009. Gareth Williams was so impressed with the returns and satisfied that the new approach was saving 15 tonnes of carbon on average annually, that he wanted to spread the word and help others achieve success from renewable energy installations. Caplor Farm now enjoys the benefits of additional renewable energy technology such as Solar Thermal production of hot water, Biomass heating for several buildings on site and even a Wind Turbine. Combined, these technologies see less money being spent on electricity, less farm waste going to landfill and more control over on-site energy production.

Image: Gareth Williams and Schoolchildren see animals on Caplor Farm

Since the beginning of this journey, Caplor Energy and Caplor Farm have been involved with the local community environment collective - Fownhope Carbon Reduction Action Group, speaking at corporate events and inviting School children to experience Renewable Energy in action on the farm.

From this integrated approach to environment, social and financial matters, Gareth Williams hopes to enable Caplor Farm to react proactively to changing climates and farming practices ensuring a commercial future for his family and community who it involves.

To find out more about the event which is taking place on the 5th November, and to book your place, please click here.

26.08.14 - The business benefits of benchmarking

In recent years benchmarking has been seen of paramount importance in improving the performance of UK agriculture. Huge amounts of money have been invested in developing software packages and research to allow farmers to critically assess the performance of their business, to compare with other producers in a similar situation and develop tools to help them appraise management decisions to move the business forward.

Benchmarking and the benefits that it brings to farm business management fit into our theme this month here at FCCT of calculators and metrics. Simply speaking, benchmarking involves the comparison of performance indicators derived for one business with the same performance indicator derived for one or more other businesses. However benchmarking also incorporates a focus on the production (physical and technical husbandry), ecosystems, resource management, human resources and business management practices and processes used in the business. Benchmarking focusses on the key variables that influence productivity, profitability, liquidity and solvency. It is an on-going process aimed at continuous improvement. Completing benchmarking at whole farm, enterprise and margin level helps focus on-farm and business performance allowing managers to identify areas of success and where improvements and changes are needed.

There are many tools available to producers to help to benchmark production and assess areas for improvement. A couple are listed below:

HGCA Crop Bench

Crop bench plus was launched in 2014 by HGCA to enable arable farmers to benchmark their arable enterprises to help them improve their efficiency and profitability. The software allows farmers to compare a whole range of data with other growers in their region. Reports cover physical and financial aspects of crop production systems and can help farmers discover best practice and develop new techniques as well as increasing profits.

Dairy Co – Milk Bench

Milkbench was designed as a benchmarking tool specifically for dairy farmers. The software produces six cost cluster reports including feed and forage costs, labour costs, herd health and herd replacement costs, machinery and power costs, property, rent and financing costs and overheads. The software produces a Dairy Enterprise Cost report which provides a breakdown of all costs incurred in the production of milk as well as a breakdown of dairy income.

Stocktake

For beef and sheep producers, EBLEX offers Stocktake, which provides more detailed benchmarking figures and extra data on physical performance than previous Business Pointers. These figures produce data which producers can use to benchmark their performance on costs of production and look at areas where there is scope for improvement.

Benchmarking environmental sustainablilty

But where does environmental and carbon footprinting benchmarking come into all of this? We all realise that it presents a complex picture. Farmers and land managers are engaged in multifunctional activities, with environmental management and sustainable land stewardship central to core activities. Whilst there is an often held perception that farmers prioritise profit above all else, in reality profit and efficiency drivers sit alongside other objectives in a farm business. There are potential win-wins that can exist where strong technical and business performance can occur alongside environmental outputs, and potentially this is where focus should be moving forward in terms of minimising emissions and decreasing the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Looking at research that has come out of Defra, this seems to be what the scientists are advocating moving forward. Metrics can help in the diagnosis of areas of weakness in a business, but also in identifying solutions and driving technological changes in a direction that supports more solutions.

Results from research spanning different agricultural production systems seems to suggest a broadly similar short term conclusion. Improved efficiency in terms of breeding and feeding livestock, optimal use of resources (including fertiliser and manures), and higher levels of farm management (including measuring and benchmarking) will all help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as drive efficiency and profit, and create a sustainable and resilient agricultural industry.

For more information on practical measures to reduce emissions click here to access the FCCT Toolkit with sector specific information on what to do now.

18.08.14 Agricultural statistics and climate change

So following on from the introductory blog last week, this week’s blog is a little bit more detail on the newly released Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change report compiled by Defra and the Office for National Statistics.

This report provides an update on how the UK Agricultural Industry is doing in responding to the need to reduce GHG emissions from agricultural production by 3Mt CO₂e by 2020 (from 2007 baseline levels).

Methodology and data collection

So in order to calculate how we are doing, the people who do the number crunching and create the statistics use a variety of data. Data on land use and livestock numbers comes from Defra’s June Census information. When it comes to looking at what is happening out on farms and what practices are being used, a couple of studies are used including Defra’s Farm Practices Survey as well as the British Survey of Fertiliser Practice. These sets of data allow the researchers to look at whether we are changing what we are doing out on farm in terms of fertiliser applications, livestock diets, planning nutrient applications and managing the farm business and what the drivers are behind it.

This data is used alongside a model developed by ADAS and Defra called Farmscoper. Farmscoper is a decision support tool which can be used to assess diffuse agricultural pollutant loads on a farm and quantify the impacts of farm mitigation methods on those pollutants. The model also determines the potential additional consequences of adopting these mitigation methods on biodiversity, energy and water use.

The headline results.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be delving into some of the sections in more detail, but to start things off here are the headline results that have come out of the study.

There are 10 indicators used in this study to look at how we are progressing in terms of minimising GHG emissions. These indicators (which are described a bit further down) suggest that by early 2014 a 1.15MtCO₂eq reduction in GHGs has been achieved (a reduction of 33% when compared to the 2007 baseline).

Results from the different indicator measures

Attitudes and Knowledge

7% of farmers reported that it was “very important” to consider GHGs when making farm management decisions while 39% thought it fairly important.

59% of farmers were taking action to reduce emissions (within this percentage there were more large farms than small

Uptake of mitigation methods

By Feb 2014 approximately 1MtCO₂e reduction in GHG emissions had been achieved from the uptake of key mitigation methods

Mitigation methods related to nutrient management (for example calibrating your fertiliser spreader) collectively provide the greatest potential to reduce emissions

The technical potential reduction (if methods were implemented on all farms) is 3MtCO₂e

Soil Nitrogen balance

Surplus N in soils provides environmental risks in terms of pollution and water quality. This indicator shows potential environmental pressure from agricultural production.

Over the longer term the N surplus (kg/ha) in England has fallen by 18% since 2000. The main drivers have been a reduction in applications of bagged fertiliser (especially to grassland) and a reduction in manure production (due to falling livestock numbers).

As well as these three indicators, there are also a host of sector specific indicators which are listed below.

  • Pig sector – feed conversion rate for fattening herd
  • Grazing livestock – beef and sheep breeding regimes
  • Dairy sector – ratio of dairy cow feed production to milk production
  • Poultry – feed conversion ratio for table birds
  • Cereals and other crops – manufactured fertiliser applications
  • Slurry and manure (storage, use and application)
  • Organic fertiliser application


So although we are making progress against the targets there is scope for us to do more in terms of reducing GHG emissions. Simple measures like calibrating your fertiliser spreader, ensuring that nutrient applications are planned and take into account field conditions and crops grown as well as optimising efficient livestock production will all help not just in terms of maintaining profitable farm businesses but also reducing GHG emissions and increasing the sustainability of agricultural production, a challenge for us all to think about moving forward.

To read the full report click here, or keep an eye on the blog as we will be looking at more statistics from this report throughout the month.

Why not have a go at using the FCCT Carbon Calculator to take stock of where your business is now and see where it may be possible to reduce emissions?

08.08.14 Theme of the month calculators and metrics

The old adage of you can’t manage what you don’t measure is the underlying message for this month’s theme.

The issues of carbon calculators, emissions factors, efficiency measures and how to unravel it all to aid management decisions for the farm business is a fairly complex situation and one that we will be attempting to sort out. So at the beginning of the month, here’s a quick summary of what we are going to be looking at and what the issues are.

Carbon Footprinting

Identifying the carbon footprint of a farm business is the first vital step in being able to quantify the contribution that the farm is making to climate change. A carbon footprint calculation identifies the quantity and source of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted from the farm (as well as carbon sequestered in soils and woodland) highlighting areas where improvements or changes can be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Action Plan

This initiative which is managed by an industry partnership, has been set up to look at options for producers to reduce emissions on-farm. The action plan sets out how reductions in emissions can be made through greater resource efficiency, generally involving changes in farm practices which are also good in terms of business operations through more efficient use of fertiliser or more efficient animal husbandry.

Targets and Statistics

Without getting too caught up in policy, targets and figures we will also bring you an update on what’s happening in terms of agriculture and climate change mitigation in the UK. Statistics produced include data on emissions and links to information on farmer attitudes to climate change mitigation and uptake of mitigation measures. The latest edition of Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change (a fascinating document albeit very long at 115 pages!) looks at the effect of management practices on the emissions data. Without giving away the results, before a blog on it in the near future, current indicators suggest that by early 2014 a 1.15MtC0₂ equivalent reduction in GHGs had been achieved, around 33% of the estimated maximum technical potential.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking your business is a valuable tool in order to evaluate and asses how you farm is performing. It helps to formulate and frame the right questions, highlights strengths and weaknesses and all this enables greater focus on priorities for further assessment and better use of resources.

There are a wide range of opportunities for benchmarking various commodities and production systems within agriculture (for example crop bench, milk bench) as well as the Farm Business Survey and Key Performance Indicators.

So that’s a quick run down of what we will be up to this month. So for those of you who aren’t sat on a combine and might have a spare few minutes, why not have a look at the FCCT carbon calculator and see how your business is performing in terms of emissions. We’ll have more detail on it, as well as a couple of farm examples later on in the month.

06.08.14 Spotlight on: Regen Ag UK

RegenAG UK promotes the use of tools and techniques which regenerate the triple bottom line of farming; net productivity, the ecosystems that relies on, and the people involved with and affected by it. We deliver courses and co-ordinate peer-peer learning with regard to specific tools, techniques, and understanding which support optimization of ecosystem services whilst significantly reducing inputs and simultaneously increasing net productivity and are developing a ‘community of practice’.

Our focus was inspired by the work of Darren Doherty of Regrarians Ltd, who uses P.A. Yeomans’ Scale of Permanence as a base to a framework for farm design. He integrates Allan Savory’s Holistic Management decision-making framework as well as Holistic Planned Grazing and Joel Salatin’s pioneering example of intense sustainable diversification, internships and apprenticeships which increases the productivity of an given area of land manyfold. Alongside this Darren (and RAUK) promotes the use of biofertilisers and soil chromatography as cheap methods to understand soil health (or lack of and what is required) and remedy imbalances between microbial, mineral and organic matter elements.

Holistic Management (HM) and Holistic Planned Grazing(HPG):

Holistic Management is a decision-making framework applicable to any scenario but developed particularly with land-management in mind. Place a ‘W’ at the front of ‘holistic’ and it’s nature becomes more apparent in that it helps us make and test management decisions with the benefit of different wholes in mind (the family, the estate, the business, the community, etc.).

HPG is based on insights about the ways that grazing patterns affect not only plant growth but also soil health and wildlife biodiversity, and the ways in which all these factors interact in terms of improvement in one feeding back beneficially to the others. Grazing is managed in a way which mimics the movement of large herds of stock across the landscape, as they did as many ecosystems developed, and the careful attention to timing (long rest periods with short but intense grazing periods) has been shown to result in benefits in terms of production and animal health as well as to the environment.

Courses are running in October, with funding available to help with the cost for English farmers – for more details click here


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