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Agricultural statistics and climate change

18th Aug 2014

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?