A Roadmap to Lower Carbon Footprint on Your Farm

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Julian Bell 11 Jun 2021 Reading Time: 3

Farm carbon accounting is a challenge. Farmers, like society at large, are being faced with an ever-growing chorus of demands to reduce their carbon emissions. This is being led by government but with consumers, retailers and processors also adding to the pressures to take action. Most of the times, this can be a daunting challenge for many farming businesses given the complexity of the biological systems on which farming is based and all the uncertainties that weather, markets and future government supports brings.

Like any major challenge the key is to break it down into smaller and more manageable steps that can be tackled one at a time over an extended period of time.  Farmers are experts in taking on new practices and learning to implement them effectively over a number of years in way that works in their own business and carbon is no different.

Practical advice to manage mitigation targets

Doing what you do better
10-15% carbon reduction, 2- 3 Years, cash positive – more sampling of soils, feeds, weighing of livestock to target input use effectively, a number of incremental technical improvements all round

Medium term gains
Another 10-15% carbon reduction (cumulative 20 to 30% reduction), over 3-5 years, changes in systems (e.g. change in breed / cropping systems) , some capital investment (e.g. band spreading slurry systems, direct drilling equipment) but relatively short payback (<5 years)

Long term capital investment
Another 5-10% carbon reduction (cumulative 25% to 40% reduction), requires long term capital investment (new slurry systems, solar PV), payback may be long, capital grants often required

Sequestration and mitigation technology
To go beyond 30-40% carbon reduction a combination of more involved methods often at net cost may be required; enhanced carbon reduction in soils,  woodland creation, the use of feed additives (methane inhibitors), fertiliser amendments (nitrification inhibitors).

3 easy steps towards your carbon management plan

The first step is to work out where you are in carbon and performance terms and then develop a plan to move forward.

  1. Establish your carbon baseline
    • Undertake a carbon assessment of the farm using a scientifically sound, accredited carbon footprinting tool like Agrecalc.
    • Seek help to prepare the data or complete it yourself. It is important to ensure a high-quality input data, as this will dictate the quality of the outputs.
    • The results should help you understand the main sources of emissions and identify hot spots to target for improvement
  1. You can then start investigating mitigation measures that will lead you towards developing a carbon plan. You can always seek professional help, where needed, by involving existing advisors whether it be agronomy, livestock nutrition or business and target the main sources of carbon emissions.
  2. Now that the carbon plan is ready, always start by planning how to address those issues that will bring performance and financial benefits. Start by agreeing practical steps that fit with your farming plan practical actions. This should be targeted at the relatively short- term (year ahead) with medium- and longer-term aspirations noted.

Of course, the routes that each farm business chooses to cut carbon emissions will differ widely. This will reflect differences between farm types (cropping, livestock type), soils and climate, technical performance, financial and market constraints and the aptitude and interest of the farmer.

How far and how quickly each business chooses to go will ultimately centre around the financial implications.

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Julian Bell

Principal Rural Business Consultant - SAC Consulting

Reading Time: < 1 minute Julian is experienced in managing and delivering agricultural market, business and...

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