The Northern Ireland Agricultural Research and Development Council (AgriSearch) is a levy funded, farmer-led ruminant research organisation focused on providing practical benefit for farmers to reduce costs, improve performance, drive innovation and improve animal welfare. In response to the challenge of mitigating Greenhouse Gas emissions related to primary food production, AgriSearch have set up the Beacon Farm Network consisting of 50 farms with varying enterprises, to gather evidence on maintaining and developing sustainable farming systems and have selected Agrecalc as their carbon footprint calculator.
AgriSearch set out to benchmark carbon sequestration on farm, quantify the benefit of ecosystem services provided by farmers, and encourage the development of innovative, resilient and sustainable farming systems.
In 2021, all farms within the network were benchmarked for carbon emissions and sequestration, with 7 farms (representative of the network) selected for the production of a detailed case study. Case study farms received a carefully designed strategy for reducing emissions and improving farm resilience.
AgriSearch selected SAC Consulting for benchmarking their Beacon Farm Network due to the ability of the Agrecalc system to accurately estimate Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide emissions from each farming system. This allows participating farmers to understand the impacts of individual enterprises on the environment and establish target areas within their business for reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions.
The team at AgriSearch were in consensus that “the ease and functionality of the Agrecalc product alongside the support provided from the dedicated consultant team, separated Agrecalc from its competitors when choosing a benchmarking system. In particular the ability to generate emissions at an enterprise level was essential for our project objectives.”
Following assessment of dairy farms within the Beacon Farm Network by Agrecalc software, the average annual gross carbon footprint was found to be 1.29kg carbon dioxide equivalents per litre of fat and protein corrected milk, which is below the industry average of 1.51kg.
When soil carbon sequestration was accounted for, the average carbon footprint dropped to 0.87kg, indicating the already sustainable systems in place across Northern Ireland.
Assessment of beef and sheep farms in the network conveyed an average annual gross carbon footprint of 34kg carbon dioxide equivalents per kilogram of product output, which dropped to 17kg when soil carbon sequestration was included.
With an initial benchmark put in place for each farm, AgriSearch utilised SAC’s consultant services and complete detailed case studies on 7 farm businesses to establish emission mitigation measures that can be implemented on farm. Consultants met with the 7 chosen farmers to put together bespoke plans for each business to reduce total farm GHG emissions.
In many cases the implementation of a range of mitigation measures such as inclusion of legumes into grassland, improved fertiliser and manure management, improved herd / flock fertility and quality, and increased woodland and hedgerow planting, could mitigate up to 10% of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions on farm.
“Throughout the process of benchmarking the farms within our Beacon Farm Network support was consistently provided by Agrecalc. Questions were answered promptly and knowledgeably and feedback was always taken into account for future software updates, giving confidence in the ability of the product to evolve and meet our needs going forward”, concluded the team.
In the future, AgriSearch plan to continue to utilise the Agrecalc’s precise calculations to monitor for carbon emission reductions on farms within the Beacon Farm Network and to continue to identify changes in farming practices that can have a substantial impact on reducing carbon footprint on farm.
The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has awarded £3.3 million in funding to a major on-farm trial and research project that seeks to eliminate the dependence of UK grassland farming on applied nitrogen fertilisers, with carbon footprints on the technology to be evaluated by Agrecalc.