Which Greenhouse Gases Does Your Farm Need to Reduce?

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Neil Carter 8 Nov 2021 Reading Time: 2

Greenhouse gases are emitted from various sources. When in the atmosphere, these gases trap solar radiation which would normally be released, and in doing so retains this radiation which has a warming effect on the atmosphere.

Are all greenhouse gases the same?

You will no doubt have heard of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This is not the only greenhouse gas that you need to be aware of.

In the world of carbon auditing, all greenhouse gases are compared on their relative warming values (Global Warming Potential or GWP). For ease, they are then described compared to CO2, and given the term CO2 equivalents.

If you have done a carbon audit, you will see a value for your farm business expressed as X kg of CO2 equivalents, but this does not mean that it is only CO2 that is being considered.

Three greenhouse gases to be aware of

There are three main gases that make up the carbon footprint of agriculture, and their production within the farm comes from different sources:

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)   GWP – 1

Sources: emissions of CO2 come from the use of fossil fuels. These might be through the use of diesel and electricity within the business. There may also be “embedded” carbon within products you bring onto the farm, such as feed and fertiliser.

Methane (CH4)   GWP – 25 (i.e. 25 times more potent than CO2)

Sources: CH4 is primarily attributed to the digestive process in ruminants. Any ruminant animal will therefore release methane. CH4 is also released from manure stores, where material in the manure is broken down in anaerobic conditions and methane is released.

Nitrous Oxide (NO2) GWP – 298 (i.e. 298 times more potent than CO2)

Sources: NO2, alongside methane, is also produced from manures in storage. Significantly, NO2 is also produced naturally from the soil through the Nitrogen Cycle. Wet, compact soils naturally emit NO2 as nitrate is broken down in anaerobic conditions into Nitrous Oxide.

What does this mean for farm businesses?

Understanding where greenhouse gases are produced within the business will help to plan how they can be tackled.

A mitigation plan is going to take time to develop, and in order to develop such a plan the business will need to know where it stands through completing a baseline carbon emissions assessment or audit.

A baseline will not immediately present all of the answers though.

The first carbon audit is simply the first step on the ladder. It highlights where the main emissions are produced within the business, and starts to focus the attention.

It will be possible to reduce some emissions through positive management changes (which should also have a positive impact on farm profitability), but the long term goal of reaching Net Zero may take many years. A continued process of annual auditing to identify changes, and implementing a mitigation plan will become commonplace on every farm as we head towards 2040 and beyond.

Funding available for carbon audits

Funded baseline carbon assessments and carbon management plans are available through Carbon for Farming from SAC Consulting, one of 19 projects funded through the DEFRA Future Farming Resilience programme (FFR).

FFR funded projects are open to farming businesses in England with an eligible SBI number. Businesses can only take part in one of the 19 FFR projects. Once you have selected your preferred project, you will not be able to transfer to a different FFR project.

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Neil Carter

Senior Consultant - SAC Consulting

Reading Time: < 1 minute Neil Carter is a Senior Consultant at SAC Consulting in the North of England. He has a particular interest in...

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