M3: Carbon emissions from extensive organic livestock systems – can organic deliver?
Chair: Mark Measures (IOTA)
This session is intended to bring the audience up to date on the latest experiences of Carbon Foot-printing, explore how extensive organic systems can contribute to lower emissions and identify practical steps that can reduce emissions and save costs. (Organised by IOTA)
Chris Lloyd at EBLEX first gave an update on phase 3 of the EBLEX roadmap (soon to be published) and gave on overview of some results from the carbon footprinting work EBLEX have been funding. It was interesting to note that the lowland producers had higher emissions that upland producers within the sample, however there was a wide range. EBLEX have also been able to link greenhouse gas reduction to efficiency, highlighting that for every 5kg of CO2 (e) reduction there is a 50p increase in gross margin. Chris also pointed out that measuring the livestock industry on greenhouse gases alone is too simplistic, it is also necessary to factor in the issue of food supply demands.
Poppy Johnson from the Soil Association then gave an overview of the Low Carbon Farming project which aims to provide best practice guidelines on reducing greenhouse gases. The Soil Association are developing an online benchmarking toolkit to allow farms to assess their current farm practice in relation to GHG emissions . They have started this process by comparing the results from 4 different tools (CALM, C-PLAN v0 and v2 and Climate Friendly Food carbon calculator). There were some major differences in the C balance produced by each tool, in particular for estimates of carbon sequestration, however similar trends and hotspots were identified (i.e. livestock was consistently the highest source of GHGs). A criticism of the tools used was that they are not sensitive enough to detect changes farm practice (e.g. changes in diet or manure management) – an alternative method of assessment is now being developed as part of the project to enable farms to monitor improvement and work towards best practice.
Bill Grayson then gave a presentation on the greenhouse gas implications of his livestock system. Bill pointed out that he runs a very extensive system and is not ‘ticking all the boxes’ with regard to greenhouse gas emissions but is clearly providing other services in terms of biodiversity and carbon storage. Bill also pointed out that soil carbon sequestration is currently left out of carbon foot-printing guidelines within the UK, because of uncertainties, whereas other European countries, such as France, are taking a more positive approach with regard to agriculture’s contribution to carbon sequestration.
Discussion points raised:
- Carbon footprinting provides a useful basis for assessing a farm’s emissions and identifying potential for improvement
- We need to factor in ecosystem services to sustainability assessments; don’t get ‘hung-up’ on Carbon
- Carbon footprinting focuses on products, however what the farm emits is of more interest to the farmer
- Need to start dialogue with the Carbon Trust with regard to carbon sequestration associated with land use change and to build an evidence bas to allow this element to be included in product assessments
- The current estimates of N2O from agricultural practices vary by +/-250% so there is already great uncertainty in the reporting. Why then is carbon sequestration excluded from product footprinting on the basis of uncertainty?
Individual speaker presentations and abstracts
Chris Lloyd (EBLEX): Beef and Sheep Envi-ronmental Roadmap - Carbon benchmarking/ improving performance in different systems (PDF 787KB)
Over recent years EBLEX has looked to actively engage in the Climate Change debate on behalf of the English beef and sheep sectors. In 2009 it worked with Cranfield University in their devel-opment of the Life Cycle Analysis for beef and lamb. For the past two years EBLEX has done a number of on farm carbon audits to understand more about the drivers for carbon emissions and is using this information to engage with beef and sheep producers at a practical level. This work has been about gaining a better understanding of the beef and sheep sector’s position, enabling us to engage in the debate with Defra and others to establish how the industry can take its share of the responsibility for working towards Defra’s 2020 mitigation targets. No one farm is the same and using carbon footprints to compare enterprises or measure them is too simplistic and fails to recognise the wider benefits beyond food production they offer society. However, it is appropriate to encourage all producers to under-stand the efficiencies within their system and to find the right formula to make best use of the resources their farm offers.
Poppy Johnson (Soil Association): New carbon benchmarking results from organic farms (PDF 187KB)
The Soil Association’s Low Carbon Farming project launched in April 2011 aims to support farmers and growers in understanding their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions and in as-sessing current farm practices and possible improvements that could be made to both reduce their emissions and improve their productivity and performance. The project intends to provide high quality information through the provision of technical information sheets, case studies and an online toolkit to monitor farm improvement as well as a series of on-farm training events and workshops. The project has reviewed the carbon calculators currently available for general farm use using a sample of farm data across a variety of enterprises to illustrate and explain the differ-ences between the tools and to assess their suitability and practicality as a tool for monitoring improvement at farm level. This study has informed the development of a toolkit which will assess and monitor farm practices relating to livestock management, nutrient management, carbon sequestration and energy and fuel use to highlight areas for improvement in terms of emissions, productivity and financial costs.
Bill Grayson (Farmer): Carbon foot-printing on an upland farm; practical experiences and ideas for the future (PDF 733KB)
This presentation describes the range of values obtained for a single upland beef farm when a number of different carbon-calculators were used to assess its GHG emissions. This farm specializes in delivering nature conservation objectives across a range of semi-natural habitats and therefore operates at very low stocking rates. These are the kind of extensive systems of production that many leaders in the red meat sector consider to have a higher C-footprint than more intensively managed systems with their greater productive efficiency. The comparison demonstrates how the conclusions about this farm’s emissions-performance depend on the specific C-calculator that is used. Those that included measures of C-sequestration by woodland and soil all agreed that this farm acts as a net C-sink, with uptake exceeding emissions by nearly 600%. The choice of methodology for assessing emissions is therefore of crucial importance both for deciding practical mitigation measures on any given farm and for determining wider policy initiatives aimed at delivering national targets.