Climate change and sustainability: tools to improve farm performance
Chair: Tony Little (Organic Centre Wales)
Rachel Taylor (Bangor University): Carbon calculators and sustainability assessment tools for farms
Presentation - Carbon calculators and sustainability assessment tools for farms
Laurence Smith (ORC): Moving beyond carbon: assessing the public goods from organic farming
Laurence is the Sustainability Researcher at the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm. His work includes development and delivery of advisory and information services and collaborative research projects relating to farm sustainability, carbon sequestration and energy generation. Laurence worked previously as a land-work tutor and vegetable and soft fruit grower on an organic farm in the West Midlands. Before this Laurence was an organic agriculture student at the University of Wales.
Presentation - Environmental benchmarking and sustainability assessment 2.0
Tim Downes (dairy farmer): Carbon footprinting, a farmer’s perspective
Tim Downes is partner on a family organic dairy beef and arable farm in Shropshire. A herd of 175 dairy cows 5 Angus suckler pedigrees and finishes 100 beef cattle per year for Waitrose. The Farm has been organic since 2000 and Tim was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2003. He is involved with OMSCo as a demonstration farmer and has recently invested in energy saving devices on farm. He is chairman of Shropshire Grassland Society and Stargrazers discussion Group, also sitting on the West Midland steering group for FWAG. A keen rugby supporter with two young energetic children!
Presentation - Carbon footprinting, a farmer’s perspective
There are different carbon footprinting tools available – examples included E-CO2, AB Sustain, ERM, CALM, C-Plan, Blaencamel Farm, EBLEX Phase 1 - and it was highlighted that if a farmer wants to be able to compare year-on-year carbon footprint then the same tool should be used each year to achieve comparable results.
Rachel Taylor talked about the many levels of complexity at each different stage in the process of calculation of a greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. Complexity results from many factors, including: which system boundaries are used (i.e. what substances coming in and out of the farm are included); the management practices on the farm; the type of farm; which emissions factors are used; the level of detail in terms of farm information; which IPCC calculation standards are used; and more. The end result is that a GHG footprint will only be applicable to x particular farm in y particular year using z management process.
This complexity issue was highlighted by Tim Downes who recounted the many practices he uses in order to reduce the carbon footprint on his farm. They change regularly as new technology is developed, with the aim of reducing the energy consumption (and therefore the carbon footprint) per unit of food produced. He uses carbon footprinting as a management tool and his farm is consistently below the UK average C emissions. Methods mentioned were: the use of a low input system; water re-cycling; a self-loading forage wagon; extended grazing; soil aeration by increasing soil invertebrates; a varivac pump to save on electricity use; solar panels; a photovoltaic system; and heat capture from cooling milk.
When choosing a tool to use, farmers should consider which system boundaries that tool uses. Ideally, the tool will incorporate Scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 covers emissions already caused by everything that is bought into a farm (‘embedded emissions’), for example electricity, diesel, disinfectant, fertilizer, string, etc. Farmers can refer to industrial standard PAS 2050 for an outline of what should be recorded.
Other important factors affecting tool choice include how much time the farmer wants to spend and what the footprint results will be used for. If the results are to be made public or used as a management tool, then a higher level of detail will be needed.
Unfortunately, carbon sequestration in biomass or soils is not yet included in PAS2050 and so is not used as an offset in many of these tools.
The footprint is then allocated in one of two ways: it is either calculated for a year, and then the GHG footprint is allocated to that year’s products on the basis of revenue (economic allocation); or it is allocated on the basis of inputs, whereby consumables with a lifespan of >1 year have the GHG footprint allocated to them proportionally e.g. cow mats used as bedding last several years so the embedded emissions for these can be spread over that period rather than all being recognized in the year of purchase (input allocation).
Laurence Smith presented the results of a pilot study (40 organic farms took part) of the ‘Public Goods’ assessment tool. This tool looks at the performance of a farm in providing environmental, economic and social public goods, and includes an assessment of nutrient budgets and energy and carbon benchmarking. The results indicated that, overall, the highest scores were for animal welfare and soil management, and the lowest scores were for water management. Farm type had a strong impact on the energy and carbon budget, also on food security and nutrient management. For example, cereal farms did particularly well in terms of energy budgets but beef and sheep farms did less well.
The tool takes about 2-4 hours to use and farmers welcomed the feedback they received from it, but Laurence Smith highlighted that more work is needed before the tool can be made more widely available.
- Needs to be more work on methane emissions.
- There is encouraging work on anaerobic digesters in Wales. AD does address some emissions but not enteric fermentation methane.
- Cows producing methane is still a big problem, although in theory it may be possible to breed more efficient cows which produce less methane. However it is has only recently become possible to work out methane emissions from individual animals so we are a long way to having answers to which animals are ‘best’.
- It was asked whether dual purpose animals were better for reducing GHG footprint as they can then attribute the methane emissions to both beef and dairy. Rachel Taylor said that in fact the dual purpose animals are less efficient at both jobs and so are not the answer.
- There is some variation in emissions between breeds but also individual animals vary in their methane emissions.
- Feeding regime can impact on emissions (Aberystwth are looking at high sugar diets).
- A DEFRA greenhouse gas project is ongoing looking at improving emission factors for livestock based on diets and looking at AD etc.
- A useful question is – what systems produce the most calories with the least emissions
- The point was raised that the footprint tools would pick up differences in emissions based on different feeding regimes. Rachel Taylor said that this is hard to do if the farmer is using concentrates as it is not possible to get information on what is in the concentrates – so the tools have to use generic values.
- SAC has also developed a life cycle / C assessment tool, though again it was mentioned that the science is very young and this makes it hard to develop the tool, especially with respect to soils.
- Rachel Talyor mentioned that she has seen examples where using different tools for soil could triple the footprint of a farm.
- Problems with scaling up to farm scale mentioned. Rachel Talyor said that they get round this at the moment by giving minimum and maximum values for the footprint.
- Balance of detail was also mentioned – sometimes have to remove interesting science to make the tool realistic to use on a farm.