Defra publishes its latest results on UK farm greenhouse gas emissions

Written by Liz Bowles, Farm Carbon Toolkit CEO.

Defra published its Agri-climate report last week. The report sets out the trends in agricultural Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions over the past 30 years, the changing intensity of emissions and the results of the 2022 Farm Practice Survey questions relating to farmers intentions and actions on reducing GHG emissions.

The headline figure is that UK agriculture was responsible for 11% of total UK emissions in 2020. The time series is revised each year to take account of methodological improvements in the UK emissions inventory. It’s also worth noting that these are production-based emissions, rather than consumption-based which adjusts for trade.

During this 30-year period emissions of all greenhouse gases from agriculture have declined:

  • Total GHGs decreased by 16%
  • Nitrous oxide decreased by 20%
  • Methane decreased by 15%
  • Carbon dioxide decreased by 15%

However, it is important to note that most of this reduction occurred in the 2000’s, arising from a drop in ruminant numbers and less use of synthetic fertilisers. Since then reductions have all but stalled.

Some farmers are frustrated that the efforts they are making to reduce on farm emissions through practice change are yet to be recognised within the UK emissions inventory. This is due to the ability to accurately reflect the reductions through the current mechanisms for measurement, which are primarily measuring output versus inputs and livestock numbers and areas cultivated. This is changing as the quality of evidence on the impact of practice change becomes available.

In the meantime those same farmers are increasingly asking their suppliers for accurate emissions data on the products they buy, which is driving those suppliers to look far harder at the products they supply, which will in time lead to greater accuracy of measurement which is very welcome.

In the same report farmers were also asked their beliefs and motivations around reducing their GHG emissions. Interestingly, only 44% of farmers thought that reducing emissions would improve farm profitability in 2022, a decrease from 47% in 2021.

Of the 58% of respondents already taking action to reduce GHG emissions, the survey asked about their main motivations for doing so. This showed:

  • 84% considered it good business practice
  • 74% by a concern for the environment
  • 48% to improve profitability
  • 33% to meet regulations
  • 23% to meet market demands

It’s FCT’s experience that improving GHG emissions and sequestration on farms is good for business and good for the environment. We also experience that markets are increasingly incentivising action, such as increasing the accuracy of input use, improving input use efficiency and making much better use of legumes and clovers across the farm.

Farmers were also asked about the barriers to reducing on farm emissions. Here, there was a clear view that lack of information and incentive are significant barriers, even amongst those who have taken action, alongside being unsure exactly what they can do to reduce farm GHG emissions.

Factors preventing action to reduce GHG emissions.
Factors preventing action to reduce GHG emissions (Source: Farm Practices Survey 2022 – greenhouse gas mitigation practices)

At Farm Carbon Toolkit we can help farmers to better understand the actions they can take to reduce GHG emissions as well as providing free access to completing a farm carbon report for their farm business. We have developed a toolkit to assist farmers to identify the best GHG reduction strategies for their farms. For more information on our carbon calculator and to start your own farms report please see here.