Category: Insights

Sustainable crop rotations

Looking back at 2023, it can safely be defined as a challenging year with the wettest autumn / winter we have seen for decades. Farmers have not only faced the challenge of maximising yields and optimising soil health, but also battling against the elements to drill crops into the ground. Hoping for a kinder 2024, this blog explores options to build resilience into crop rotations aiming to cultivate a balance between high yields and optimum soil health.

Minimising cultivation

First things first, this blog is not telling you to get rid of the plough. All machinery serves a purpose, it is just about knowing when to intervene. Within systems that have reduced their cultivations or those that have been adopting conservation ploughing (i.e. ploughing one year in three or more), soils tend to be more resilient through improved soil structure. Good soil structure has a matrix of small, medium, and large pore spaces able to retain and drain water as well as provide pockets of air for respiration and gaseous exchange and water for nutrient exchange. When we till the soil, especially when ground conditions are sub-optimum, we run the risk of squashing the pores and causing compaction and soil degradation, reducing water infiltration, increasing anaerobism (lack of oxygen) and building up toxic gases, all contributing to poor soil health and disappointing crop yields.

Carry out a VESS: Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure

It is important to get out there and dig holes; get to know your soil and how it behaves under certain environmental conditions. When you assess the soil structure, look for compaction and note its depth. Can this be remedied by deeper rooting species, or does it require mechanical intervention? Always keep the depth in mind as it’s no good going in too deep or too shallow.

Diversity

Sustainable rotations begin with diversity. A multipronged approach combining arable crops, legumes and cover crops takes full advantage of all the tools we have in the box as arable farmers. Diversity in species above ground matches diversity in species below ground: helping to break pest and disease cycles and improve soil health through provision of various rooting architecture, root exudates and crop residues. The soil is alive and many of the nutrients available to crops and plants come from the activity of soil-dwelling organisms that are busy stabilising, consuming and releasing nutrients for the benefit of the crop. Diversity in crops and roots therefore contribute a rich source of food for soil fauna to feast on, enhancing soil fertility and subsequent crop health and crop yield. 

Where pests and disease more commonly thrive is within monocultures e.g. continuous cereals. We are seeing an increasing reliance on chemicals to control and abate problems within these systems, depleting our soils of beneficials in the process. Similarly, a lack of diversity in roots are only supporting a limited community of microorganisms. This is not sustainable; therefore, we must explore how we can incorporate more species within the rotation. OSR is one of many good examples. It has deep roots and is easily diversified with companions e.g. vetch / buckwheat / berseem clover. Maximising the number of crop species in a rotation will optimise the diversity of organisms below ground.

On farm, an easy way to measure how biologically active our soils are is by monitoring earthworm numbers. Earthworms are at the top of the soil food web and will travel to and reside where there is lots of food; they are also brilliant at breaking down residues and redistributing nutrients throughout the soil profile. How many worms do you count in a spade full of soil? Where are you finding the most? And can those numbers be replicated elsewhere on farm?

Legumes

The blog wouldn’t be complete without talking about legumes. Approximately 78% of the air is nitrogen. If we can harness the power of leguminous plants to fix some of that nitrogen, we can cut costs by reducing the amount of artificial fertiliser whilst also minimising our environmental impact. Consider incorporating peas or beans into the rotation as stand-alone crops, clover as a companion crop or include legumes as part of a cover crop mix. Farmers are often able to reduce the amount of bagged fertiliser used after legumes.

Legumes to build fertility: field beans in an arable rotation

If possible, trial a small reduction across a proportion of the field first and see how your yields fare – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Cover Crops

Utilising cover crops between winter and spring cropping is an excellent approach to building soil health in between cash crops: stabilising soil structure by maintaining living roots in the soil throughout the year, feeding the soil biology and acting as a buffer protecting the soil from adverse weather conditions. 

On top of this, one of the biggest advantages of cover crops is that they are great at scavenging and holding onto residual nutrients left over from the previous crop, reducing losses from leaching. Once destroyed, the nutrients will be released back into the soil, improving nutrient use efficiency, and potentially enabling a reduction in artificial inputs required by the next crop. 

Cover crop mixes should be tailored to your needs and soil type. It’s better to choose species type based on what you are trying to achieve: building fertility, keeping the ground covered, and/or alleviating compaction. 

If possible, conduct trials and aim to include 3 or more species in the mix to capitalise on diversity in both the above-ground biomass for optimised photosynthetic potential (think assortment of leaf shapes to increase surface area from which to harness the sun’s energy), and below-ground biomass through varied rooting structures, depths, shapes and sizes (pumping sugars and carbon into the soil, building soil organic matter and feeding the soil biology).

Livestock Integration

Integrating grazing livestock into your rotation offers an alternative technique to destroying cover crops whilst also adding valuable organic matter to the soil in the form of manure. Including grass and clover leys also gives the ground a break, allowing time for recovery and offers another income stream from grazing or silage / hay making. The benefits of perennial roots in the ground over an extended period, especially if a mix of roots at different depths, will help to improve soil structure and build fertility for future crops.

Grazing livestock returning soil organic matter and building soil health.

Explore the Sustainable Farming Incentive options to see if herbal leys or a 2-year legume fallow could be economically viable.

Monitoring and Adapting

It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; be adaptive and tailor options to local environment and conditions. Trial different methods and see which suits your system best.

Regularly monitoring soil health, accounting for all nutrient sources, and keeping an eye on pest and disease prevalence alongside crop performance and weather is crucial to make informed adjustments to rotations as needed.

In summary, farmers are in a unique position in that yes, we produce emissions in the process of producing nutritious food however, we can also build soil health and boost biodiversity simultaneously contributing to offsetting our own emissions and future proofing our farms and landscapes. Implementing a sustainable crop rotation in the UK is not just about growing crops; it’s about promoting a future where productivity and soil health co-exist. By diversifying crops, integrating legumes, embracing cover crops, minimising tillage, incorporating livestock, and tailoring practices to local conditions, it is possible to achieve a resilient and sustainable agricultural landscape supporting local and wider communities for years to come.

Your beef enterprise: how to accurately estimate emissions and sequestration

To accurately estimate the emissions and sequestration from your beef enterprise, you will need to add data to the following sections of the Calculator:

  • When setting up the report, make sure you enter the area of grazing (grassland) as well as any non-agricultural land area and cultivated land (arable or horticultural)
  • Use the Livestock section and select beef cattle. Add as many entries as you need to cover your herd. For example, you may have two groups of steers with different liveweights or kept on the farm for different lengths of time. In which case, enter the steers from the first group with one liveweight and then the steers from the second group as a separate entry with their own liveweight. This will give you more accurate emissions from their enteric fermentation (gut methane).
  • To calculate the average head of livestock on the farm over a 12 month period, take the number in a particular livestock category per month (so you have 12 “snapshots”) add these together and then divide by 12. Our data collection sheet has a help sheet for this. For growing animals, you may want to use the same approach for calculating average liveweight (our defaults assume a midpoint liveweight through the year for growing cattle but growth rates won’t be linear so using the snapshot approach may be more accurate)
  • Livestock entries also capture the CO2 equivalent (CO2e) of the methane emissions from enteric fermentation and of the nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from the animals’ manure over the course of the year. The Calculator asks you how this manure is managed as this has an impact on the N2O emissions
  • You have the option to input the average dry matter intake (DMI) per animal per day (kgDM/head/day). The DMI can be used to more accurately calculate the enteric emissions of the cattle, and if left blank, a simpler algorithm will be used that does not consider DMI
  • You will need to account for any supplemental feeding via the Livestock > Animal feeds option – this is for brought-in feeds that were produced off-farm
  • Account for all your fuel use, electricity use, consumables, inventory items and waste produced using the relevant sections (Fuels, Materials,  Inventory, Waste). However, if you also have a dairy herd or arable operation, you may prefer to create a separate report and use this as an Overheads report to apportion shared capital items and energy usage emissions between your enterprises. Watch our video to see how this works in practice.
  • We recommend getting your soil sampled and have a guide on how to do this effectively and affordably. By monitoring your soil organic matter or soil organic carbon over time you can begin to log sequestration rates in your grazed (or other) soils. Once you have two years’ worth of soil sample results, you can enter these in the Calculator under Sequestration > Soil Organic Matter (you will also need bulk density measurements and a record of the depth of the sample).
  • If you don’t have directly sampled soil data for all your soils, you can use our range of proxy values for different Countryside Stewardship and habitat classes to estimate how much carbon your soils may be sequestering year-on-year. You can also measure the length of any hedgerows and field margins (ungrazed) and enter these to estimate the carbon sequestered in them on a yearly basis.

The Financial Reward of Reducing Carbon

By Robert Purdew, Farm Carbon and Soils Advisor

There is a growing concern about carbon “tunnel vision” in agriculture, where the sole focus is on reducing emissions without considering the bigger picture. Reducing emissions is crucial, yet it’s important to acknowledge that it is only one piece of the puzzle and focusing solely on carbon can neglect factors such as soil health, water quality, biodiversity and other issues such as pollution. There is also often concern from farmers about how the pressures to achieve net zero targets can impact profitability, especially when incentives to be net zero are limited or non-existent, and investments in the infrastructure and technology required to transition to low-carbon farming are high.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. We can use an understanding of a farm’s emissions to make informed decisions to change management practices that can lead directly to both reduced emissions and increased profitability, and we can point to an increased number of farmers who are doing just this.

Mike and Sam Roberts farm 435 acres at Blable Farm, of which a large proportion is down to herbal leys. After Sam returned to the farm in 2018 a decision was made to review the whole operation and, in conjunction with James Daniel of Precision Grazing, the decision was made to reduce the herd slightly from 180 to 150 cows, implement rotational grazing on diverse leys and to focus on reducing inputs and improving soil health.

Cattle out wintering at Blable Farm

The effects were immediate and obvious. Soil health has seen a rapid improvement with better structure, increased earthworm numbers and soil organic matter is on the rise. The grazing period has been increased from 6 to 12 months and the farm hasn’t bought fertiliser since 2021, with none being used last year. Importantly, animal performance has increased in line with improved soil health and while cow numbers were reduced initially Mike and Sam are looking at increasing numbers again. All of this has seen a significant saving on input costs which has been re-invested into the business, including a full soil audit to better understand how soil health is improving. In line with reduced costs on-farm emissions have been reduced significantly with Mike confident the farm can reach net zero within 5 years, a commitment made as part of being a demo farm for the Farm Net Zero project.

Another example of a farmer using an understanding of their carbon footprint to drive down costs and improve profitability is Tom Burge of Oaremead Farm. Tom farms 760 acres of grassland on Exmoor and runs both a suckler herd and commercial sheep flock. In 2017 Tom began shifting to a more regenerative farming system which predominantly focussed on an improvement in grazing management, once again aided by James Daniel from Precision Grazing.

A person standing in a grassy field with cows

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Over 5 years, Tom has completely cut out the use of artificial fertiliser and reduced his feed use by over 70%. This has been made possible by an increase in dry matter grown of 0.9 tDM/ha, through improved grazing management, and has reduced input costs by 50%, with a similar reduction in emissions from inputs, as shown in the chart below. Crucially the farm is now profitable before taking into account income from subsidies and environmental schemes. In the next 5 years, Tom plans to completely cut out bought-in feed and to have halved fuel use and, like Mike and Sam, be well on the road to net zero while remaining highly productive and profitable.

Oaremead Farm emissions from inputs

These are just two of an increasing number of examples that we are coming across as we work with more and more farmers who are using their carbon emissions as just one metric to help improve their farm businesses. And far from impacting just a farm’s emissions and bottom line, the management changes that are being implemented are having beneficial impacts on those ecosystem services mentioned previously, soil health, biodiversity, water quality and reduced pollution. Proof if ever it was needed of the potential for long-term sustainability within our farming systems.

Five farms in Cornwall on a journey towards Net Zero

We’re excited to share a series of five new videos that showcase some of the farms in Cornwall that are part of the Farm Net Zero project.

Each video shares a different farm’s journey as it works to improve the environment, produce nutritious food, while also responding to climate risks, such as flooding. There is a specific focus in these videos on how the farms are engaging within their local communities, to help tackle these issues. The Farm Net Zero project includes practical advice for farmers on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, showcases innovation, provides robust science through soil testing and carbon footprinting, and inspires other farmers to tell their stories to consumers on the steps that they are taking to address climate change and protect soil health.

The full-length video below includes all of the following five stories. If you prefer to view each story separately, please simply click on each of the links here:

The complexities of calculating livestock emissions

What do we mean by livestock emissions?

Emissions from livestock cover two broad categories:

  • Enteric methane emissions (this is the methane produced by the animals digestion)
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from the manure and slurry produced by the animals.

When you enter a group of animals in the Farm Carbon Calculator e.g. 100 dairy cows, the Calculator will consider both enteric methane emissions and the nitrous oxide, ammonia and methane emissions associated with the manure or slurry those 100 dairy cows produce over the course of 1 year.

It is really important to enter the average number of animals in a category over the course of the year rather than the total number. For example, if you have 100 dairy calves on farm for only 6 months of the year, you should enter 50 dairy calves. Otherwise the Calculator will have to assume that all 100 calves are on farm for all 365 days of the year, which would overestimate the enteric methane production and the amount of manure produced.

Why do the emissions associated with livestock vary?

In the Farm Carbon Calculator, we ask users to tell us the number of livestock in a range of different livestock categories. The emissions produced by animals will vary based on:

  • Number of livestock (more animals means more emissions)
  • Liveweight of animals (larger animals tend to produce more manure)
  • Type of livestock (ruminants produce enteric methane, monogastrics don’t. Each type of animal has its own “rate of excretion” and different animals’ manures produce methane at different rates)
  • Pregnancy and lactation (pregnant or lactating cattle produce more enteric methane for their size)
  • Manure or slurry storage (rates of methane and nitrous oxide, emitted indirectly through leaching and ammonia volatilisation, vary depending on how the manure is stored and for how long)
  • Where manure/ slurry is spread (if manure is spread, the type of land it is spread on will affect the rate of indirect nitrous oxide emissions through leaching).

What about slurry covers, storage bags, slurry bugs etc… ?

We are actively working on incorporating a lot more options into the Farm Carbon Calculator to allow users to give more detail on their manure management practices. We plan to include options in 2024 for sending manure and slurry to anaerobic digestion, adding detail on slurry pit coverage, storage timing, and different application or incorporation methods for slurry (e.g. trailing shoe versus splash plate).

We are also researching the possibility of including slurry bugs (bacteria that inhibit greenhouse gas production from slurry stores) and chemical nitrous oxide inhibitors (that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases when the slurry is applied to the soil) as options so that users can show the benefits of these in reducing their slurry emissions. Similarly, we would like to be able to include methane inhibitors that can help to reduce enteric methane emissions for livestock.. To date though, the quality of independent scientific evidence for these management practices is very variable and different products show variable results depending on the farm environment, so it is harder for us to give robust estimates of the effect they will have on a farm’s emissions.

The importance of managing manure on-farm 

Written by Becky Willson, Business Development & Technical Director.

Manure is a fantastic on-farm resource. This is because it can deliver a source of nutrients that can be used to grow crops, as well as enhancing soil biological activity, feeding the soil microbes and helping provide a steady supply of organic matter. This can ensure that soils are in the best condition structurally, chemically and biologically. Manure is one of the most important resources that is produced on-farm, and should be valued rather than seen as a waste product. 

A key way to be able to reduce reliance on fertilisers is to develop efficient and effective strategies for managing nutrients and manures on-farm. 

Nutrient management planning

Managing nutrients in a systematic way through planning is a vital aspect of sustainable farming. It is a ‘win-win’ practice which generates advantages across economic and environmental parameters, and allows for the creation of a sustainable agricultural system which is resilient to climatic and economic change. 

Nutrient management planning facilitates optimal use of nutrients from all available sources. Matching inputs of nutrients (from fertilisers and organic manures) to the demand from the crop will allow for an optimal yield, minimise the use of nutrients (which saves costs) and minimises the risk of losses to the environment from nutrients.  

Slurries and solid manures are valuable fertilisers but may also be potential sources of pollution. Within increasing economic and environmental pressures on farm businesses, it makes sense to exploit the fertiliser value of manures while taking action to prevent pollution. 

Most farm assurance schemes require a manure management plan to be completed as part of the certification process. However even without the compulsion of a scheme, having a plan which marks out any environmental features, watercourses, sloping fields which may cause run off and any areas will be a useful resource to consult before applying manures.  

The need for effective manure management

The most effective way of dealing with livestock manures is to apply them at appropriate rates to agricultural land for the benefits of soil and crops. Getting manure management right allows for sustainable use of resources which provides economic savings and reduces the amount of artificial fertiliser that is required. Manures, when stored and applied correctly have fantastic benefits in building resilience within your farming system, cutting costs and lowering your carbon footprint, however if they are applied in too high a quantity or at the wrong time of year then they are an environmental risk. So it is the job of farmers to maximise the benefits that can arise and minimise the risks.

Nutrient management planning to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions

Nitrogen emissions to the air from farms include greenhouse gases, the most potent of which is nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is one of the biggest contributions that agriculture makes to climate change. Soil nitrous oxide emissions originate from three sources, soil microorganism activity (55%), organic manure applications (18%) and Nitrogen fertiliser applications, (27%). As such, careful management that maximises the efficiency of any fertiliser applied, takes account soil and climate conditions, and uses the nutrients within manures for crop growth will help to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide lost. 

Nutrient and manure management planning will also help reduce ammonia emissions. While ammonia isn’t a greenhouse gas, it negatively impacts air quality and human health. The amount of ammonia which is lost depends on a variety of factors including manure type, the method and timing of applications, soil pH, the weather conditions at spreading, the soil moisture content and how the manure is stored. As such there are a variety of mitigation options available that are made easy by planning how manure is managed to reduce these risks. 

Soil Testing

Although not always considered as linked to nutrient management planning, monitoring and controlling the pH of soils on-farm is the first step toward good nutrient management. If soil pH is not correct then any nutrients that are applied through fertiliser or manure applications will not be available to the crop and may be lost from the soil incurring costs, reduced yields and pollution issues. 

Effective use of manures – Storage

Having sufficient slurry or manure storage means that effective nutrient management planning is much easier. With sufficient storage capacity, slurries and manures can be applied at the optimal time for plant growth and crop uptake, as well as being applied when the soil and field conditions are right and damage (including compaction and run off) is minimised.  However for some farmers who don’t have enough storage, slurry has to be spread in less than ideal conditions, when there is little crop growth and nutrient uptake. It is in these situations where environmental losses can be the highest. 

Thankfully there are ways that storage can be optimised. This can include minimising the amount of rainfall that is able to enter the store. Rainfall can dilute the nutrient content of the slurry but also costs more in manure application – more water is held within the slurry leading to a higher volume to be spread. Mending guttering, diverting clean water away from stores and covering yards to minimise the amount of water that is entering the store are all low cost ways to help maintain the nutritional value of the manure and also reduce costs. Covering stores is also an option and there are various cover options that are available depending on the store type and design. Floating covers will also reduce the amount of ammonia which is released into the atmosphere which has air quality benefits. 

With solid manure it is important to consider the siting of field heaps and managing the heap to ensure that Nitrate leaching is minimised. Composting of FYM will provide a more stable and uniform material which will have benefits for soil biology, but will not provide such a high readily available Nitrogen source as fresh manure. 

Effective use of manures – Application 

Ensuring that manures are applied at the right rate and the right time is the most important step to reducing environmental risk and improving economic performance of the farm.  The method of application can affect the amount of nitrogen that is available to the crop. Although the total nitrogen content within the manure cannot be altered by the method of application, the proportion of the nitrogen that is available to the growing crops is improved by using low trajectory machinery.

Spreader technology has developed over recent years so that now there are numerous options available for spreading slurry (where losses are potentially higher). Broadcast spreaders will waste nutrients, but this can be minimised by using injection or band spreaders which put the slurry directly on the soil surface or into a narrow slot. For solid manures, the evenness of spreading is far improved by using a rear discharge spreader. If manure or slurry is to be incorporated, ensuring that it is done quickly after application and not just left on the surface where the nutrients may well be lost is important.

Optimising the use of manures and slurries on-farm will provide benefits through improving profitability, resilience and soil health. For more information on manures and nutrient management planning please visit the FCT toolkit pages to access a range of resources.  

A Day in the Life of… Liz Bowles, Chief Executive

Being Chief Exec of the Farm Carbon Toolkit is a privilege. I have a team of committed, enthusiastic and supremely knowledgeable people working with me who are dedicated to supporting farmers to understand their farm carbon footprint and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, whilst maintaining thriving, biodiverse businesses.  

We are a relatively small organisation, but I always love it when people tell me that they keep coming across the team as this means we are being noticed and, even more importantly, that people like what we are doing. Last week was just such an example. We were involved in a number of sessions at the Oxford Farming Conference including showcasing Farm Net Zero Cornwall and the great strides farmers involved in the group are making towards Net Zero. We also featured in the premiere of the film “Six Inches of Soil”  and were mentioned by a number of other speakers at the conference whom we work with.

There is no such thing as a typical day for me.

I do start off with a list of what I would like to get done during the day and highlight the tasks which are important/ urgent, but then things happen, such as people making contact with me to discuss exciting new activities with which we could get involved. It is just about impossible to know which opportunities are the best to take forward from the great number which come our way every day, but my watch word is to pursue working with like-minded organisations whose first instinct is to think about what they can do to support reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and who, like us, believe that farmers are supremely well-placed to remove carbon from the atmosphere through how they farm.

Over the last few months I have been developing relationships with other popular Carbon Calculators to enable us to work together where possible to harmonise Calculator methodologies, so that farmers’ Carbon Calculator results will be more comparable in future. This, I believe, will increase the uptake of their use. We know that the requirement to provide information on farm emissions and removals will increase over time and we are committed to continually improving our Calculator so that farmers who are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint can see this fully reflected in their reporting. We are also committed to providing our Calculator directly to farmers for free.

A Day in the Life of… Emma Adams, Senior Farm Carbon and Soils Advisor

This January I was very fortunate to attend the 27th Challenge in Rural Leadership course, run by the Worshipful Company of Farmers and Duchy College, with my place supported by the Henry Plumb Foundation and FCT. Throughout the course, I was able to work alongside other industry leaders, understand why they succeed and practically improve my expertise. However, it was also very clear that leadership is not inherited through attaining a particular job title or level of responsibility. There were many insightful and poignant moments from the course, but one of my favourites was from Mary Quicke, of Quicke’s Cheese in Devon – “No one has ‘Spent a long time in the office’ on their grave”. So with that, what am I getting up to?

FCT operates on an incredibly diverse scale, whereby we have the great privilege of working with farmers and growers across all sectors and corners of the UK and beyond. This is brilliant and makes each day highly varied but does mean that many lists are made in a day of the tasks arising. Today for example started by packaging up soil samples heading for analysis from a wonderful project we have up in the Lake District (thank you West Cumbria Rivers Trust and the lovely farmers involved) looking at baselining the soil health and carbon status of the farms. This quickly proceeded into finalising proposals for upcoming projects with Lamb Weston and First Milk – two brilliant companies who although operating in different sectors (potatoes and milk production) are both passionate about producing sustainable food to the highest standard.

This week I am also participating in some filming for a project we have recently launched with the Royal Countryside Fund titled ‘Savings in Soil’. It is a brilliant project looking to help farmers measure and manage their grassland’s soil health to benefit future farm resilience. As ever, soil underpins a healthy and productive grassland system, capable of producing healthy pastures and livestock, which in turn supports a profitable farming system. 

I am very lucky to facilitate the Soil Farmer of the Year competition, as such the day also bought liaison for this year’s application process. The competition aims to find and champion UK farmers who are engaged with and managing their soils to the benefit of their farming system and the wider environment. We are supported again this year by Hutchinsons and Cotswold Seeds, so again an opportunity to say thank you to their teams! 

So, despite a little bit of time in the office today – we have managed to work with a huge variety of topics and geographies, continuing to assist the fabulous farmers, communities and industries of UK agriculture.

A Day in the Life of… Becky Willson, Technical Director

One of the wonderful things about working for FCT is that no two days are the same. I am incredibly lucky that I get to work with such a brilliant group of colleagues and some fantastic farmers.  Everyone brings new skills, knowledge and interests, which allow us to learn from each other and share ideas which is really rewarding. 

This week has been an interesting week. I am currently delivering a new course which is being run by the University of Cumbria entitled Upland Farming for Net Zero. We have a great cohort of 15 students who are either directly farming or involved in supporting our upland farmers in the South West. This week, we have had online sessions focussing on storing more carbon in upland environments and measuring emissions from livestock, alongside a farm visit on Monday to discuss what it all means in practice.  What’s great about this course is that it also feeds into a project we are just completing, which has built a version of the carbon calculator specifically for upland farmers to be able to take account of carbon on-commons, which is a welcome step forward. 

I have also run a couple of training sessions for groups within the Royal Countryside Fund, providing an introduction to managing carbon on the farm. Although I do a lot of these types of talks, they never get boring as each session yields a different set of questions. What I get most enjoyment from is the interaction with the farmers and helping them to see how what I’m saying could be put into practice. It’s so rewarding to be able to help in some small way, even if it is just to help empower them to feel part of delivering the solutions. 

Alongside talks, I have been finishing off a couple of reports for projects that are coming to an end: a dairy footprinting project combining farm footprints for the supplier farms with the operational footprint of the processing site, and writing some factsheets for farmers around the importance of managing manures and the opportunities with cultivation. There is always more to do and new projects and ideas to explore.

A Day in the Life of… Dr Hannah Jones, Farm Carbon and Soil Advisor

 No day at work is remotely similar, every field is different, and each farm is unique. However, there are common questions that are raised during a carbon audit, farm event or trial set-up. It is these questions which motivate me to find how we can support farmers’ to build the resilience of their businesses and in so doing reduce their carbon footprint.

Years ago, I worked with one of the UK’s leading agro-ecologist, Professor Martin Wolfe who greatly inspired me. Central to Martin’s teachings was the need to understand the effect of environment on the expression of the genetics of an organism. In the context of the farm, it is the effect of that individual farm environment and the management which alters crop or animal performance. These on-farm trials can have quite different outcomes from average values from national data sets.

In this context, it is the trials on-farm which provide the information for individual farmers or the associated farmer clusters. These trials, which might be just a single pass of a different seed mix or replicated trials over multiple farms, that provide the information to change a farming practice. In addition, and most importantly, these small trials and discussion groups reduce the risk associated with a change in practice and allows collaboration in terms of machinery or technological know-how.

The Farm Net Zero project , funded by the National Lottery, is focused on working with a farm community in Cornwall. It is this funding that has allowed me, as part of a wider consortium, to work with groups of farmers to address common areas of interest. The project is in its third year, and the work continually inspires me because of the evolving dialogue, increases in soil health, reducing emissions and a community network that gains increasing strength.

It is hard for anyone to make a change, but it is particularly challenging for complex businesses that are vulnerable to variability in climate, biological risks from pests and diseases, as well as changing market and policy forces. As part of a community, my favourite working days are those spent with groups of like-minded farmers focused on addressing a common challenge and reducing risks associated with changing to a more sustainable practice. I imagine Martin would approve.