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Soil Farmer of the Year 2024 Competition now open for entries (press release)

The Soil Farmer of the Year 2024 competition is now open for farmers to apply.

The competition, run by Farm Carbon Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture, finds and champions farmers and growers who lead the way in improving soil health and increasing the resilience of their farm business. The competition, which has been running since 2015, now supports a network of farmers and growers across the UK who are passionate about their soil and the innovations that safeguarding it can bring to their business.

Emma Adams, Senior Farm Carbon and Soils Advisor at the Farm Carbon Toolkit, encourages any farmer or grower who is prioritising the management of soil to apply:

The competition is open to all farmers and growers in the UK, regardless of system, enterprise or business size. If the impact on soil is at the heart of your decision making, with implemented practices driving improving soil health as part of a fully functioning farm ecosystem, this is the competition for you.

Online application forms are available via the Farm Carbon Toolkit website. Applications will remain open until 5th March 2024.

The winners will be announced at Groundswell 2024: The Regenerative Agriculture Festival on 26th-27th June 2024, with the top three farms hosting farm walks later in the year to share ideas alongside demonstrating their practices and approaches.

Deborah Crossan, Head of Soils and Natural Resources at Innovation for Agriculture, explains that the farm walks are a key part of the competition, as it gives others the opportunity to see how each winner has approached soil management:

Nothing beats digging a hole and looking at the soil in the field while hearing directly from the farmer how that field has been managed and seeing the impact it’s had on the soil structure over time.

This competition champions farmers who understand the importance of soil and are using management practices to protect and improve it. Crucially, it also enables others to learn from what they’re doing via the farm walks.

This year’s competition is once more kindly sponsored by Cotswold Seeds and Hutchinsons, with the top three farmers receiving a voucher for seeds provided by Cotswold Seeds.

For more information about the Soil Farmer of the Year Competition – and entry details – visit: soilfarmeroftheyear.com.

ENDS

Issued by: Emma Adams, [email protected]

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Innovation for Agriculture (IfA) is an independent, charitable organisation working to make UK agriculture more sustainable, profitable and resilient. Through interactive workshops, on-farm demonstrations and practical events, IfA aims to provide UK farmers with solutions of real commercial value. Visit: www.i4agri.org
  • Farm Carbon Toolkit is an independent, farmer-led Community Interest Company, supporting farmers to measure, understand and act on their greenhouse gas emissions, while improving their business resilience for the future.
    • For over a decade, Farm Carbon Toolkit has delivered a range of practical projects, tools and services that have inspired real action on the ground. Organisations they work with include farmer groups, Duchy of Cornwall, First Milk, Tesco, Yeo Valley and WWF. The Farm Carbon Calculator is a leading on-farm carbon audit tool, used by over 7,000 farmers in the UK and beyond. To find out more visit www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk
  • The competition is being judged by a panel including representatives from IfA and Farm Carbon Toolkit, Cotswold Seeds, Hutchinsons and previous Soil Farmer of the Year winners.

Farm Carbon Toolkit – Carbon Farmer of the Year Winners announced!

The winners of our inaugural Carbon Farmer of the Year competition are:

Overall winner:

Doug Christie from Durie Farms, Leven, Fife, Scotland

Finalists:

  • Anthony Ellis from Pensipple Farm, Liskeard, Cornwall
  • Craig Livingstone and Matt Bloor from Lockerley Estate and Preston Farms, Broughton, Stockbridge, Hampshire
  • Thomas Gent from Oakley Farm, Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire

Photo above: Winner Doug Christie (left) with judges Emily Norton, Liz Bowles and Adam Twine with his Angus cattle.

Our judges Adam Twine (FCT Founder and non-executive director), David Cope (Duchy of Cornwall), Emily Norton (Chair of Soil Association Exchange), and Liz Bowles (FCT CEO) were very impressed with the commitment and innovation shown by all the finalists in identifying sources of GHG emissions and developing strategies to reduce emissions and increase the rate of carbon removal into soils and non-crop biomass.

This year’s winner stood out to the judges for his dogged determination in identifying how best to reduce emissions, whilst reducing reliance on those external inputs which he realised long ago came with unintended consequences. When Doug started his journey towards a low emission, regenerative farming system, it was far from popular.

All our finalists have made great strides in reducing business reliance on fossil-fuel based fertilisers and fossil fuels through changes to their farming practices and careful soil management to reduce GHG emissions.

The long-term objective of this competition is to create a network of alumni who are changing their management practices to better manage emission and carbon storage on farmland who will inspire others through activity, practical demonstrations, and advocacy for changing management practices.

Network creation is of paramount importance and this competition will raise the profile of the many effective ways in which on-farm emissions can be reduced and increased carbon storage can be achieved.

Emily Norton, Farmer and chair of the Advisory Board for Soil Association Exchange, says

“I was interested to see the range of approaches being taken by the finalists and was delighted that so many businesses were brave enough to put themselves forward to be judged on something which is a relatively new concept for Agriculture”

About the Farm Carbon Toolkit and the Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition

Farm Carbon Toolkit is an independent, farmer-led Community Interest Company, supporting farmers to measure, understand and act on their greenhouse gas emissions, while improving their business resilience for the future.

For over a decade, Farm Carbon Toolkit has delivered a range of practical projects, tools and services that have inspired real action on the ground. Organisations they work with include the Duchy of Cornwall, First Milk, Dartmoor National Park, Tesco, Yeo Valley and WWF. The Farm Carbon Calculator is a leading on-farm carbon audit tool, used by over 7,000 farmers in the UK and beyond. To find out more visit www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk

The Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition aims to recognise and champion farmers, sector
organisations and businesses who are leading the way in adopting farming practices and developing new technologies which are helping to reduce farm emissions whilst optimising output.

This new competition will allow for discussions on carbon emissions and sinks on farms to be framed in a very practical way to allow for maximum engagement with the issue. Farm Carbon Toolkit facilitates discussion and information sharing between farmers and other actors which ultimately leads to changes in on-farm practice.

Next year’s competition will be launched in February 2024.

FCT publishes its 2022 Annual review

We are pleased to announce the publication of our 2022 Annual review. This document looks back over  2022 to celebrate our achievements and share how our organisation is supporting  the agri food sector to play its best part to deliver a nature friendly decarbonisation.

As a not for profit organisation we are constantly working to improve the ways we function and deliver our services to ensure maximum impact.  Last year we were awarded UK research funding. This funding is enabling us to upgrade our Calculator to align with all the new industry guidance and to provide greater interoperability with other data platforms, reducing the data inputting onus on farmers.

  • Our 2022 review demonstrates a selection of some of the exciting projects and partnerships we have been working on, and discusses some of the continual developments to our Farm Carbon Calculator and the services we provide to the sector. This is all set within the crucial context of emissions reductions on farms alongside business resilience.
  • We provide evidence on how broadly we engage with the farming community and the extent and effectiveness of our outreach activities.
  • We have also included our own emissions footprint, which we are committed to reducing as quickly and effectively as possible.

You can read the review here.

We really hope you enjoy reading it, if you have any questions or comments we’d love to hear from you. You can find our contact details on the final page of the review or at the bottom left of all our website pages.

Warm regards,

The FCT team.

Soil Farmer of the Year competition 2023 is open to entries!

Organised by the Farm Carbon Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture — and generously sponsored by Cotswold Seeds and Hutchinsons — the Soil Farmer of the Year Competition (SFOTY) helps to identify, promote and champion UK farmers who are passionate about safeguarding their soils and building resilient businesses.

The 2022 competition was a huge success, with significant coverage of the competition and winners in the farming press and across social media. Farmers Weekly alone featured three articles on the 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year (Livestock) Billy Lewis2022 Soil Farmer of the Year (Arable) David Miller, and 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year (Runner up) Andrew Rees! It’s fantastic to not only see the individual winners celebrated like this but for their pioneering farming practices to be shared so widely.

With the ever-increasing interest in the environmental and business benefits of soil health and regenerative practices, the Soil Farmer of the Year competition looks set to be even bigger for 2023. Click on the link below to apply — or nominate someone you know! Or click here to find out more.

FAQ:

When does the entry period close?

The closing date for the competition is the 5th of March 2023.

How do I enter?

You can enter the competition HERE, or visit https://forms.gle/PN9NZf8iyiTsZ2ed6

We encourage applications from all sizes and types of farm – if you are passionate about soil management we would love to hear what you are up to. Equally, if you know someone who you would like to nominate or have any further questions please get in touch and we will be happy to have a chat: [email protected]

How is the competition judged?

All entries will be anonymised and short-listed for judging by our panel including the winners of the 2021 competition. The highest placed entrants will then be contacted and farm walks with our judging panel will commence in May 2023 to decide the finalists for the 2023 competition.

When are the winners announced?

The winners will be announced at the Groundswell Regenerative Agriculture Show and Conference at the end of June 2023.

Celebrating Our Soil Farmers

Since 2015, our SFOTY competition has helped to find, promote, and champion UK farmers who are passionate about safeguarding their soils and building resilient businesses. The 2022 competition involved a cohort of applicants with new ideas and perspectives on what sustainable soil management means for the future. As part of the competition, the top three farmers host farm walks that bring farmers together to share their good practice and innovation to improve soil health.

Celebrating the 2022 winners

Winners of the Soil Farmer of the Year 2022 Competition. From left to right: Andrew Rees (Runner-up), David Miller (Arable Soil Farmer of the Year) and Billy Lewis (Mixed Soil Farmer of the Year).

As we launch the 2023 competition, we want to celebrate this year’s winners and thank them for all their efforts to promote the benefits of good soil management.

Farm walk with Andrew Rees, 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year (Runner-up) In the first week of August, farmers and industry professionals met at Moor Farm in southwest Wales to hear Andrew Rees explain how he has developed a dairy system with soil health at the centre. READ THE REPORT

Farm walk with David Miller, 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year (Arable) Managing 700ha in Hampshire of majority Grade 3 land in a purely arable rotation, David Miller demonstrated how a regenerative system can be both simple and profitable even on challenging soils. READ THE REPORT

Farm walk with Billy Lewis, 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year (Livestock) Billy Lewis explained to visitors to his farm in Herefordshire how he’s been focusing on regenerating tired soils (previously in a high-intensity arable system) through integrating livestock and increasing species diversity. COMING SOON!

Key statistics

4,411 Hectares collectively managed by applicants across a range of soils throughout the UK. Farming systems demonstrated soil managements across a variety of geographies and landscapes.

60% Mixed Farms. The majority of applications were from mixed farming businesses, with arable and dairy systems also represented.

215 Businesses attended farm walks, participating in information sharing and knowledge exchange to discuss new ideas of how to implement sustainable practices.

Key messages

  • Protect the soil surface
  • Maintain a flexible rotation
  • Understand the biological, chemical and physical requirements of healthy soil
  • Minimise the disturbance of soil created through cultivation, trafficking and grazing pressures

Best of luck!

Winners of the Soil Farmer of the Year 2022 announced

PRESS RELEASE

Following the presentation of awards at Groundswell – Billy Lewis has been announced as the Mixed Soil Farmer of the Year and David Miller as the Arable Soil Farmer of the Year, with Andrew Rees as runner-up. The competition, now in its seventh year, is organised by the Farm Carbon Toolkit in conjunction with Innovation for Agriculture (IfA), and generously sponsored by Cotswold Seeds and Hutchinsons. The top three farmers will receive prizes of fertility building or green manure seed from one of our generous sponsors of the competition, Cotswold Seeds.

The competition aims to find farmers and growers who are engaged with, and passionate about managing their soils to create a highly sustainable, resilient and productive agricultural system. 

Billy farms 145 hectares in Herefordshire, producing a variety of arable crops alongside sheep and pedigree Hereford Cattle enterprises. Billy’s focus on the farm has been to regenerate tired soils which have previously been in a high-intensity arable system and implementing a rotational grazing system to create high quality forage for the livestock. Billy says: “We have introduced herbal leys which are managed through predominately mob grazing with additional cutting if needed. We started with a select group of animals and now graze everything in a mob system.” 

The arable rotation on the farm is fully integrated with herbal leys and diverse swards to ensure livestock are able to graze and improve soil health, “the arable rotation is no more than three years before going back into a ley and seeing the hooves of an animal once more”. In addition to the livestock, Billy also uses composted FYM to benefit soil health and plant nutrition, “spreading compost as soon as the bales are cleared from the field means we can generate really productive catch crops before the following cereal, benefiting our soil health and nutrient capture.” This has led to vast reductions in nitrogen use, “our main goal is to drive down fossil fuel use and inputs, we have halved the amount of nitrogen we use in 3 years and would look to half this quantity again over the next 3”.

Billy has been selected as the winner in the mixed farm category this year due to his passion and attention to detail for integrating livestock into the arable system and maximising his pasture productivity through diverse leys and a mob-grazing approach. He says, “our farm is coming to life and now functioning as a whole and healthy ecosystem.” speaking on his motivation Billy believes “if you don’t make mistakes you’re not learning, you’ve got to have faith and stick to your guns”.

David Miller

Our Arable Soil Farmer of the Year David Miller, manages 700 hectares of chalk/limestone in Hampshire.  David has designed a simplistic system whereby he has drastically reduced fuel consumption, crop protection inputs and fertiliser across a diverse arable system. Through the use of strategic cover and companion cropping within the rotation, David has reduced his need for bagged fertilisers, reducing nitrogen use by 25% and not applying phosphate or potassium for 7 years, instead using roots to harvest what is needed for the following crop, he explains:

“With all these benefits we are putting much less money at risk in each crop and therefore we are able to budget for lower yields. Yield is no longer our driver but margin is”. 

David mentions:

“We have seen vast improvements in our soil health, you now rarely walk across the field without standing on a worm midden per step, through testing we also know our mycorrhizal levels are increasing and our fungi to bacteria ratio is improving”.

Focussing on the soil through a ‘no-till’ approach, David has had his tramlines in the same place for 7 years – minimising compaction and maximising natural soil processes, he says “soils appear to repair faster and better after events like a wet harvest”. 

This system has resulted in vast emissions savings alongside benefits to the bottom line by minimising fixed and variable costs, he says “before we transitioned away from a traditional conventional system yields were static and costs were rising. The goal was to prove a system that would work for broadacre crop production which was simple and easy to look after”. 

David focuses on creating a profitable arable enterprise through creating a more resilient system with the soil at its heart. He advises,

“Treat each experience as a learning and you won’t go far wrong. Read plenty of books and temper the strategies to your own geography and challenges”.  

Andrew Rees

Our Runner-Up is Andrew Rees, a dairy farmer from Haverfordwest. Through implementing rotational grazing systems alongside diversifying leys with herb rich species and legumes, Andrew has reduced fertiliser rates, improved herd health and productivity, explaining:

“You can feel the life in the ley, compared to the monoculture of ryegrass. Where we’ve done good work, we’ve got good worms”. 

Managing a heavy soil type has been challenging, focussing on keeping soils covered with living roots and utilising the benefits of the trampling of residues back into the soil profile has seen great improvements in the structure, “we have a range of soil types on the farm which does help with grazing options under a rotational system – we now produce more milk whilst maintaining the quantity of forage grown with far less fertiliser”. Andrew says, “herbal leys cannot be managed like a ryegrass, it needs longer rests and more residual. Where we have existing herbal or clover leys we sow grasses directly in the autumn”. Additional benefits of reducing fertiliser requirements by 60% over the previous three years by using technology such as a Tow and Fert application system to apply inputs and conduct activities such as over-seeding and liming. 

The judges recognised Andrew’s dedication to maximising the potential of his soil to benefit the health and productivity of the dairy business. Andrew explains, “following the five main principles of regenerative farming has guided the transition on the farm, focussing on keeping ground covered with living roots of diverse species minimises the soil disturbance required and maximises the possibilities for grazing and cutting” adding, “you do however need to apply a sixth principle of context – the limitations or strengths of your own farm and the system you want to create”.

This year’s competition saw our highest number of entries yet, again demonstrating the excellence and knowledge of farmers in UK agriculture. All of the judges, sponsors and organisers would like to thank all of the farmers for their time to apply for the competition and the quality of the entries that were received. The top three farmers will also all be hosting farm walks that are open to anyone who is interested, where there will be a chance to see, understand and dig a bit deeper into what they are doing. Further details on these walks are available on the FCT website

Winners of the Soil Farmer of the Year 2022 Competition. From left to right: Andrew Rees (Runner-up), David Miller (Arable Soil Farmer of the Year) and Billy Lewis (Mixed Soil Farmer of the Year).

Further information

Contact: Emma Adams – Senior Farm Carbon and Soils Advisor,

[email protected]

Notes to editors

  • Established in 2009, the Farm Carbon Toolkit is an independent, farmer-led enterprise, supporting other farmers to measure, understand and act on their greenhouse gas emissions, while improving their business resilience for the future. www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk
  • The Farm Carbon Toolkit was established in 2009 to raise awareness of Greenhouse Gas emissions within the agricultural industry and also to provide practical responses that any farmer, whatever their farming system, could put into place on their farm.
  • Innovation for Agriculture is a consortium of English Agricultural Societies that delivers technical information and events for farmers. Soil organic matter and soil health is a key theme and the focus of much of our current activity. They have created a Soil Decision Tool which allows farmers to improve their soil knowledge and is accessible here, http://www.innovationforagriculture.org.uk/ifa-decision-support-tool/  
  • The competition is kindly being sponsored by Hutchinsons and Cotswold Seeds

For more information on the farm walks please visit the FCT website at www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk

2022 Soil Farmer of the Year competition: Shortlisted farms announced

Soil Farmer of the Year Winners 2021 at Groundswell

Press release: 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year competition: Shortlisted farms announced!

The Soil Farmer of the Year competition 2022 has selected seven farmers as finalists.

The 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year Shortlist:

  • Stuart Johnson, mixed farm – Northumberland
  • AV and N Lee and Partners, mixed farm – Devon
  • Billy Lewis, mixed farm – Herefordshire
  • David Miller, arable farm – Hampshire
  • Andrew Rees, grassland farm – Haverfordwest
  • Paul Temple, mixed farm – Yorkshire
  • Tim Williams, mixed farm – Cornwall

Now in its seventh year, the annual Soil Farmer of the Year competition is organised by the Farm Carbon Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture and, this year, generously sponsored by Hutchinsons and Cotswold Seeds.

The competition aims to find farmers and growers who are engaged with, and passionate about managing their soils in a way which supports productive agriculture, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and builds soil health, organic matter and carbon.

As part of the competition, the top three farmers will host open farm walks that bring farmers together to share good practice and innovations that improve soil health. The competition is widely recognised by organisations working in soil management, with many promoting it to their networks to increase participation.

Emma Adams, Farm Carbon and Soil Advisor with Farm Carbon Toolkit, says 

“This year’s Soil Farmer of the Year competition saw the highest number of applications so far, and we’ve been blown away by the number and quality of the entries. Indeed, the sheer variety of entries highlights the fact that, despite the many differences in farming systems and locations, the soil connects us all. We’re very grateful to everyone who took the time and effort to enter.”

Deborah Crossan, Innovation for Agriculture, says 

“As the Soil Farmer of the Year competition gains momentum and the numbers of entries reach their highest level so far, the summer walks at the winning farms represent a not-to-be-missed opportunity for farmers to see first-hand the innovation and change that leads to excellent soil management.“

The judging process now involves visiting each of the seven finalists to learn more about their farming practices before selecting the winners.

The winners of the 2022 competition will be announced at the Groundswell: The Regenerative Agriculture Show and Conference, which runs from 22nd – 23rd June 2002 at Lannock Manor Farm, Hertfordshire. 

Open farm walks at the top three winning farms are scheduled to take place in July.

For further details about the 2022 Soil Farmer of the Year competition, contact Emma Adams, Senior Advisor with the Farm Carbon Toolkit, at [email protected]

For more information, visit farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/soil-farmer-of-the-year

ENDS

New videos introducing our Farm Net Zero Demo Farmers

Our Farm Net Zero project in Cornwall includes three demonstration farms that act as hubs for training and inspiration for other farmers. Over the last few months we’ve hosted a range of events on these farms and are pleased to share these videos introducing our demo farmers:

Erth Barton Farm

At 300 acres, Erth Barton Farm has been a conventional arable farm for the past four decades, producing root crops, bulbs and cereals. As part of the wider Antony Estate in Cornwall, the farm will transition over the next five years into a healthy, biodiverse, fully functioning natural input farm with a key focus on soil health and the building of soil organic matter. Read more about Erth Barton here.

Blable Farm, Cornwall

Mike Roberts, his wife Alison and their son Sam manage a mix of beef and arable at Blable Farm near Wadebridge. They have 500 acres of grass, arable, scrub and wood with a herd of 150 stabiliser x and pedigree stabiliser suckler cows. This year with more of the arable ground seeded to herbal leys they hope to finish all of their growing cattle on the farm. Read more about Blable Farm here.

Ennis Barton Farm

Andrew Brewer farms 1,000 acres at Ennis Barton, Fraddon. He is a pasture-based dairy farmer and owns 500 Jersey cross cows. He finishes his beef calves on the grass system and also lets out some land for the production of potatoes and cabbages. Read more about Ennis Barton here.

The Farm Carbon Calculator just got even better

Calculator results

As part of our commitment to being the best carbon calculator for farmers and growers in the UK, we have just launched another upgrade. This comes hot on the heels of another major upgrade in November, and shows our commitment to the many thousands of users that value the Farm Carbon Calculator.

To ensure we are reflecting the latest science, this upgrade features major improvements to emissions factors and methodologies for the livestock, crops and fertiliser sections. Using the latest IPCC and UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory data, we always aim to provide users with the most up to date emissions and sequestration factors.

For users though the biggest changes will appear in the interface, which has received a major design overhaul. Focussing on how users can better understand results, what they need in terms of outputs, and how the data input process flows, we believe we’ve got the best version of the Farm Carbon Calculator yet.

Carbon balance is clear and easy to understand

A new feature is benchmarking, so farmers and growers can see where they are compared with other users, total emissions or carbon balance per tonne of product and per hectare. This applies to overall business emissions, and if working on a product basis, then against other similar products (e.g. wheat) also.

Understanding your carbon footprint (orange) against other users

Data entry has been improved to give a clearer layout, and useful information to help users understand what information is required and what it will be used to calculate.

Data entry, showing improved charts with understanding of proportions and amounts of carbon for each item

Useful information is in the ‘i’ buttons when you hover-over them

Emissions are now also shown in detail, by Scope (1,2 and 3), and Greenhouse Gas type (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) for each section.

Detailed emissions breakdown table

The Farm Details page is much more clearly laid out, also with helpful tips.

Farm details section

There is clearer navigation in the Reports section too, where you can Edit data, Download your report as a PDF or CSV, compare against other reports you’ve done, or Share your report with others. At any time you can go back to your reports.

The Nitrogen Module is clearer now and gives you a better understanding of the Nitrogen flows through your farm.

Nitrogen Balance

We hope you find the tool even more useful than before. There are lots of FAQs on the Calculator home page, and if you get stuck you can always contact us for more help.

Farming and the climate crisis

Roots of green manures fixing nitrogn

What can farming do for the climate crisis?

COP26 in Glasgow brought a sharp focus on human activities that create greenhouse gases. There were many welcome announcements on reducing methane from oil and gas, cutting coal, limiting deforestation, “keeping 1.5 alive”, and a whole other host of measures. While many campaigners and leaders agree that the pledges do not go far enough, progress  has been made, momentum must continue and these pledges must now be translated  into action on all scales from grassroots to governments, across the world.

Building carbon in soils is a win-win for farmers and society

But one major issue was not given adequate attention – food and farming. Representing around 21-37% of global carbon emissions and something so fundamental to our daily lives, the lack of discussion is baffling. Is it because farming is a knotty problem and governments think there aren’t easy solutions? There could be many reasons for this lack of discussion, but the net effect is a lack of  policy and action driving the collective carbon footprint of food and farming in the right direction.

At Farm Carbon Toolkit we’ve been working on the ground, encouraging, informing and enabling farmers and growers to cut their carbon and increase sequestration on their farms for more than 10 years. We enable them to measure their carbon footprint, using the Farm Carbon Calculator, and point them to tried and tested solutions, advice, inspirational events and other learnings through the Toolkit.

The level of interest in our work has increased hugely over the past 18 months and we see that as very encouraging. Many farmers and growers want to reduce their carbon footprint, and can see the benefits. Legislation might well demand it soon, and some supply chains are already requiring their farmers to start going on a path towards net zero carbon, many of which point towards 2030 as an end date. Eight years from now…that’s not long.

How can farms be net zero?

All farms have greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions, such as from fuels, fertilisers, livestock, bought in materials, and soils. These all have to be accounted for, and steps must be made to minimise these emissions. Reducing emissions is the first step and every effort must be made to go as low as possible.

However farms are one of just two main industries in the UK that can also sequester (absorb) carbon – the other being forestry. The soils, hedges and woodlands of our farms can, when managed in the right way, lock-up carbon over a long time and keep it there. In the case of soils, when farms build organic matter it not only sequesters carbon, but also improves soil fertility, crop growth, water management, and biodiversity.

When the carbon emissions and sequestration are added together – the carbon balance, it’s quite possible for farms to be net zero, or better still ‘sub zero’ where they absorb more carbon than they emit. Or should that be ‘carbon positive’?!

Farms that have already made it

Plenty of farms that are using the Farm Carbon Calculator are already net or sub zero, including livestock, arable and horticultural businesses. Through a combination of reducing emissions and maximising sequestration, these farms are showing that farms can produce quality food, run successful businesses, and be part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Farmers and growers have a wide range of actions open to them, such as generating excess renewable energy and exporting it, reducing cultivations (which both saves fuel and increases soil organic matter), planting and better maintaining hedgerows, building soil organic matter, reducing fertiliser use (which also saves money), and changing the way livestock are fed.

There are huge business advantages to being net or sub zero – reducing costs, access emerging market trends, being in line with future subsidy systems, and morally doing the ‘right thing’.

Farming to be part of the solution

When farms transition to sub zero they are actually becoming a part of the climate solution in a very active way. When farms absorb more carbon than they emit, carbon dioxide is sucked out of the atmosphere providing a mechanism of helping to reduce the climate crisis.

This is clearly a positive in environmental terms, but also socially because it provides an empowering connection with customers to say that your business is doing such a good thing for society and the planet. And for customers to have the opportunity to buy carbon negative (or positive – the terms can be confusing!) food.

The bigger picture

We believe that many more farms could and should transition to sub zero carbon as soon as possible. It is certainly possible, the benefits are clear, and the planet requires it. So what’s stopping it?

Part of it lies with farmers and growers themselves, in having the knowledge and drive to do so. Learning new techniques, knowledge-exchange with peers, and rethinking business models and practices. We have seen many forward thinking and dedicated farmers achieve fantastic transformations in the carbon performance of their businesses. 

Farmers learning about good soil management

But critically, there is also a policy context in how the environment in which businesses work can be tweaked to favour low carbon practices. Some change is happening but much more is needed, and faster. The legal framework for business is important, ensuring that environmentally damaging practices are outlawed , whilst assessing the equivalence of imported produce. The subsidy regime must support sub zero farming in the future. Supply chains need to require and support businesses to meet net (or sub) zero targets.

The whole food system needs reform, from the farmers and growers who produce food, through the packhouses, retailers and processors that sell us food, through to us all who eat the food we buy. A systemic shift towards a better food system that values low carbon, low impact, quality food over merely price and convenience. The same level of thinking that got us into this mess will not give us the solutions we need to fix the problems.

Perhaps what’s missing though is the big picture. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and maybe what’s needed is a movement. Going back to COP26, what was important was the political context. One success of Glasgow is that the need to act is not in dispute now, it’s the how. The same doesn’t feel true in the farming industry…yet.

Taking a lead

Leadership is crucial for the advancement of critical issues, and in the area of farming and the climate crisis leadership does not appear to be in abundance. Equally, leadership by businesses collectively can lead to huge change, and this is being shown to be true with the climate crisis in other industries. Farmers and growers could become that lead in this sector.

Improving the carbon performance of a farm can go hand in hand with a whole host of other benefits, including more biodiversity (above and below ground), water management, reduced inputs, better soil management, and better food quality. These qualities, and many more, are also key to improvements in the environmental and social impacts of our farming and at FCT we see these wider benefits as critically important too, and know that many farmers and growers care deeply about this also.

So why not build momentum for Zero Carbon Farming 2030 in the UK? Is it possible to achieve? Maybe. Should it be achieved? The moral argument is hard to refute. Sometimes a vision and target is what’s needed, then work out how you get there. No one is pretending it will be easy, painless or cheap. But the planet is facing a crisis and we in farming should be part of the solution, not the problem.

Our latest upgrade to the Farm Carbon Calculator

Today the Farm Carbon Calculator has gone live with a major upgrade. As part of our development cycle, every few months we deliver updates to ensure our calculator keeps up with the latest science, while also improving its features and usability. As the number of users continues to rise, we  regularly  update the tool to ensure it’s the best it can be and matches our users’ expectations.

The recent COP26 exemplified how carbon has shot up the agenda for everyone in societies across the world, and this fact is reflected in the number of farmers and growers we are engaging with at the Farm Carbon Toolkit. We have been advocating for over ten years that farmers and growers have a key role in cutting emissions and indeed in sequestering carbon in their biomass and soils, and we provide solutions for users to measure and manage carbon in their businesses. 

Farms are one of just two industrial sectors that can not just reduce emissions but also sequester carbon (the other being forestry). This means farming can play a positive role in the climate crisis by potentially drawing down atmospheric CO2 into its soils and biomass. Facing the climate crisis, we are here to support farmers and growers to make a positive contribution, as we all must do.

What’s changed

In this upgrade we have updated a wide range of emissions factors based on the latest research; including in Fuels, Livestock, Fertilisers, Crops, and Materials. This means up-to-date figures, more categories and therefore increased accuracy.

Major changes include a larger range of fertilisers, a huge range of branded sprays to choose from, a new way of recording livestock numbers – giving much more useful outputs, more animal feeds, new animal bedding section, a much greater range of bought in manures, and upgraded factors in fuels, electricity and travel.

There are new user features including an improved way of recording yields of crops, more FAQs to help you through the process, and videos to support you in filling in the Calculator.

On the Report Summary page, the emissions are now broken down into Scopes 1, 2 and 3, which makes Company Reporting easier and clearer. We’ve also separated results for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, so users can understand which greenhouse gases make up their total carbon footprint. 

A brand new feature, and a great compliment to Carbon, is a way to measure Nitrogen. Thanks to funding from the WWF, and in conjunction with the Soil Association, our new ‘Nitrogen Module’ allows users to visualise the nitrogen flows in and out of their farm system. Nitrogen (N) inputs are built up from biological fixation, synthetic fertilisers and organic manures as well as purchased livestock and animal feeds. The N output is calculated from in-field N2O emissions as well as crops, milk and livestock sold and the N balance calculation provides an overview of the net change of Nitrogen over the year. 

The new Nitrogen Module shows overviews and details of the flows of N in and out of the farm

The process

It takes several months of work to prepare for an upgrade. We plan, prioritise, research, extract figures, build new functionality, review, then test, test and test again! 

The Calculator team is already planning the next update, which is scheduled for late February 2022. We will be working to update a raft of more emissions factors, reviewing the latest science (which is changing quite rapidly), and working on even more user features. Which all means that in another three months the Calculator will take an even bigger leap forward!

The Calculator can be used on all types of farms, including livestock, arable and horticulture

Working with consultants, larger companies and organisations

The Calculator will always be free for farmers and growers to use. But increasingly we have a new group of users who want to use the Calculator within their supply chains and as part of a consultancy service. 

For consultants advising farmers, we offer a licensing service, where they can receive training and access to the Calculator to calculate the carbon footprint of their clients, and deliver advice upon the results. For businesses and organisations managing groups of farmers and growers – such as buying groups, co-ops and larger food businesses, we offer a white label version of the Calculator. This is branded and tailored to the user, along with support from us, and a group admin function to manage and compare group users’ data.

Finding out more

We hope you find the Farm Carbon Calculator useful for your business, and take steps to reduce your carbon footprint. You can use the Toolkit for further help, advice and case studies https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/toolkit

For help and advice on how to use the Calculator, visit our webpage https://calculator.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/ 

For information on commercial licenses and white label versions, please contact us [email protected]