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FCCT update, what a month!

24th Aug 2019

Its been a little while since I've posted a blog, so I thought that it was about time to update everyone on some of the exciting things that are going on at the moment with FCCT.  What a couple of months its been for greenhouse gases / livestock / climate change / agriculture! Its amazing the amount of attention farming has been receiving around its environmental impact. And this has led to a lot of heated discussions on both sides of the various arguments debating the merits of different production systems, the issues with ruminants and all sorts of other questions. And its all been a bit crazy. 

For us here at FCCT HQ, it has been just as crazy. We have been very fortunate to get some funding which will allow us to update the carbon calculator and make it more user friendly and intuitive as well as update the emissions factors and add more factors to it. The calculator, as those of you who have used it will testify, can seem like yet another request for information, with the overarching question of why am I being asked this for this? However if we are to truly understand our farm's emissions profile and be able to counteract some of the more absurb claims in the media, assessing your carbon footprint is the first step. It is only when we see what the emissions are as a baseline, that we can start to understand the potential for reduction, and where the balance is between sequestration and emissions. This update that we are working on currently is going to include a lot more features that will make the results easier to interpret and the links thorugh to the toolkit more explicit. There will be opportunities for comparing footprints within groups and reports that will help with evaluating performance. So its all going to be very exciting. We will be looking for farmers and other interested people to road test the new tool and give us feedback on what they think, so if you are interested in being part of this group then please get in touch ([email protected]). As we move forward into the future, and there is increasing scrutiny into the emissions associated with agriculture, then having an understanding of what your farm footprint is will be an advantage. 

The soil carbon project is progressing very well, with 75 farms now being monitored for their soil carbon levels as well as a range of other soil health parameters. For those farmers who signed up to the project at the start, the interesting results are now coming back from the second year of testing so that we can understand what is happening year on year and with more farmers coming on board we are able to make sure that we have good representation of a range of farming systems, soil types and cropping options so that we can start to really understand what the potential is for soil carbon sequestration across a range of different scenarios. The other really exciting output from this project will be that the results will be able to be fed into the new calculator so for those users who haven't got consecutive years of soil data there will be an opportunity to use modelled data to understand the potential with soil carbon sequestration. This project continues to be a great example of connecting research with farmers and lets hope that there will be opportunities to continue the project long term (as long term soil monitoring is so important!). 

Unless you have been under a stone for the last couple of weeks, you can't have failed to notice the publication of the recent IPCC special report looking at the potential of land use and the importance of it as a resource. The report summises that "Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees C can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food." (IPCC report, Aug 8th, 2019).  The report states that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, but its not the only solution and that all sectors have to work to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to limit temperature rise. The report advocates the need for balanced diets which include sustainably produced meat that comes from a low greenhouse gas system and the reduction in food waste. The publication sparked a range of interested media reports, some of which failed to understand the nuances of it and let to debates about sustainable diets. Every time these debates emerge red meat production gets a hammering, and the intricacies of production systems and what the sheep and cattle are eating gets lost. There are so many things to look at when it comes to sustainable diets, including food waste, feed sources for livestock and the use of forage, and the metrics that are often used to come up with the results often miss carbon sequestration all together, so its not a true reflection. 

A key output for FCCT from this increased attention is to make sure that farmers have the tools they need to be able to understand their carbon footprint and the opportunities that exist to reduce emissions and improve sequestration levels. It provides not only a management tool but also an understanding of how balanced the farm is in terms of carbon. Opportunities to reduce emisisons often come with economic benefits, through a reduction in inputs, and becoming more efficient, and holding more carbon in the soil is a win-win (as our soil carbon project is showing us) not just for soil carbon sequestration but also for a range of additional soil health benefits including water holding capacity, nutrient cycling, biological activity and soil structure. 

There is much to do at a policy level including a consistent method for reporting carbon and greenhouse gas emissions so that true comparisons can be made between systems and diets that take into account all of the facts, and there is more understanding and awareness of the compexities of some of the arguments. But understanding your position is a key first step. We are happy to help anyone with completing their carbon footprint, and if anyone has any suggestions for how the whole process could be made easier, please let us know.

As a final thought, I can never fail to be inspired by our fabulous Soil Farmers and this year was no exception. Three farm walks were held at the beginning of July and all three were of exceptional quality. There were some commonalities across all walks around managing residues, the opportunities to diversify rotations and the opportunites to improve soil health, but what is always so brilliant about them is the discussions (that quite often go on quite late into the evening!). Also this year we were incredibly lucky to be able to present the awards to our finalists at Groundswell, where they all provided fabulous presentations on their farms and how they were managing them. 

Sharing information and ideas and all working together is a key part of the Soil Farmer of the Year competition, as well as witnessing some top class management. If you are interested in applying for next year's competition, then the competition will open in December.