Tag: climate change

Three major farm carbon calculators outline a roadmap to harmonisation

The three major farm carbon calculators featured in the Defra Report Harmonisation of Carbon Accounting Tools for Agriculture – SCF0129 have announced a collaboration by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), intended to harmonise the methodologies used in calculating the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture.

Farm Carbon Toolkit, Cool Farm Alliance Community Interest Company and Agrecalc Limited have reached an agreement to work together to support UK agriculture to measure GHG emissions using the most up-to-date and accurate tools possible, harmonising the methodologies and outputs of their carbon calculation tools.

The three companies are looking forward to their joint work on this major challenge, to fulfil the requirements outlined in the comprehensive Report, compiled by ADAS throughout 2023. It is generally agreed that the overarching goal should be to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions  from agriculture through resource efficiency improvements,  optimising production practices and mitigating environmental impacts.

Liz Bowles, Farm Carbon Toolkit CEO, said:

We are not seeking to reach a point where all three calculators will produce the same answer for any given dataset. As the Defra report put it, “ there is no single ‘right’ answer”. Rather we are striving to make it possible for users to fully understand why different calculators produce different answers.

We plan to align with the Science-Based Targets initiative Forestry Land and Agriculture Guidance (SBTi FLAG) and draft Greenhouse Gas Protocol Land Sector Removals Guidance (GHGp LSRG) through our collaborative actions. This commitment underscores our dedication to maintaining high-quality standards and ensuring environmental sustainability in our operations, and in calculation outputs.

Scott Davies, Agrecalc CEO, said:

It is intended that we agree on a common set of data sources which all three calculators will use. All calculators can go beyond these baseline requirements, and all parties to this MOU will retain their commercial independence. We will also involve the relevant government and other organisations’ teams with our work plan as we develop it.

This collaborative approach supports a joint understanding of industry requirements and advancing consistency in our tools and methodologies. Our goal is collaboration with industry, trade bodies, and fellow calculator providers in the UK and internationally, so that we can actively contribute to the development of more consistent approaches to on-farm carbon calculation.

Richard Profit, Cool Farm Alliance CEO, said:

We are looking forward to this collaboration, as it will help align methodologies where that makes sense and that will especially allow us to look into new areas that require attention. How we then incorporate the new information in our calculators will vary from calculator to calculator as a result of our different base approaches.

We will also ensure that the tools include the latest and most robust scientific findings into their frameworks and roadmaps.

The calculators are seeking that this joint work become the “agreed way” and at some point, become a minimum required standard for all calculators to adopt. The companies will engage in consultations with Defra, Welsh Government, Scottish Government, and Northern Ireland Government to reach a practical and realistic form of ongoing validation of their harmonisation work.

Methodologies or other harmonisation solutions developed as a direct result of the MOU will be published transparently, or will otherwise be made available for others to use.

Although this MOU currently only involves the three major companies in this space, the group is open to other calculators joining the coalition so long as they publicly provide transparency in their Calculator methodologies. 

We will be holding a joint webinar on the 11th September 2024 at 1pm – 2pm to share more details of the work we are doing together. Please register here if you would like to join us

Notes to Editors

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. 

The Farm Carbon Calculator uses the IPCC 2019 and UK GHG Inventory methodologies and is aligned with the GHG protocol agricultural guidance. Recent development has allowed us to provide greater interoperability with other data platforms through our Report Export API and Carbon Calculation Engine API. This represents a step-change in the industry’s ability to provide trustworthy carbon footprints with transparent methodologies on platforms where farmers already collect data, thus reducing the data inputting onus on farmers. This new functionality has been warmly welcomed by supply chain businesses who are now using our Calculation Engine to support their customers without need for further data entry. 

The Farm Carbon Calculator is used across the UK and on four continents with global usage growing at around 20% per year. 

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, Tesco, Yeo Valley and WWF. The Farm Carbon Calculator is a leading on-farm carbon audit tool, used by over 8,000 farmers in the UK and beyond. To find out more visit www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk 

Media contact: Rachel Hucker ([email protected]; 07541 453413) 

Agrecalc, a carbon footprint tool developed by combining practical expertise with world-class agricultural science, is a precise instrument that offers both breadth and depth of on-farm and through-the-supply-chain calculations of GHG gas emissions.

Agrecalc is the largest source of collated farm benchmark data from thousands of farms, having been used as the designated tool to deliver carbon audits under various schemes since 2016. It is recognised as the preferred carbon calculator in many of the emerging government programmes.

With a mission to increase efficiency and business viability of food production, the scientists, consultants, and developers who work on Agrecalc, strive to constantly upgrade the calculator according to the most up-to-date available research results and recommendations.

Media contact: Aleksandra Stevanovic, Head of Marketing; ([email protected]; 07551 263 407)

Cool Farm Alliance Community Interest Company is a science-led, not-for-profit membership organisation (community interest company) that owns, manages, and improves the Cool Farm Tool and cultivates the leadership network to advance regenerative agriculture at scale.

For over fifteen years, the Cool Farm Alliance has worked to put knowledge in the hands of farmers and empower the full supply chain to understand and support agro-ecological restoration by providing a respected, standardised calculation engine to measure and report on agriculture’s impact on the environment. The Cool Farm Tool has established widely endorsed, science-based metrics for water, climate, and biodiversity, supported in 17 languages and used in more than 150 countries around the world.

Cool Farm Alliance members share the need for a respected, consistent, standardised, independent calculation engine and have joined the Alliance to ensure the Cool Farm Tool meets this need, now and in the future.  To find out more visit https://coolfarm.org/

Media contact: Kandia Appadoo ([email protected])

Adapting to a changing climate for farming

Wellies in a puddle

As this blog goes live, we have experienced an extraordinary weather year across the UK, and the impact on farming and growing has been profound. February and March saw record rainfall across most of the country, followed by some drier spells and then continued rain in places. The net result has been one of the most challenging springs for years, which is such a crucial time in the UK farming calendar. Late spring and early summer has been very variable, according to which part of the country you are.

Rewind to summer 2023 and June was considered to be the hottest June ever in UK weather records, followed by another hot spell in September. Yet in between, July and August were unsettled, with two major storms.  Mild, stormy and wet spells were the continuing theme for the latter part of the year.

Everyone in farming and growing understands the critical effect that weather plays in the annual cycle of producing food, managing land, and the financial health of farm businesses. It is clear that  weather patterns and the climate are becoming more unpredictable, creating significant impacts for farms, land and food. How do farmers and growers plan for the future with climate extremes becoming the norm?

The outlook

Met Office predictions for the trends in UK weather patterns over the next 30 years or so will include:

  • Warmer and wetter winters
  • Hotter and drier summers
  • More frequent and intense weather extremes

This is happening now, but the knock on impacts are sometimes harder to predict, for example:

  • Unpredictable weather patterns make all sorts of farming operations – from silage cutting, potato planting, arable drilling to crop harvest far more difficult to plan
  • Significant variations in crop and animal health due to stress factors
  • Uncertainty in business planning and financial returns
  • Cumulative impacts that compound to present challenges – such as shorter windows to plant, changing pest and disease pressures, international market changes, etc.

In short there are many climatic challenges facing farmers, growers and the wider food sector, and many of them are simply not known yet. We’re all learning in this process and no one has all the answers. Climate adaptation is every bit as important as climate mitigation in the farming world, and sometimes the answers for both mitigation and adaptation can be the same. Weatherproofing your farm should be a priority for all farmers and growers.

Short to medium term solutions

So what can you as a farmer or grower do about it? There are things out of our control – the location of our farms (well, unless you’re up for moving!) and the weather systems we receive, but there are plenty of things that can be done to adapt. We’ll look at our top five actions

  1. Soil health
  2. Water management
  3. Diversity in the business  
  4. Knowledge of the trends
  5. Investment in the future

Soil underpins everything we do in farming, and a healthy soil can be incredibly resilient in terms of water management, soil health and structure. Increasing organic matter content, enhancing soil biology and minimising cultivation and compaction can have massive benefits.

Water is crucial for all plant growth, but having too much or too little can massively affect all crops, from grass to cereals and vegetables. A soil with good structure and good organic matter levels can help buffer against both flood and drought conditions. However, having plenty of available water for irrigation when needed can be essential for crops like vegetables and fruit. Most farms can improve their water storage capacity, harvest more rain water and implement efficient irrigation systems.

Diversity of enterprises on the farm will help guard against the danger of having all your eggs in one basket. Inevitably some crops or products do better than others in different years. This might mean a range of crop types, genetic diversity within a particular crop, or branching out to try different breeds of plants and livestock. A biodiverse farm can also help regulate extreme weather events, even changing the micro climate of a farm.

Knowledge of the farmer or grower is one of the most powerful tools. Understanding what a changing climate might look like for the farm, and planning ahead is vital to build resilience and guard against risks from extreme weather.

Investment in the future could be the key to business resilience. For example, identifying that the farming system would benefit from more trees, water storage, different cultivation equipment, livestock sheds, etc. This forward planning and investment should be strongly considered if and when finances allow. Grants are also available, such as those offered by Defra.

Longer term solutions

At Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT) we work with businesses every day to create Carbon Action Plans, where we recommend short, medium and long term solutions; Climate Adaptation Plans should be seen in a similar way. Having said that, making a long term plan to cut carbon is much easier in its aim – to cut net carbon emissions to zero or beyond. But with climate adaptation plans – what is the aim?

That question is hard to answer as the climate of the future is uncertain. But what do we know is true? Well, the climate we’re used to is changing , as are weather patterns. Predictions are currently largely coming to pass, and so that gives us some guidance. Bearing in mind they are just predictions, one thing is certain – farms need to be resilient, adaptable and well prepared. It is likely the future will not look much like the past.

Change can be very challenging, especially in businesses like farming which are inherently long term. Embracing change can be difficult for many reasons – resources, money, land capability, mindset, tradition and much more. But burying our heads in the sand is also not viable – this is difficult, but it is happening!

Here are some areas to consider:

  • Cultivated soils are particularly vulnerable to soil erosion, drought and flooding. Moving towards reduced cultivation and better soil that is permanently covered will build resilience
  • Adapting land use to be more resilient to intense rainfall events
  • Livestock can be very vulnerable to heat and extreme weather. Providing shade and shelter can help reduce the impacts on animals
  • Animal feed supply can be impacted significantly by weather, in terms of price, availability and quality. Are there ways to boost feed self-sufficiency and feedstock resilience for the farm?
  • Perennial crops tend to be more resilient than annual crops. Opportunities might exist to shift cropping systems to build resilience
  • Diversity of farm outputs may help to reduce the number of “eggs in one basket” and spread climate-related risks
  • Microclimates can help farms to adapt. Trees, hedges and agroforestry can help to provide shade, manage water, and shelter from storms, as well as offering alternative income streams
  • Water storage can improve in quantity and ability to deliver water to crops, in combination with soils that have improved water holding capacity.
  • Varieties and breeds that are adapted to your local soils and climate may do better than others, for example population wheat. Local seed breeding is a skill that has largely been lost to most farmers and growers.

Whatever future path is chosen by farmers looking to adapt to a changing climate, two themes are clear. Firstly, that no one solution will work and a pathway should be holistic. Secondly, those plans should be adaptable and may well have to change. The future is uncertain, but a resilient business that has planned ahead has a better chance in weathering future storms. FCT can help you in that planning.

Helping you

An increased focus for us at Farm Carbon Toolkit will be to help you with services,  tools, techniques and insights to adapt to a changing climate. We have over 15 years experience in helping farmers and growers to measure, understand and reduce their carbon footprint. We have a range of services, and a team of experts who really understand farming. Increasingly we will be doing more to help you both reduce your carbon footprint, and adapt to a changing climate.

Soil Farmer of the Year 2023 – Farm Walk with Richard Anthony 

Written by Tilly Kimble-Wilde, Farm Carbon and Soil Advisor

Richard Anthony, of R & L Anthony near Bridgend, was awarded Second Place in the 2023 Soil Farmer of the Year competition. He was commended on how he responded to and managed challenges, never veering from thinking holistically, always upholding soil health as a priority, and treating each challenge as something from which to learn.

A majority arable business, Richard farms a 6-year rotation of wheat, maize, oilseed rape and westerwolds intermixed with a diverse array of cover and companion crops which he is passionate about. “The emphasis on farm is the soil, improving the soil and organic matter, and keeping a crop in the ground; keeping the soil biology alive.”

Richard and the team also strive to promote and create habitats for wildlife: planting wild bird seed mixes, establishing wildlife corridors, and bordering all hedgerows with a 3m margin to encourage growth year on year. 2m flower margins have also been implemented around all fields of oilseed rape which has been, to quote, “absolutely fantastic.” Encouraging insects and bees and getting the public on side too.

The farm walk itself took place on 23rd November 2023 and kicked off with a presentation taking us through the past year and outlining the various activities and obstacles the farm faced. We were then treated to a fantastic farm walk whereby Richard gave our group of visiting farmers, agronomists, and advisors a tour of some of what they get up to across their extensive arable and forage business.

A big part of what Richard and his team are trying to achieve across the farming business is to use very little bagged fertiliser. Most of the nutrients applied to the soil come from digestate, conveniently stored in the farm’s digestate lagoon. Tankers come in and fill alligator bags for easy transport and the digestate is spread on wheat, oilseed rape and maize.

So far, Richard has managed to eradicate artificial fertiliser when growing maize and OSR; however, wheat still receives a small amount of early application. This wouldn’t have been possible without the construction of the digestate lagoon, a project which was undertaken at the beginning of last year. Still, as Richard says, there is room for improvement. The farm is looking to reduce its N inputs even further by trialling an N inhibitor, all to build more resilience into the system.

This mindset has been applied to fungicides.  To use less, Richard has changed the sprayer to accommodate the wet and windy weather brought in from the coast. Now at 250cm spacing, the booms can run very low resulting in no drift even if it’s windy. This enables more spray days and a better chance at getting the timeliness right.

As with most farms across the UK, the weather has been the biggest challenge with dry weather in May and June, and then rain as soon as harvest began.

Luckily, Richard had installed a biomass boiler 6-7 years ago for grain drying after a very wet harvest having heard about them in Scotland. It has been a game changer. Their 1-megawatt biomass boiler provides a lot more spare heat than previous methods of grain drying where they used up to 1.2 megawatts of gas on one drying floor. In the old system, if they were on 25% moisture, it took 10 days to dry one side. With the biomass boiler on woodchip, they can dry 2 drying bays, double the output, and never have to run the boiler flat out. With the right combine (Richard uses a MacDon belt header), the corn is cut as soon as it gets to 25% and achieves good output, as Richard emphasises “do not wait”.

Planting OSR in August was a struggle, with some fields too wet to put a tine in and any cultivation out of the question. Instead, Richard planted the wet parts of the field by snipping the OSR with a sprinter drill and planting the dry parts with a farm standard drill and a top down.

To better manage the unpredictable weather, Richard has a selection of drills that he’s held onto rather than sell. The farm will run 2, sometimes 3 drills if they can, capitalising on days when they have the right weather. This was especially helpful during autumn when the farm received 295mm of rain in October alone.

The farm also spends a lot of time on drainage. Ditches are cleaned, dug out, drains put in; all with the aim of evening out patches in fields and making the farm more resilient. As Richard says, it’s great getting 16t/ha on wheat in a bit of field but if you’re only getting 3t/ha in another part because it’s too wet there is space to do better.

Still, the most used bit of kit on the farm is a spade.  By continually monitoring and assessing soil structure, Richard can make a well-informed decision when determining how to establish the next crop.

Farm Walk

During the farm walk, we were shown multiple cover crop and companion crop trials that were taking place on the farm. Steve Corbett from Agrii has worked with Richard for many years, trialling different varieties and combinations, highlighting the importance in being selective. You need good establishment, and it must earn its keep.

What they have found is that OSR, a “lazy rooting brassica”, completely lends itself to companion cropping, in this case with beans, spring vetch and buckwheat. Beans help to get the roots down as well as provide free nitrogen through nodulation. Spring vetch as opposed to winter vetch grows quickly providing biomass and N fixation. Buckwheat adds to the canopy, slowing down flea beetle, making it more difficult for pigeons to land, as well as mining phosphates. When the companion crops die, all the fixed nitrogen and phosphates will be released back into the soil ready for the next crop.

Richard deliberately plants OSR at low seed rates to encourage big branchy plants in spring which will grow away, allowing light through the canopy. By choosing thicker and well-branched OSR types, flea beetle is more contained, damaging only the outer leaves, leaving the middle to branch out. In Richard’s experience it provides a plant that will survive despite a pest living within it.

In terms of cultivation, Richard is a big fan of direct drilling. When direct drilling wheat, he believes it is important to see what is happening underground: what is the root depth? Taking stock of root depth and maintaining that attention to detail during crop growth is essential to determine the next steps in terms of cultivation. At Sealands farm, root depth is critical to survive the winds, Richard has found through monitoring that cultivation disrupts root growth, and that direct drilling fits his system best.

Ultimately, Richard has tried a lot which didn’t work out, but he’s kept at it. One outcome which has surprised him the most was the success of forage rye which he believes is underestimated. In the field, Richard showed us the root mass it was building and the excellent soil structure it yielded. This has provided Richard with an extra income stream, either taken for silage or grazed (ensuring to move stock on in wet conditions to avoid undoing all the good work he’s built up!).

Looking to improve the soil structure even further, Richard planted the forage rye together with westerwolds. He found that they were able to harvest the westerwolds a fortnight earlier due to the ability of the forage rye to get away in the spring creating its own microclimate which Richard believes benefitted the westerwolds.

Finally, we heard about Richard’s problem with persistent perennial ryegrass. In this instance, he introduced an annual ryegrass to outcompete the perennial. “Putting in a bully to outcompete a bully”. It worked and Richard is now able to include it within the arable rotation without generating a loss. This allows a rest period within the rotation to build fertility, stabilise soil structure and generate a bit of extra cash from silage or grazing. Essentially, Richard is maintaining the balance of farming resiliently: optimising soil health and crop yields while sustaining a viable business.

As we’ve all come to realise, we can’t rely on the weather, however, prioritising soil health as perfectly exemplified by Richard, can better equip us to respond and adapt. When we get to know our soils, monitoring how they behave in certain conditions and how they respond to our actions, we are better prepared and forearmed to make decisions that will affect future harvests and pocket.

Through trials and problem solving, Richard together with Steve have implemented more diversity and reduced inputs without damaging profits. A big resistance to straying from our well-known and “safe” rotations is often down to “how will it pay for itself”. Richard and Steve have shown that they’re not radical in their rationale for cover and companion crops, the bottom line is it has to pay. The most exciting take home from the day is they didn’t give up: they’ve found the right species to incorporate, the soil health on farm is improving and crop yields are directly benefiting. It was a truly inspiring day and a masterclass in perseverance. Richard hasn’t made it look easy by any stretch but as he puts it “we’re just learning all the time.”

You can read the full report here.

New Calculator Updates – April 2024

The FCT Calculator team has released a significant update to the Farm Carbon Calculator, designed to ensure that your reports reflect the latest emissions data and understanding available. This update, which will affect any reports ending after 1st April 2024, encompass a range of improvements aimed at enhancing report accuracy, flexibility and calculator usability. Below are some of the main changes you will see to the calculator.

Updated emissions factors

We want to ensure that your reports align with the most recent scientific research and methodologies, and to that end we have updated our emissions factors across various categories, including: 

  • Updated UK GHG Inventory factors to the latest data (affects fuels, materials, distribution, processing, inventory and waste)
  • Updated the livestock, cropping and input emissions factors in line with the most recent IPCC standard refinements
  • Updated woodland sequestration factors in accordance with the latest Woodland Carbon Code

Numerous other emissions factors have been updated across the calculator, and for a more extensive breakdown of these changes, see Table 1 of our “What’s new for April 2024 update” document on the Calculator resources page.

New factor options

In this update we have also expanded the options available when report building to offer more comprehensive coverage of farm businesses. The new factors we have added include:

  • New fuel options such as alternative diesels and purchased heat and steam
  • Diverse new material options, such as more fencing materials, piping options, packaging choices, and agricultural consumables.
  • Expanded imported organic fertility and cropping options, including whole cropping
  • New fertiliser (including liquid fertilisers) and spray options, with provisions for unlisted items
  • Inclusion of hay and haylage as livestock feed options
  • Expanded distribution options, including electric vehicle haulage and various air freight options

Alongside adding new options, we have provided some more refined options for existing factors in the calculator, including: 

  • New managed hedgerow options, to allow reports to reflect the higher biomass accumulation of young hedges
  • We now have a non-UK electricity option for international users, allowing you to input your emissions using your nation’s specific emissions conversion factor
  • More options for structures, including new agricultural building size options and various new complete fencing options

A full overview of the new additions and refined items are available in Table 2 of the “What’s new for April 2024 update” document, as well as flagged in the new data collection sheets available on our Calculator resources page.

Accounting for Capital Items

With this update we have provided more flexibility in how capital items (such as farm machinery or agricultural buildings) are accounted for to ensure that your reports are in line with your desired reporting approach. You can choose to account for capital items in two ways:

  • Depreciating over 10 years” – The legacy method with emissions “spread” over a 10 year period
  • Upfront” – an approach which is compliant with the GHG protocol agricultural guidance. This way embedded emissions from capital items are associated with the year they were purchased, and only the emissions from your reported period will be included in your report

Not all standards require the inclusion of capital items, so if you are producing a report for someone else you should check whether they want capital items included. 

You can also switch between inventory reporting options by going to “Edit Farm Details” and you will not lose any data switching between the two.

Reporting waste

A new waste disposal reporting approach has been developed to ensure there is an accurate assessment of emission and these are accounted for in a GHG protocol compliant manner. How waste is reported can be selected on the report information page as with the new inventory options:

  • Legacy” is the existing approach which compares emissions from disposing of wastes to what would have been emitted had the waste been sent to landfill (i.e. it includes “avoided emissions”)
  • GHG protocol compliant” is the new recommended option as it discounts any “avoided emissions” and accounts just for the emissions resulting from the disposal method selected

New Data Collection Sheets

To facilitate data collection, we provide updated sheets with all new calculator items flagged for easy reference. You can find these on our Calculator resources page.

More information

For a more detailed overview of these changes and the methodologies behind them, please visit our Calculator resources page. Additionally, our website offers various help and guidance to assist you in reporting your farm businesses’ carbon footprint.

We are dedicated to providing an accurate and user-friendly carbon calculator that can help farmers improve their business and environmental resilience. This update has been the product of the hard work from our team in response to contributions and feedback from our users, so if you have any queries or insights for the calculator please email us at [email protected], and we will work to make this the most accessible and informative tool for you.

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:

Soil Farmer of the Year 2023 – Farm Walk with Bronagh O’Kane

Written by Emma Adams on behalf of The Farm Carbon Toolkit

In a first for the Soil Farmer of the Year competition, in October 2023 our series of farm walks took place in Northern Ireland. A group of farmers, academics and industry professionals met at Drumard Farm, just outside Cookstown in County Tyrone, to hear from Bronagh O’Kane on how she is transforming her farming business with resilient soil at its heart.

Bronagh introducing the farm to the group

Having come back to the farm in 2020, Bronagh began a journey to transform the soil. Historically the farm supported continental cattle breeds with a high reliance on imported feed, Bronagh has transitioned this system to more traditional breeds managed on herbal leys and ever-increasing diversity grasslands. Utilising a rotational paddock system she has extended the grazing period so that cattle can be out by 4 weeks and soils are more resilient to the extremes of dry and wet weather. Bronagh has started producing vermicast and composting to improve soil biology; focusing on natural inputs and a softer approach with foliar fertilisers where needed to manage historically compact and imbalanced soils. The walk will provide the opportunity to discuss and demonstrate the practices undertaken at the farm and the ongoing challenges and successes that Bronagh sees in her system.

The beginning of the farm walk

At Drumard Farm, Bronagh was told she had poor soils and no doubt they are a challenge, with testing suggesting an average of 45% silt and 45% clay they are tight and sticky, with little aggregation or infiltration. As such, understanding what was needed for the soil to function better was a priority for Bronagh, with a great deal of research it was understood that the high magnesium, bacterially dominant soils were being held back by a mineral imbalance, compaction from big tractors and heavy cows. 

Inspecting the soil condition following the autumn rain

Changing the livestock system at the farm has been central to Bronagh’s evolving management. The cattle business has been streamlined, and as such the previous finishing and store systems have been stopped instead to focus on a suckler system with pedigree Charollais sheep. The sheep are high value stock, as Bronagh suggests there isn’t the acreage for a larger flock, instead, she buys in September before selling the ewes with lambs at foot in the spring and runs the rest of the flock throughout the year. This system works well as there is the housing space available over winter and also the sheep provide a good opportunity to clean up the last of the grass when it is too wet for the cattle to graze. Previously the farm also had Charolais cattle, but these have been restocked, reducing numbers from around 80 to 50 on a sucker system focussing on more native breeds such as Speckle Park, Shorthorn and Hereford crosses with an Angus Bull. Even with these changes, Bronagh found that those animals with a Limousin cross within the breeding still comparatively lost condition on the new system which is thought to be from underlying epigenetic traits. This has led Bronagh to source more local Shorthorn heifers which are better adapted to a grass-based system. 

Bronagh utilises plant diversity as an indicator of the status of the soil. The species that may dominate in a field or area can suggest what the underlying composition may be – chickweed for excess nitrogen, low calcium or high potassium or creeping buttercup thrives where there has been poaching, bare soil and a low pH. Like many farms, docks have historically been widespread at the farm, often indicating compaction and an anaerobic soil environment. Bronagh’s approach to dock management is to change what has historically not been working – sprays and topping – and instead let them grow and allow the dock beetle to get to work combined with a cut for silage around June. This understanding of what the plants are indicating has led Bronagh to stop spraying and minimising fertiliser use to zero, instead focusing on balancing the soil and improving the health of the biome. She explains:

“Biodiversity, long rest periods and grazing management can change soils – you’re not stuck with what you have”

Grassland management is central to how the business is now run. Bronagh has diversified existing grasslands into multi-species swards despite the testing conditions and low pH of the farm. On the walk, the group visited a newly established herbal ley that had been planted in a field that was pH 5.8.  

The newly established multi-species herbal ley

The 15-way mix contained species such as sainfoin, plantain and chicory and Bronagh has subsequently experimented with both cutting and grazing, which has led to discussions with contractors on cutting heights, timings and more to best maintain the sward. For Bronagh, managing these lays to allow the full diversity is important, with the understorey plants encouraged through the aforementioned considerations in combination with the paddock grazing system. Bronagh has experimented with the paddock grazing timings and methods, including grazing the cows on knee-high swards which resulted in moving them faster but increasing the size of the paddock as the cows were found to be trampling rather than eating following heavy rain. Bronagh suggests:

The definition of overgrazing is letting them get that second bite – it is so important for my fragile, shallow roots to rest”

In addition to the home farm, Bronagh also has a 30ac National Trust tenancy on a zero-input system supporting both a rotational grazing and cutting platform. For Bronagh, having the right livestock that will thrive on a grass based system is key to success. As such, she puts the heifers on the poorest fields to determine which animals will be kept as some breeding is adapted better to the system than others. 

The walk also incorporated learning more about how Bronagh is using vermicast to provide nutrition and balance to her soils. Vermicast, or worm castings is made by using worms to compost organic amendments such as farmyard manure, food waste, wood chip etc to create a soil conditioning fertiliser.

Worm farm whereby organic materials are broken
down to create the vermicast

On the farm, vermicast is used to provide nutrients, stabilise pH and also as a coating on any new seed that is established. Bronagh applies her vermicast through a sprayer after making a ‘compost tea’. The vermicast is added to a porous ‘tea bag’ within an IBC filled with water which is then agitated and aerated using a bubbler to extract the nutrients and beneficial organisms which vermicast contains, the resulting liquid is then applied to land to stimulate soil biology and provide nutrients. Bronagh is aiming for a 1:1 ratio of fungi to bacteria which the vermicast and good soil management will help promote.

Bronagh explains the process of using vermicast
to make a compost tea

Regularly conducting Brix testing has allowed Bronagh to understand how to best apply the vermicast and the benefit it is having to her land, with fields which have had no fertiliser, slurry or inputs other than vermicast scoring 12, with Bronagh suggesting that every 1% increase in a Brix result can give a 0.5-0.75kg improvement in liveweight gain in the cattle. Any amendments which Bronagh applied to the land are designed with this goal in mind, alongside the cost and feasibility within her system. An example of this is that she has been experimenting with using egg shells to help aid the calcium balance and flocculate the soil; this can be spread with a conventional fertiliser spreader rather than other products which can have additional costs due to the price of both material and the contractor required to apply the product. 

Since 2015, the Soil Farmer of the Year Competition has helped to find, promote and champion UK farmers who are passionate about safeguarding their soils and building resilient businesses. As part of the competition, the top three farmers host farm walks that bring farmers together to share good practice and innovations that improve soil health. The 2024 round of the competition opens on 5th of December 2023, which is World Soils Day – if you are interested in finding out more, entering the competition or nominating someone who you think is deserving of this award further details can be found on the Farm Carbon Toolkit website or https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/soil-farmer-of-the-year/ 

The Fellfoot Forward Project: A Case Study

In December 2021, five farmers from the Fellfoot Forward Landscape Partnership participated in a carbon footprinting project in association with the Farm Carbon Toolkit. Based in proximity to the North Pennines AONB these five upland businesses demonstrated how livestock farming can work in conjunction with the wider landscape to produce quality food whilst providing environmental services such as water and air quality alongside carbon capture and storage. 

A carbon footprint, or carbon balance, is the measure of the total emissions and total sequestration associated with a particular business or product. For this project, the whole farm was measured to include all of the enterprises included within a farming business. When we discuss ‘carbon’ we are referring to ‘CO2e’ or ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ which is a measure of the three main greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Different greenhouse gases have different dynamics within the atmosphere, consequently having higher or lower warming potentials and thus potency as a contributor to climate change. Therefore, ‘carbon’ as a term encapsulates all three of these gases under one metric so we can compare items such as fuel alongside the biological systems seen in livestock like for like.   

To produce a carbon footprint the farmers were asked to collect a variety of data associated with their business, including items such as fuel and water usage, livestock numbers and quantity of materials used for activities like silage wrapping or maintenance. Alongside these figures, it was also important to record the ‘natural capital’ of each farm holding – the resources found in the farmed environment which are managed as part of the business but provide wider ecosystem services and value – such as areas of woodland, length of hedgerows, soil organic matter and specific habitats such as floristically enhanced margins or wetlands. When all of these details had been recorded, the data was entered into the Farm Carbon Calculator to produce a carbon footprint detailing the balance of emissions and sequestration found at each farming business. 

For the farms included in the project action plans were created to highlight where emission savings can be made or sequestration opportunities maximised. All of the farms within the project were found to be likely to be able to reach a Net Zero, if not already in this position. A large factor on many farms to reach this target is proper accounting of carbon held within the soil as organic matter. For the Fellfoot Farmers who are in majority grassland systems, livestock can be utilised as a tool to increase organic matter in soils – either through grazing systems and the capture of sunlight to be stored as carbon, or through the return of manure to pasture for nutrient cycling. To fully account for the potential sequestration of carbon through the building of organic matter in soils regular testing should be conducted to measure and monitor the levels found in soils. If, like on many farms there has been no prior soil organic matter testing the best advice would be to select three or four key fields within the farmed area which are representative of the systems within the business. For example, if the farm was in a grass-based system, a field which is usually cut for silage, one only grazed and a traditional low-input or hay meadow would demonstrate potential underlying trends in organic matter across the landscape. Equally, if there is a range of soil types or diversity of land use on a single farm it would be perhaps useful to test fields representative of these features to better understand trends and consequently the best management approach to conserve existing carbon and build stocks in the future. As ever, when testing soils aim to minimise external variation by ensuring consistency in the laboratory used and the time of year when sampling.   

The project with the Fellfoot Forward farmers demonstrated the variety of approaches to upland livestock farming, from the number or type of stock to the management required to protect and enhance vulnerable habitats within their farmed area. Some of the farms included in the project had areas of peatland within their management, using cattle or sheep to maintain and conserve the landscape in association with government or local schemes to the benefit of the wildlife and ecology found there. Peatlands are a vast store of carbon and consequently, the condition of this landscape could greatly impact upon the land managers responsible for its status. More information is required to fully understand the dynamics of peat and how farmers can measure and monitor this landscape for not only carbon footprinting processes but also for generations to come. 

Carbon footprinting is a process that can be repeated on an annual basis, used as a monitoring tool for both the emissions and sequestration of a farming business but also to understand changes in management approach. There is a general underlying correlation between high carbon and high cost on many farms, with items such as fertiliser and blended livestock feed being both expensive and also a comparatively larger contributor of emissions. Therefore, conducting a carbon footprint not only has benefits towards understanding the environmental impact of a business but also can be used as a tool for resource optimisation and economic efficiency. 

Key findings

  • Conduct organic matter testing to understand the current carbon held within soils. Aim to repeat this testing every 3-5 years to understand whether your soils are sequestering (increasing in organic matter) or emitting (decreasing in organic matter) carbon. 
  • Account for things you are already doing such as hedge or tree planting that are under existing or future schemes.
  • Accept that you may not have all the data, aim to create a baseline from which you can repeat the process in future years and account for more information with more experience, time or understanding.
  • Identify ‘hotspots’ where emissions are highest. Except for cropping or livestock, are there particular items or categories which contribute a larger proportion of emissions than others, is there potential for reduction in these areas?

Carbon Farmer of the Year Farm Walk at Lockerley Estate, Hampshire – May 2024

In May 2024, the Farm Carbon Toolkit were delighted to hold a farm walk at Lockerley Estate in Hampshire, home to one of the finalists from our 2023 competition. We would like to thank the Estate Manager Craig Livingstone and one of the owners Sarah Butler- Sloss for being so generous in hosting the farm walk.

Everyone who attended the farm walk heard from Craig and his team on how he has managed to make significant reductions in business greenhouse gas emissions, enhance the farmland biodiversity and enhance business performance.

Introduction

Craig Livingstone took on the role of farm manager at Lockerley Estate, owned by the Sainsbury family, 9 years ago with the challenge to improve biodiversity, sequester carbon, increase the health of the soil, and make a profit. To achieve this, a mission statement was devised with a list of objectives that really helps the whole estate team to work collaboratively to achieve the farm’s goals.

With just under 2,000 ha in Stockbridge, Hampshire, Craig farms Lockerley Estate and Preston Farms as one, which includes arable, grassland, woodland, a veg shed, and pockets of countryside stewardship schemes and SFI options. The farm is also part of a joint venture sheep and cattle enterprise, gaining benefits from grazing and muck which is integrated into the arable rotation. 

Over 9 years, Craig and his team have managed to vastly reduce emissions by transitioning to zero till and reducing artificial fertiliser and chemicals by broadening the rotation and integrating livestock. Specifically, Craig has saved 56,000 litres of red diesel annually and reduced pesticides and N-based fertilisers by 46% and 53% respectively. Soil organic matter has also increased by 1.1%.

Despite focusing on biodiversity, carbon and soils, Craig’s number one priority is profit – every hectare must pay for itself. Where he can, countryside stewardship schemes have been stacked with SFI options to increase profits. In some cases, the options available have encouraged Craig to adopt techniques that, for example, provide integrated pest management because the overall payment in combination with reduced pesticides is more than the potential loss in yield.

Currently, there has been a 17% change in land use, however the farm is still producing 9,000t food (approx. 4.5t/ha). So how has Craig managed to take the farm and reduce its emissions and increase soil organic matter?

Here are some of the highlights from the walk:

Arable

Using a broad and diverse rotation and choosing varieties that require fewer inputs, Craig has managed to halve the farm’s emissions due to vast reductions in fertiliser and pesticides. This in part has been achieved through implementing a mixture of winter and spring cropping interspersed with diverse mixes of cover and catch crops; legumes such as peas and beans; rotating grasses and legume fallow. The farm is also experimenting with clover understories and poly-cropping, prioritising diversity to build fertility and maintaining cover and living roots in the soil at all times.

The farm’s transition to no-till, aided by a zero-tillage seed drill, has also resulted in improved soil health and structure, increasing porosity and facilitating better water infiltration and enhanced soil biological activity through less disturbance. A multi-pronged approach to reducing fuels and fertiliser usage.

Encouraging diversity

As mentioned, the farm has taken advantage of environmental schemes such as winter bird feed (AB9), flower-rich margins and plots (AB8), and nectar flower mix (AB1) for multiple reasons. In short, to connect the woodland and encourage a host of wildlife, provide integrated pest management, and to make land more profitable.

Perhaps most interestingly, the team have implemented 6m assist strips of AB8 within a select few arable fields to encourage pollinators, beneficial insects, and predators. The initial cost of the seed is expensive; however, in this instance, the farm is not looking to reseed any time soon (especially within the duration of the agreement). That combined with savings on pesticides, they have found it far outweighs the cost of seed – it makes business sense. 

Craig has also looked critically at areas that are susceptible to weeds, difficult to graze, areas where the land lies wet, or where the shape of the field is awkward. Here, he has taken land out of production and implemented AB1 or other schemes to benefit wildlife and pocket.

Composting

A big project on the farm is taking cattle FYM and producing a superior product in solid compost and liquid extract using the Johnson-Su methodology. Agricultural soils tend to be bacterially dominated through repeated cultivations and chemical inputs but this process favours fungal communities which are excellent at cycling nutrients, disease suppression and soil aggregation. 

Good quality cattle muck is mixed with clover bales, straw, and woodchip, and through a series of steps breaks down into a fungally dominated compost. 

Once ready, a compost tea is created by placing a mesh bag full of compost into an IBC of water which is left to steep. This produces a highly nutritious and microbially active substrate which can easily be spread during drilling (rip and drip) and goes a lot further than the compost itself as well as reducing reliance on bagged fertiliser.

Veg Shed

Set up three years ago with a strong commitment to benefitting health, community, and the local environment. The veg shed is made up of 2 acres, 3 polytunnels, 40 laying hens and a fruit cage. The garden grows 50 different fruits and vegetables which it sells to local businesses on a wholesale basis but mostly through a local veg box delivery service.

Everything is grown from seed using heritage and heirloom varieties which have more diversity, and from testing, seem to have more nutritional value. They are also more resilient to a changing climate responding better to drought and high rainfall and requiring less inputs than other high yielding varieties.

The garden is designed as a polyculture and receives no artificial inputs, instead utilising compost from the farm and enlisting the help of dynamic accumulators to extract and release nutrients from the soil.

Wood pasture and Woodland

Linking SSSI woodland and calcareous grassland, the farm took advantage of the woodland pasture creation scheme and introduced longhorn cattle to graze instead of taking silage and hay. The aim is to create a large grazing area of species rich grassland and wood pasture that joins with 220ha of woodland improvement.

There is over 300ha of woodland at Lockerley Estate including a portion of semi-natural ancient woodland. The improved woodland is periodically thinned whilst retaining canopy cover to maintain diversity. Timber is harvested and removed with a percentage of profits returned to the estate.

The biggest outcome has been the flourishing biodiversity and wildlife. Diverse grassland is growing out from the hedges and wildflowers are starting to recover, blending into the woodland, and creating a mosaic landscape. Bird surveys see an increase in species year on year and botanical, butterfly and grasshopper surveys with fixed point photography are ongoing.

Hedgerows

Last but not least, Lockerley Estate takes great pride in its hedgerows, planting 12,000 hedgerow plants in the last year. Cutting regimes have also been lengthened to support all wildlife, from insects to birds to small mammals. This is made possible by replacing the hedge cutter with a saw blade to accommodate the thicker branches; the trimmings are then used for ramial woodchip in the composting process.

Summing up

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and an interesting insight into how Craig and the team manage to maintain a balance between a thriving farm both in terms of biodiversity and bottom line productivity. Craig has demonstrated that economic resilience can go hand in hand with reduced inputs and tillage without compromising on food production. Entries to this year’s Carbon Farmer of the Year competition close on the 14th June, so  if you believe you are reducing on farm greenhouse gas emissions do enter our competition here

Carbon Farmer of the Year Farm Walk at Durie Farms – November 2023

The 21st November 2023 came in as a bright and sunny day, in stark contrast to the near constant rain which had fallen for the previous weeks.

The occasion was the farm walk for FCT’s Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition on the winner’s farm – Doug Christie of Durie Farms, Fife. Durie Farms is a mixed farm combining arable and cattle enterprises, organic and non-organic as well as woodland.

Liz Bowles (Left) CEO of Farm Carbon Toolkit welcoming people to the farm walk

Before we set out on the walk, Doug introduced his farm and explained some of the practices he has adopted which earned him the title of Carbon Farmer of the Year.

Fundamentals include the incorporation of conservation agriculture (minimum till cultivations and more complex arable rotations including peas and legumes within the rotation as standard) and the integration of extensively managed cattle within the whole farm. Central to this has been regular soil analysis with records going back to 2006. These records include soil organic matter which means that Doug is able to track soil carbon changes over time too. Unusually for the time, Doug also measured soil bulk density  which makes carbon stocks estimates more accurate. Alongside measuring soil carbon stocks, Doug also keeps enterprise fuel allocation records which has allowed him to have a much better understanding of hot spot areas. Through doing this he was able to identify the high fuel usage associated with housing cattle in the winter. This knowledge together with his adoption of holistic grazing practices has enabled him to keep cattle out longer,  with some groups of cattle e.g. in calf heifers now not being housed at all.

Our first stop on the farm walk was the large heap of brushwood next to the farm lane (a result of woodland management) and a question posed to the walkers as to how best to deal with this. Burning the pile would release a lot of carbon dioxide, but would that be less than chipping the pile and then burning it as a fuel? Or what about leaving it to break down naturally and possibly combine with farmyard manure and use as a soil amendment?  Now we are starting to look at these things through a number of lenses, these are the sort of questions farmers are increasingly grappling with.

The first field we entered was growing a cover crop, established in mid – late August after a cereal crop.

Doug Christie  (on the right, spade in hand) describing the cover crop

Doug now makes up his own cover crop mixes using farm saved seeds when possible. The cover crop had really motored on since early September and was providing pretty good canopy cover, in flower and up to waist height.  This cover crop will be holding nutrients in the soil, keeping living roots in place and improving soil structure through the varied rooting depths of the different plants in the cover crop.  Doug puts cover crops in place wherever possible and, for cereal harvesting, uses a stripper header leaving straw to rot down and provide food for earthworms. This was evident when inspecting a soil pit where the number of worms was high – worms everywhere. In fact this field which had been harvested with a stripper header, and had been undersown with a grass clover mix, with cattle having been mob grazed across it a few weeks earlier. The cattle had removed some of the straw and helped to break down the rest, and on the day of the farm walk it was clear that the grass clover sward was coming away nicely. Testament to the improving soil health at Durie Farms is the fact that Doug sold his subsoiler some years ago- surplus to requirements!

Doug shared with the group that he has not used insecticides since 2003 and is now working closely with the James Hutton Institute to carry out research on his farm. He has a fantastic site to investigate the impacts of this decision on insect life on the farm.

Arriving at the in calf heifers as we walked across the farm, it was clear they were wondering if it was time to make their move for the day. 

In calf heifers curious to know what we were talking about

Donald Christie, Doug’s son commented that since moving to holistic grazing and generally daily moves the cattle have become much more biddable, and in the move to outdoor wintering the challenge has been to make sure that this group do not carry too much weight as they approach calving. They receive no supplementary feeding when on grass.  One of the group commented that since adopting holistic grazing cattle health has improved and that the growth rate of outwintered animals surpassed that of housed cattle the following spring.

The group asked Doug what he is doing to reduce his reliance on artificial N fertilisers, one of the hot spots for arable farmers. Through improving soil health and bringing pulses and legumes into his cropping rotation Doug has reduced his reliance on granular urea by 30% since 2009. Yields have gone down but net margin is up. When choosing inputs such as fertiliser it is worth noting that different branded products, produced in different parts of the world, may have very different emissions factors. At Farm Carbon Toolkit, we offer Calculator users the ability to choose the product they have used so an accurate figure for emissions will be included.

The group also tackled the topic of cattle and methane, with an acknowledgement of how complex this topic is. The box below discusses the reasons for looking at a better mechanism for accounting for methane, one of the shortest lived greenhouse gases and one which is produced by ruminants as an intrinsic function of rumen function. 

What is becoming clearer is that how cattle are managed will have an impact on their overall impacts on our environment. Certainly Doug is minimising their negative impacts, through minimising their consumption of foods which could be eaten by humans directly, minimising their use of other sources of emissions such as fertiliser and fuel and making sure that their grazing activity has a positive impact on the soils they stand on and sequestering as much carbon as possible in their wake.

Accounting for methane: GWP* and GWP100
GWP (Global Warming Potential) is a measure of how much impact a gas will have on warming the atmosphere. The most common method to evaluate the effect of different greenhouse gases (GHGs) is by comparing them over a 100-year lifetime; this is known as GWP100. This is the internationally agreed metric chosen under the Paris Agreement and the primary tool for emission reduction targets globally. 

Using GWP, it’s possible to compare the impact of different GHGs by converting them to their carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) value. The latest research suggests that using GWP100, biogenic methane emissions are 27 times more powerful than CO2; and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions are 273 times more powerful. However, unlike CO2 and N2O gases that last for hundreds of years in the atmosphere, methane only lasts for an average of 12 years after which most of it is broken down. This means that using GWP100, the impacts of methane could be considered overestimated in the long-term, and underestimated in the short term. 

In an aim to better account for methane, in 2016, a team of researchers proposed a new metric, known as GWP* that works over a 20 year period. Over a 20 year period, emitting a tonne of methane today has 80 times more temperature impact than carbon dioxide. However, the new metric is also designed to reflect the warming impact of ongoing emissions of methane in relation to the current levels of that gas in the atmosphere. The theory is that, over time, ongoing emissions are not adding warming to the atmosphere, but merely replacing old emissions that have degraded. Essentially, GWP* focuses on changes in emissions rather than absolute emissions. This accounting approach has been gathering support within UK agriculture sector, however it does also face some criticism (example).

As we turned for home, and the beckoning hot drinks and cakes, conversation turned to reducing the negative impacts of growing potatoes and the potential for woodland to sequester carbon into trees. On the topic of reducing the harms associated with growing potatoes there is a clear role for keeping living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible, but to date no alternative has been found to the punishing soil management routine required to grow potatoes, although research is underway.

Liz explaining to the group how woodland is accounted for in the Farm Carbon Calculator

Doug has 50ha of woodland across the farm, with different areas having been in place from 10 -240 years. As his summary carbon footprint report shows, the woodland at Durie Farms alongside soil carbon sequestration offset the business GHG emissions last year. Of the total sequestration, woodland contributed around 50%. It is worth noting that the carbon sequestration associated with woodland depends on the growth rate of the tree. The Woodland Carbon Code has developed “look up tables” for this which the Farm Carbon Calculator  has incorporated into the sequestration area of the Calculator. For users, providing accurate information on the age of the trees as well as their varieties will enable a more accurate assessment of the scale of sequestration to be given. A rule of thumb is that most trees sequester only small amounts of carbon for the first decade or so of life. From the age of around 15 – 30 years carbon sequestration is at its maximum. After that age growth tends to slow down and with it carbon sequestration.

Doug is continually trying new ideas, with pasture cropping a new initiative he has ‘frustratingly’ tried this year. Doug’s long term membership of BASE UK  has supported him in his quest for adopting new and more sustainable farming practices. A quick look at the BASE UK website revealed a number  of fascinating events coming up in the next month including this one:

14/12/23 BASE-UK Member Nick Wall will present his review of the study tour recently taken by 15 members to visit Frederic Thomas and other BASE France members in November 2023 – it wasn’t all good food and drink – there was some learning involved! 

Back in the cattle yard (not in use yet) we finished with a round up of questions, answers and general discussion.

Thank you to our hosts, the Christie Family, for a memorable farm walk and great hospitality.

A day in the life of… Sam Smith – General Manager

I’m the General Manager at the Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT), a role that oversees our operations. This includes finances, human resources, and communications – and working to make sure we have good systems and processes in place so that people have what they need to succeed in their work. 

As much as I can, I also support the development of our strategy and new projects – managing some existing ones too, related to our Farm Carbon Calculator.

On the side, I am completing a Nuffield Farming Scholarship which I was so grateful to receive in 2020, the year Covid turned our lives upside down. That year, my wife and I also moved to Edinburgh and had a baby daughter, which has been the most joyful, life-changing experience. Although it hasn’t been particularly compatible with doing a travel scholarship, somehow, last week, I finished the Executive Summary (here if you are interested) and I’m now getting ready to present at the annual Nuffield conference in November. 

I’m feeling nervous about this presentation, especially as I’m not a farmer and my operations-heavy role in recent years has left me feeling a bit disconnected from the trends. Yet, I can only do my best. In August, I had some incredible travels in the USA and last Summer, across Europe – engaging with many brilliant farmers and food businesses. I’m very grateful for the support and flexibility from colleagues as I have undertaken this. 

I fell into this role slightly by accident. My past roles have mostly not been operational, but I developed some of these skills when managing Sutton Community Farm, a small community business on the edges of London. After this role, feeling curious about the bigger food system, I worked at Forum for the Future, engaging with various major food brands and retailers. FCT is a happy medium, a challenging role that combines various skills and experiences from the past, with a passion for sustainable farming, within an organisation that’s hands-on and practical in their approach. I love our purpose, values and approach. But most of all, I’m in awe of my colleagues’ knowledge and experience in sustainable farming. I learn so much from being around them and it’s my wish to be able to join them out in the field more. 

Photos from recent travels in the USA. Above: Hickory Nut Gap Farm in North Carolina. Top image: Sam volunteering at Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York.

I relentlessly think about how we can improve our workplace so that people have what they need and don’t get bogged down in bad or frustrating systems. I’m keen that we also cultivate healthy working practices and live up to our shared values. This can be more challenging as a remote organisation, requiring extra effort to keep in touch and care for each other. 

It’s been quite an adventure these last few years. We’re growing steadily and working to expand our systems to fit this growth. Even though FCT is over 10 years old, it wasn’t until the end of 2020 when things started to really take off. When I started in August 2020, our only other staff member was Becky Willson on secondment from Duchy College, alongside much voluntary effort from Directors. Today, we have 14 staff with 3 more about to start. I’m so proud of this journey and feel very excited to see where things go from here. 

Read more about Sam and the rest of the team here.