Tag: climate change

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 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.

Risky Crops

Certain crops (potatoes, sugar beet, maize, field vegetables) within a wider arable rotation pose increased risk of soil loss or degradation. Often described as ‘risky’ these crops may require additional management to ensure that field conditions are favourable and that there is no long-term disruption to soil functionality or structure. 

Aside from the impact upon soil, ‘risky crops’ are often those which have a potentially higher financial burden through the obstacles of production. Rising input costs, labour shortages and ever increasing inflation presents additional challenges to high-risk, high-reward crops. These two elements (soil management and economics) are additionally impacted through the changing climate with record temperatures and rainfall events.

Root crops, maize and field vegetables are often at high risk for soil degradation. The likely drastic requirements for cultivation during seedbed preparation is a vast source of emissions through direct carbon losses from soil alongside the burning of fossil fuels from machinery. Cultivating soils and the subsequent disturbance allows for greater oxidation of the soil profile, therefore promoting the fast metabolism of aerobic species of microorganisms which utilise the ‘active’ pool of soil organic matter for respiration, consequently releasing CO2 as a by-product. Furthermore, cultivation of soil which reduces the stability of the soil structure can also be at risk of direct losses of carbon bound to soil aggregates through processes such as erosion either through wind-blow, run-off or direct soil loss.  Therefore, depending upon a number of factors such as previous cropping, soil type, intensity of cultivation and moisture content, cultivated soil will lose soil organic matter at differing rates. Where land is under continual cultivation, as is much of UK arable land, reducing the frequency, depth and intensity of cultivations will reduce this soil carbon loss alongside providing alternative carbon sources as feedstock for microorganisms when cultivation is required. 

Changing the crop establishment system to reduce the frequency and intensity of cultivations will provide an immediate reduction in farm greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing organic carbon within the soil requires the building of soil organic matter through methods such as diversifying crop rotation, reducing tillage (frequency and depth) and utilising cover cropping to maintain a living root. 

Long-term rotational planning can increase the resilience of soil, using previous and subsequent cropping and management choices to minimise the impact of risky crops. To reduce the ‘risk’ of risky crops soil protection is central. Ensuring that soils are covered throughout the rotation and contain a living root for as high proportion as possible helps guard the soil from physical degradation from climatic events. Therefore, consider growing a cover crop before spring planting to scavenge nutrients over the winter period and condition soils, alongside aiming to re-plant a cover as soon as the risky crop is harvested to avoid long over-winter periods of soil erosion. Maximising the inherent soil structure and functionality throughout the rotation creates a more resilient baseline where the stresses of high cultivation, inputs and exposure to the elements occurs in high risk crops.

In grassland systems herbal leys, diverse swards and a rotational or mob grazing platform provides an excellent starting point for soils before a high-risk crop or to repair potential damage. Likewise a diverse arable rotation which incorporates cover, inter, companion or catch-cropping to protect the soil surface and provide additional rooting architecture will be a huge benefit; tired land, used to high input use, heavy cultivation and monoculture systems will be less resilient to stress (environmental, mechanical etc) than a healthy vibrant soil. 

A healthy soil is likely to provide better economic returns – with processes such as fertility, water infiltration, gas exchange, rooting capacity and nutrient availability all benefited by a well structured, high quality soil. Soil organic matter can often indicate the health of a functional mineral soil, with the higher the percentage content normally suggesting the best quality. Understanding how soil organic matter can be lost during high risk cropping processes (discussed earlier) can help to mitigate and safeguard it within the rotation. Losing soil organic matter continuously depletes the soil fertility and consequently the likely economic potential of that land. 

This blog was written by Emma Adams, one of our Farm Carbon and Soils Advisors, to read about our team head here.

More information:

For further information on species selection of cover crops and the results of the Farm Net Zero trails please see the resources below:

Farming Focus podcast – Becky Willson and Mike Roberts

Our very own Becky Willson features on the Cornish Mutual podcast Farming Focus.

Farming Focus’ – the new farming podcast for Cornish Mutual Members and the wider farming community was recently launched.

Farming Focus aims to bring its listeners the latest on what really matters to farmers. Featuring industry experts and farming professionals, it expects to kickstart conversations across the South West and give farmers the knowledge and solutions to face today’s demands in agriculture.

The first 10-episode series of the fortnightly podcast will focus on resilience with host and Cornish Farmer Peter Green chatting to guests about how South West farming businesses can be resilient for the future. They’ll explore everything from soil to rural crime, policy to future markets and farm safety to animal disease. 

Becky Willson features in episode 6 – How can South West farmers reduce emissions and be more climate resilient?

Continuing their series on resilience, this episode looks at climate resilience. Becky explains why farmers are in the unique position of being able to reduce emissions while increasing carbon capture with Wadebridge farmer Mike Roberts explaining the gains he’s seeing from the changes he’s made. Mike Roberts is one of the Farm Net Zero demo farmers, find out more here.

Mike went from using over three artic loads of fertiliser a year to none in his pursuit of climate resilience. Hear how he’s done it in Episode 6 where he discusses the practical ways farmers can ‘stack up the gains’ to achieve resilience and balance.

To listen:

You can listen to all episodes here

Carbon Farmer of the Year competition -update

Earlier this year we at the Farm Carbon Toolkit launched our Carbon Farmer of the Year (CFOTY) competition. With this competition we will be recognising and championing 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. 

Back in 2015 we launched our Soil Farmer of the Year (SFOTY) competition which recognises those farmers who are going above and beyond to support improved soil health on their farms and to showcase all the good things which flow from that enhanced soil quality. This competition has been highly successful at celebrating incredibly forward thinking farmers and through it we have been able to share their methods, spreading their knowledge and normalising practices that may have previously seemed intangible to many farmers. The approaches these farmers have been demonstrating through the highly popular SFOTY farm walks have been a great opportunity to show to others that increasing soil health to safeguard our soils for future generations and future food production can be achieved whilst maintaining profit and production. 

We are confident that our new Carbon Farmer of the Year competition will do the same as the SFOTY, but with a focus on carbon reduction and carbon sequestration.

We are looking for those farmers and other businesses who are doing great things to reduce farm emissions and to store carbon in soil and non-crop biomass within resilient, biodiverse businesses. We believe the more we celebrate and recognise those farmers that are leading the way with regards to reducing emissions, increasing carbon capture and minimising reliance on imported energy the more we can spread this knowledge, create a new norm and share best practice across the industry. 

All the details to make nominations/apply and the entry form are available on our website here. Or you can go straight to the nomination/application form here.

Entries close on the 4th July and we will be announcing the winners at our annual Farm Carbon Toolkit Field Day on the 21st September.

Please note – the Soil Farmer of the Year competition will still be running alongside this new competition, and as always we will be announcing the winners at Groundswell in late June. 

Defra’s 2024 plans to support farmers in carbon footprinting

Farm carbon footprinting is in the spotlight again this week, following Defra’s plans to support farmers to carry out farm carbon footprinting from 2024, as well as to help harmonise the methodology for farm emissions calculation engines.

Although there is little detail behind Defra’s announcement, Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT) very much welcomes the potential for greater financial and technical support for farmers to measure their emissions as a first step to identifying how best to reduce them and increase land sector removal of carbon into soils and on-farm biomass. FCT is already collaborating with other industry stakeholders to harmonise carbon calculation engines, including Dairy UK’s initiative, the Dairy Roadmap for Farm Carbon Accounting, which was announced earlier this month and looks forward to working further with Defra on methodology harmonisation in the coming months. 

Supporting farmers to understand their carbon footprint and to adopt farming practices to reduce emissions and store more carbon farmland is critical if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

The IPCC’s latest AR6 Synthesis Report makes this clear. Rapid reduction in emissions is imperative—and yet global emissions are still heading in the opposite direction. The report is not an easy read, with the level of confidence in the negative – and devastating – forecasted impacts of climate change growing with every new IPCC report produced. What is very clear is that the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to overall emissions and, hence, global warming. Nevertheless agriculture’s overall contribution as a proportion of total emissions looks set to increase rapidly as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

On a more positive note, the IPCC report points to substantial mitigation and adaptation potential from options in agriculture, forestry and other land use that could be upscaled in the near term across most regions.

The IPCC report backs up FCT’s important work in assisting farmers and growers to reduce GHG emissions through adopting farming practices that increase biodiversity within the farming system, keep soil covered, improve soil health, and reduce reliance on artificial fertilisers and imported animal feed protein from areas affected by deforestation, as well as improving systems and business resilience – an important factor when considering the impact of climate change on UK food security. For example, it is now widely accepted that there is significant potential to increase the levels of atmospheric carbon stored in soils (approximately 9 tonnes/ha from increasing soil organic matter by 0.1%). 

However, we cannot rely on storing more carbon in soils and biomass without facing up to the imperative of doing all we can to urgently reduce emissions. This means ensuring farmers understand the sources of their GHG emissions on their farms, and that the practical advice on how best to reduce them is readily available, together with the necessary financial support to enable the transition.

To find out more on how the Farm Carbon Toolkit can help please contact us at [email protected] 

Written by Liz Bowles, Farm Carbon Toolkit’s CEO.