Tag: Farm Net Zero

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting started with foliar feeding – with Tim Parton and Nick Woodyatt

Thursday 11th January 10 – 2pm, Trewidland Village Hall (with an opportunity to go to Anthony Ellis’s farm Pensipple if the weather permits).

Tim Parton is a world-renowned regenerative farmer and Nick Woodyatt is a soil health consultant with a wealth of experience. This meeting will focus on the finer details of how you can get started with foliar feeding to improve yields, soil health, and reduce input costs.

This event follows the meeting on Wednesday the 10th at Chapman’s Well and will focus on the practicalities of foliar feeding.

Please meet at the village hall PL14 4ST: (What3Words///headset.producing.tasters)

Lunch will be provided, so booking is essential.

To book your place, contact Hannah Jones ([email protected]), Alex Bebbington ([email protected]) or James Harbord ([email protected])

FNZ Agronomists’ Workshop – 28th November 2023

This event was designed for agronomists to learn about the results of some of the Farm Net Zero (FNZ) trials. Dr. Hannah Jones of the Farm Carbon Toolkit was joined by the farmers who hosted and designed the trials to discuss the findings. This event was made possible with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund who fund the Farm Net Zero project.

Throughout the discussions, the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments were referred to as a potential method of reducing the risk of adopting the practices trialled by the Farm Net Zero demo and monitor farms. This report will summarise the trials presented and the discussions that followed, including the views of the agronomists present at the workshop.

Outwintering on Cover Crops

Cover crops can be useful for protecting soil by reducing erosion and nutrient leaching and preserving soil carbon stocks. In Cornwall’s mixed farming systems, cover crops can provide an opportunity for outwintering livestock in a cost-effective manner. Therefore, it is pertinent to think about the plant species included in a cover crop mix and balance up their soil health benefits with the potential feed value.

A Farm Net Zero trial was set up in winter 2021-2022, where five cover crop mixes of varying complexity were grazed by beef youngstock. Full details of the trial can be found on the Farm Net Zero Project Resources page here. The most diverse mix had the biggest improvement in soil quality, reducing compaction and attracting the most earthworms. In terms of feed value, any mixes containing black oats were the most popular with the cattle and had high dry matter, crude protein and sugars.

It was suggested that the SFI SAM2 “Multi-species winter cover” payment of £129/hectare could be used to support this practice.

Maize Establishment

FNZ Monitor Farmers, Malcolm and Catherine Barrett, have trialled different methods of establishing maize crops. In spring 2022, two fields were taken and divided into thirds – one where maize was established conventionally (plough, power harrow, drill), one cultivated with a Sumo machine, and one direct drilled with a Mzuri drill. The direct drill had the lowest fuel requirement and therefore cost. Cob weight assessments found that cobs were smallest in the ploughed area and highest where the crop was established after the cultivator. Soil sampling showed that organic matter levels dropped following ploughing, with worm numbers also reduced.

One further area of interest developed when Malcolm and Catherine noticed that the sprayed-out clover regrew in the direct drilled area. This could potentially provide nitrogen for any following crops, and so a trial was designed for the barley drilled after maize harvest. In this trial, part of the field had no nitrogen applied in order to observe any influences of the clover. Quadrat yield assessments found no significant difference between the full nitrogen fertiliser regime and the no nitrogen area and further analysis of grain nitrogen found that both the full rate and zero nitrogen well exceeded the recommended level for feed barley. This prompted discussions on the opportunities for reducing nitrogen fertiliser (and therefore reducing carbon emissions), with most of the agronomists present agreeing that this is achievable, particularly on mixed farms where livestock contribute to healthy soil. One suggestion from the group was that where soil is in good condition, nitrogen could be applied as a foliar feed direct to the plant because the healthy soil is providing good support for the plant roots.

Soil Rejuvenation after Potatoes

On FNZ Demo Farm, Ennis Barton, some ground is let for vegetable production, when this comes back in hand Andrew Brewer wants to find the fastest method of restoring soil health and returning the fields to cattle grazing. In one of the potato fields, a variety of cover crops (eligible for SAM2) were undersown with ryegrass, clovers and plantain, these were then grazed over winter. Soil quality assessments found that mixes containing Westerwolds ryegrass had the most positive effect on soil aggregate stability. However, in the following summer the Westerwolds rapidly went to seed, which made managing grazing quality a challenge. Therefore, the next best cover mix was forage rape or rye and vetch. This is another example of considering the trade-offs of mixed farming when designing systems that optimise soil quality.

Inter-Crops for Cabbages

Some of the ground rented out at Ennis Barton is used for Savoy cabbages. Following a Farm Net Zero meeting looking at managing these “risky crops”, Andrew and the cabbage growers were keen to develop methods of reducing soil erosion between the cabbage rows. A trial was designed where a mix of low-growing, deep-rooted species (chicory, plantain, white clover and buckwheat) were intersown between the cabbage rows at the beginning of October after all cabbage hoeing was completed. This trial is still being monitored, but there are hopes that intercropping will protect soil from erosion, provide feed for livestock and also reduce the amount of disease/damage to the cabbage leaf from “soil bounce” after rain. Again, this could be eligible for the SAM2 SFI payment.

Grazing Winter Cereals

Grazing winter cereals was a common practice to manage plant disease, growth rates, fertility and livestock wintering. FNZ Monitor Farmer, Anthony Ellis, tried a return to this practice on his family arable and sheep farm during winter 2022-2023. Part of a field of winter wheat was grazed with ewe lambs, with the wheat grazed right into the ground. This allowed Anthony to reduce growth regulators and fungicide and slightly reduce the nitrogen applications compared to the ungrazed remainder of the field. Septoria was reduced early in the season, but there was less difference closer to harvest as the grazed wheat caught up with the ungrazed. Some discussion followed concerning how although this is an old practice, it is now possible to put some firmer figures on the carbon savings of reduced inputs from grazing cereals.

Conclusion

Overall, this workshop for agronomists provided an excellent opportunity to share some of the project’s results so far, and to learn from agronomists who work across the project region and further afield. The ability to work collaboratively with the wider agricultural community is very valuable and helps to ensure the Farm Net Zero project reflects as many farming systems as possible.

Livestock and Trees with Lindsay Whistance

Wednesday 27th September 2023

Farm Net Zero was pleased to host Dr. Lindsay Whistance from the Organic Research Centre. Lindsay specialises in animal behaviour and welfare and her talk presented results from a range of research studies on animals in agroforestry systems. This event was made possible with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund who fund the Farm Net Zero project.

The talk was hosted by Demo Farmers, Mike and Sam Roberts, at Blable, Wadebridge. Mike and Sam spoke about the different motivations for tree planting, with Mike being interested in trees with a useful end value (having experience of growing a small fir plantation on the farm) and Sam wanting to learn more about the benefits that trees can provide to cattle daily liveweight gain in their rotational grazing system.

Firstly, Lindsay explained that good welfare is about maintaining homeostatic equilibrium – or balance, both physiological and emotional. Most of an animal’s daily behaviour is about trying to maintain that balance, and farming should aim to support this wherever possible.

Lindsay spoke about three main themes of animal behaviour and welfare in agroforestry systems. The first was temperature regulation; if animals are too hot or too cold, then they will spend energy on trying to reach a balance. Where there is access to trees, animals are able to reach that balance faster as the trees provide shade and shelter from wind and rain. This is particularly important as climate change brings greater extremes of weather.

The second theme was the feed value of browsing on trees. Leaves on a number of tree species have been analysed and found to contain high levels of micronutrients and trace elements. This can provide additional benefits to the animal’s diet.

Finally, Lindsay spoke about the calming effect trees have. There is evidence that animals in woodland have better social relationships with less fear and aggression.

Overall, if livestock are in good welfare then they are able to use energy for fulfilling their potential. This improves efficiency of livestock production, which has benefits economically and for the farm’s carbon footprint.

Key takeaways:

  • Most livestock species benefit from access to trees/woodland.
  • Incorporating trees into farming systems helps to reduce the carbon footprint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for the Future with Environmental Stewardship

A Farm Net Zero event held in November 2022 at Stumble Inn, Boyton, PL15 8NU.

With changes to farm subsidy payments, there is some uncertainty as to what will replace them. In November 2022 a group of farmers met at the Stumble Inn to discuss the future of environmental stewardship and the options available to them.

The talk started with an introduction by Hannah Jones of Farm Carbon Toolkit. She explained that while environmental schemes have traditionally been paid on an income foregone basis, farmers should also recognise the hidden benefits of environmental practices for their farm businesses. These can include:

  • providing pollinator habitat to benefit crops
  • providing shelter for livestock in inclement weather
  • preventing soil erosion.

Hannah also mentioned the carbon sequestration value for different stewardship options, which are included in the Farm Carbon Calculator.

Next, we heard from Tim Dart, FNZ Monitor Farmer and Head of the Farm Advisory Team at Devon Wildlife Trust. Tim suggested that with the reduction and eventual removal of the Basic Payment Scheme and the volatility in farm inputs and farmgate prices, farmers should consider joining the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). This can provide a stable income for practices such as:

  • taking soil organic matter samples
  • writing a soil management plan
  • maintaining ground cover
  • growing diverse leys or cover crops

Many of which are practices that the FNZ Monitor Farms are already undertaking or are interested in.

James Ruddick from Cornwall Council then gave a talk on the new Daras website, developed by
Cornwall Council to provide a “one-stop shop” for agricultural funding opportunities and advice. By registering for free, farmers and landowners can see what funding opportunities are available to them for various activities funded by a mix of government and private finance.

Forest for Cornwall is a Cornwall Council initiative aiming to increase tree cover in Cornwall through the creation of woodland, copses, shelter belts, orchards and wood pasture. Project Officer Jenny Rogers explained the various ways that farmers can get involved through the Woodland Creation Partnership, Woodland Trust MoreWoods and MoreHedges grants and the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO). The EWCO in particular will provide financial support of up to £8500 per ha for development costs and £300 per ha per year for maintenance costs for 10 years. Forest for Cornwall are also aiming to establish 10 fully funded agroforestry sites in Cornwall to demonstrate best practice and the diversity of options for integrating trees into farming systems. Jenny highlighted the range of benefits that trees can provide in agriculture including:

  • diversifying income
  • protecting soil from wind and rain erosion
  • providing shelter and forage for livestock.

The discussion turned to the experiences of some of the monitor farmers present at the meeting. Ben Thomas, who farms at Warleggan and manages the Belted Galloway herd on Goss Moor National Nature Reserve, spoke about the benefits he has seen of allowing cattle access to woodland on the moor. Willow was preferentially grazed over what Ben thought was “good” grass, with faecal egg counts showing a low parasite burden and good growth rates. Ben also mentioned his experience of the Farming in Protected Landscape (FiPL) grant that allowed him to invest in electric fencing to better manage grazing at the Warleggan farm. The FiPL grant is available to farmers in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is far less prescriptive than other grants. A wide variety of activities can be funded as long as they are approved by a local board for their contribution to nature, climate and the public. Dairy farmers, John and Sue Nattle and mixed farmer, Martin Howlett have also benefited from FiPL grants through the Tamar Valley AONB for herbal leys and a wildlife pond respectively. Martin had also made use of the Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier to support school visits for children from Plymouth to learn about farming and nature. Unfortunately, as suckler beef farmer Jonathan Chapman pointed out, FiPL only applies to farms within an AONB. Jonathan’s farm directly borders an AONB and his application was refused, opening up a conversation on whether FiPL-style grants should be made more widely available to extend their benefits.

New entrant dairy farmers, Bradley and Nicole Davey, then spoke about their experiences of farming within constraints set by their landlord’s stewardship agreement. GS4 herbal leys have been planted and are being successfully grazed by the Davey’s dairy herd, as well as benefiting soil health and biodiversity. Bradley encouraged others to try to find stewardship agreements that suit their farm system, a sentiment echoed by fellow dairy farmer Phil Kent, who has also found GS4 herbal leys to be of value on their own farming merits as well as stewardship payments. Arable and beef farmer Jon Perry rounded out the meeting by bringing up the important point of food production being a public good worth supporting. Jon also commended the younger farmers in the room for both their farming ambitions and commitments to environmental stewardship.

This event was made possible with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund who fund the Farm Net Zero (FNZ) project.

Farm Net Zero resources, events, newsletter

  • To find out more about other previous events, trials and resources produced from the Farm Net Zero project head here.
  • To keep an eye out for future Farm Net Zero events head to our events webpage here.
  • To keep up to date with the project subscribe to the Farm Net Zero newsletter here.