Tag: Soil Health

Net Zero Carbon Course for Upland Farmers & Advisors – Free Places Available in Cumbria

University of Cumbria is offering their part-time short course ‘Upland Farming for Net Zero’ delivered in partnership with Farm Carbon Toolkit, across 5 weeks from 9th September 2024. The course will take place in Cumbria, with sessions at the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside Campus, at upland farms across the county, and online. 

Participants will learn where and how greenhouse gases are emitted, captured and stored on an upland farm. Farm visits and theory sessions will enable a comparison of farming practices and land management options, with climate impact in mind. In-person workshops will build skills and confidence to enable each participant to complete a quantitative farm carbon audit and make practical recommendations for actions towards net zero emissions.

To apply for the course and for more information, please visit https://www.cumbria.ac.uk/study/courses/cpd-and-short-courses/upland-farming-for-net-zero-/

Up to 12 full bursaries, subject to eligibility, are offered by the Foundation for Common Land via their Our Upland Commons project, with details available here

Farm Carbon Toolkit supported the development of this accredited course for farmers, advisors and new entrants and worked with the University of Cumbria to enable delivery of the course for the first time earlier this year, in Dartmoor. Comments from participants included: 

  • It was really worthwhile and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and practical skills from attending
  • Plenty of on-farm, real-world teaching and examples
  • Becky was a fantastic tutor- incredibly engaging and knowledgeable
  • Very hands-on and easy-to-follow material

What are Dung Beetles?

Dung beetles are fascinating creatures that play an essential role in breaking down dung, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing vital ecosystem services such as improving pastures, conditioning soils, and reducing parasitic burdens on our livestock. 

What are the types of dung beetle?

There are three basic groups of dung beetles: dwellers, tunnellers, and rollers. Dwellers live and reproduce within the dung, tunnellers create channels underneath the dung pat pulling dung through the soil and storing within the tunnels to eat and lay their eggs, rollers roll dung balls away and bury them underground.

Where can you find dung beetles?

Dung beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica. Their habitats range from desert to farmland to forest, owing their entire existence to dung from an equally wide range of animals. You’ll find most dung beetles in or around dung pats from herbivores that typically pass undigested plant material as well as liquid. Adult dung beetles tend to feed on the more liquid portion of the dung pat and dung beetle larvae will feed on the more solid portion. Hence, it’s important for the animals depositing dung to have a diet containing lots of fibre.

Dung beetles in the UK

There are around 60 species of dung beetle in the UK belonging to the tunneller and dweller groups – rollers are found in the warmer climate of the southern hemisphere. Some dung beetles are active during the day whereas some fly at night. Just like humans, dung beetles have preference when it comes to sniffing out food (dung). Some prefer dung from specific animals, some prefer dried dung as opposed to fresh and some are even picky when it comes to the location of dung within a field, however, mostly are generalists and will reside in any they can find.

What are the benefits of dung beetles?

It has been suggested that dung beetles can save the cattle industry around £367 million a year.


Firstly, they increase soil nutrients. Fresh dung contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous; dung beetles eat, bury, and release these nutrients for the benefit of the surrounding soil biology, improving soil fertility and soil structure through channelling and drawing down organic matter. This can reduce reliance on fertiliser and makes much better use of our manures.

Secondly, dung beetles reduce pasture fouling. When dung isn’t removed from the field, the grass underneath it will die and the grass surrounding it will be unpalatable to livestock. If you scale this up, it removes a huge area for grazing as well as wasting an abundance of nutrients.

Thirdly, dung beetles are excellent at reducing pest flies from the activities of mites which are transported on the beetles’ bodies. The value of these organisms can be identified through reduced parasites on your livestock that ultimately impact milk yield and liveweight gains due to energy expended by the livestock to defend themselves or fight against infection. In both cases, dung beetles reduce survival of flies and parasites through competition of resources. 

Why are dung beetle populations in decline?

Unfortunately, despite the benefits of dung beetles, they are in decline due to the intensification of livestock systems – use of pesticides and anthelmintics. During the grazing season, dung pats could be broken down in a matter of days but instead, many lie rotting for a long time (and producing more methane emissions).

How can we encourage dung beetle populations?

Provision of dung is vital. If we’re able to outwinter even a fraction of our stock it provides a food resource all year round, attracting a more diverse array of dung beetle species.

Feeding livestock a more fibrous diet i.e. moving away from a grain-based diet can also help as it’s important to provide that partially undigested fibrous material.

Finally, long-acting anthelmintics can cause catastrophic loss of dung beetle populations. With veterinary support, frequent weighing of livestock and spot-treating animals  offers a more sustainable way of reducing anthelmintic use, reducing the wormer-resistance in intestinal parasites, and protecting dung beetle populations. 

How can we find out more about dung beetles?

There’s a wealth of information online about dung beetles, but to really get down to the detail, Farm Carbon Toolkit  is holding a two-day conference, in partnership with leading vets, dairy cooperative First Milk and Somerset dairy company Yeo Valley, on Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 June at Yeo Valley’s Holt Farm near Blagdon, south of Bristol. Event details and registration can be found here

Soil Biodiversity

By Stefan Marks, Farm Carbon and Soil Advisor

One gram of soil can contain one billion bacteria and up to 10,000 different species of bacteria with only 1% of organisms estimated to have been identified.

The soil functions as part of a vital living system which supports crop and animal health, underpinned by massively complex interactions between the biological, chemical, and physical properties of the soil. Life in the soil is often underestimated, spanning millions of species and billions of organisms which account for the highest concentration of biomass from anywhere on the planet. Fertility and crop performance are at risk of being distilled down to the chemical or physical constraints of the soil in isolation. This encourages an oversimplified approach to soil management. Sustainable Land Management, and the move towards regenerative agriculture encourages a more holistic management of the soil, resulting in enhanced biological diversity and so delivering the key benefits. It is important to recognize the importance of soil biology without overthinking its complexity, after all, we cannot manage for individual microbial species.

Soil Microorganisms

Soil microorganisms describe both bacteria and fungi, whose abundance makes up much of the biological biomass in the soil. Bacteria and fungi produce a range of enzymes which can break down and absorb inorganic and organic matter which is later made readily available as nutrients to plant roots. Fungal communities form larger hyphae ‘networks’ which are beneficial in mobilising nutrients in mutualistic exchanges with rooting structures. These fungal hyphae can extend over great distances and further help with the aggregation of the soil, improving soil stability, water holding capacity and therefore a greater resilience to droughts and waterlogging.

Bacteria exudates form the ‘glues’ which facilitate the formation of microaggregates from soil particles and as well as increasing the cycling of nutrients with a particular focus on the nitrogen cycle. Both fungi and bacteria are responsible for the breakdown of organic matters within the soil profile and so populations benefit greatly from manure applications. 

Due to their short life cycles, the population of these organisms may shift rapidly as a result of changes to their environment including the soil temperature, moisture and chemical composition. A healthier soil will generally have higher microbial biomass and will benefit from a larger fungal-to-bacterial ratio. Applications of agrochemicals and fertilisers can impact populations with overapplications of nitrogen promoting a more bacterially dominated soil. Likewise, tillage can break up the fungal hyphae which are more sensitive to physical disturbance.

Soil Macrofauna

The macrofauna are larger organisms which inhabit the soil with perhaps the most notable being the earthworm. Not only do earthworms operate as ecosystem engineers to enhance the soil and provide a better environment for other plants and animals to reside but they are an excellent indicator of soil health. Whilst it can be difficult to measure soil biodiversity the presence of earthworms indicate, on a larger scale, a healthy operating food web with a distribution of organisms across all trophic levels. As such earthworm numbers have become a good metric for biological soil health which are a result of and have an impact upon the chemical and physical properties of the soil. Earthworms fulfill different functions based on their niche, with the three main groups being:

  • Epigeic –  Inhabit litter layer and cycle carbon
  • Endogeic – Topsoil dwelling and enhance soil aggregation and nutrient mobilisation
  • Anecic – Deep burrowing improving porosity, water infiltration and root development

Considerations for Biological Soils

  • Feed the soil: amendments of organic matter will benefit soil organisms as it provides a feed source for them to thrive on. Conversely the greater the soil fauna populations the quicker and more available the nutrients. Over applications of inorganic fertility sources can have a negative impact causing the soil to become too bacterially dominated.
  • Crop diversity: the greater the crop diversity the greater the diversity in below-ground populations as there is a greater range of plants to feed and interact with in the growing environment. This necessitates the implementation of more diverse crop rotations into arable systems and will benefit from greater diversity in grassland with the inclusion of legumes and herbs.
  • Reduced tillage: tillage can have an adverse effect on established populations of soil organisms from the fungal hyphae all the way up to the earthworms. A move towards less intensive tillage through the adoption of no-till or min-till establishment at suitable parts of the rotation will help to maintain soil biological populations.

Overall, the biological component of the soil should not be overlooked as it is an essential part of a vital, living soil. Allowing soil to function properly will bring a host of benefits which can result in real world cost savings. Chief among these benefits may be the increased resilience in a changing climate.

Farm Net Zero April 2024 update

Welcome to our April Farm Net Zero newsletter, sharing updates for our farmers, growers and the wider community this project supports.

(Image above: Dr Hannah Jones/FCT presenting at the ORFC)

Recent news and events

Oxford Real Farming Conference: January 2024

An intrepid band of Farm Net Zero farmers and project staff made their way to Oxford for the Real Farming Conference where we were presenting a session called “It Takes a Farm Community to be Net Zero: A Case Study from Cornwall”. This was a sell-out, with people queuing to get in, and helped to demonstrate the excellent work the FNZ farmers are doing as part of their communities. The film we produced was well-received, even earning a “whoop” from the crowd! It is available to watch here: https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/2024/01/18/five-farms-in-cornwall/.

As well as the impressive range of sessions we were able to attend (covering everything from the role of vets in ecological sustainability to farm succession planning), we watched the premiere of “Six Inches of Soil” – a new film about farming starring Farm Net Zero monitor farmer Ben Thomas and featuring Farm Net Zero’s own Hannah Jones.

Premiere of “Six Inches of Soil”

Community film screening 25th March

On Monday 25th March, we showed the Farm Net Zero Community Film at Stoke Climsland Parish Hall. This event was very well attended by members of the local community, drummed up by Bonny Lightfoot and Martin Howlett, FNZ monitor farmers and stars of the film. Following the screening, there was a panel session with the farmers where attendees were able to ask questions on climate change, biodiversity and how the project farmers are working together to address these issues.

We ended the session with the farmers’ visions of farming in the future, with all agreeing that there will be more of a mix and integration between farming and nature.

Community film screening

“Filming on Your Phone” Workshop

We ran our second “Filming on Your Phone” workshop with Down to Earth Media just before Christmas. This gave a group of farmers the opportunity to learn about how to share their stories and the good work they are doing. Since the start of the project, 12 farmers have now received media training.

“Filming on Your Phone” workshop – Sam Roberts of Blable Farm being filmed!

Summaries of all these events, and many more, are available on the Farm Net Zero Project Resources webpage.

Agri-Carbon Kernow

The success of Farm Net Zero has led to a short project funded through Cornwall Council’s Shared Prosperity Fund, to work with farms in Cornwall on carbon, biodiversity and water management plans. This project is a collaboration between the Rural Business School, Farm Carbon Toolkit, Westcountry Rivers Trust and Cornwall Wildlife Trust. If you are a farmer interested in taking part, please contact [email protected]

Falmouth Climate Change event

The Farm Net Zero team was present at the Climate Change Exhibition held at the Polytechnic (“the Poly”) in Falmouth on March 8th and 9th. The event, which was organised by Falmouth Rotary Club, was aimed at raising awareness amongst the general public. We were able to share some of our great work with passers-by, and as a result of our presence at the event, we have been asked to host a visit by two Cornish MPs this Spring.

Demo farm and field lab update

Inter-cropping cabbage

The inter-crop sampling for the cabbages has just been completed at Ennis Barton, one of our FNZ demo farms. This is a  collaboration between Andrew Brewer and Andy Williams of Riviera Produce Ltd. Soil samples have been sent away for assessment of soil organic matter, but it is the impact on soil aggregate stability, and water infiltration that is of particular interest in this short term winter cover crop. A mix of buckwheat , phacelia, white clover, plantain and chicory was broadcast between cabbages in 4 blocks across 4 fields and compared to the control treatment of no cover crop. More data to follow.

Winter cover crop between harvested Savoy cabbages ready for grazing until reseeding with grass in May.

Farm Net Zero maize trials

This is the second year of the FNZ – Innovative Farmers maize field lab.  This trial is evaluating the effects of different establishment methods, such as strip till and under sowing, on maize yield and soil health.  For example, at Duchy College the trial plans involve splitting a maize field between conventional establishment and reduced cultivation and then trialling undersown mixtures in the opposite direction across the field.

This year we have teamed up with Plymouth University who will be carrying out some more in-depth soil testing.  If you’re interested in taking part in the trials please do get in touch: [email protected].

We have a meeting planned for the triallists and researchers on 3rd April near Bodmin.

More information on last year’s trial can be found here: https://www.innovativefarmers.org/field-labs/fnz-maize-field-lab/

Maize plants and bare soil

Diverse covers and leys to reduce worm burden at weaning

Weaning shock in lambs can cause physiological stress and slow growth rates.  But this effect could be offset by enhanced forage protein content.

Two of our monitor farmers, Matt Smith and Anthony Ellis, have teamed up with the Farm Carbon Toolkit to launch a new Farm Net Zero trial, examining the effect of protein rich cover crops on lamb growth rates. This Innovative Farmers field lab will test a bespoke chicory-rich mixture for lamb weaning.  The farmers hope it will improve growth rates, reduce lamb production footprint, improve soil health and lamb welfare, as well as reduce the need for wormers.  

For more information see the field lab page on the Innovative Farmers website: https://www.innovativefarmers.org/field-labs/diverse-covers-and-leys-to-reduce-worm-burden-at-weaning/

A chicory ley

Farm Net Zero field lab – herbal leys for dairy

This spring sees the launch of the Farm Net Zero and Innovative Farmers dairy field lab. In this trial Andrew Brewer, Farm Net Zero monitor farmer, will be exploring the question of whether different pasture species impact milk yield and constituents.

Andrew will split his dairy herd, grazing one group on standard ryegrass and clover leys, and the other on diverse swards/ herbal leys.  Forage samples will be taken ahead of the cows moving in to graze.  The milk yield and constituents from the trial cows will then be measured regularly throughout the 2024 growing season.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Bristol

and Cornwall Wildlife Trust and will deal with the big question many dairy farmers want answered. Dr Daniel Enriquez Hidalgo of University of Bristol, has been leading the study design and will be carrying out the results analysis. We are grateful to Andrew for all the extra hard work the trial will involve.

For more information on the field lab, see the Innovative Farmers website page: https://www.innovativefarmers.org/field-labs/fnz-herbal-leys-and-dairy/#

Conor Kendrew from Cornwall Wildlife Trust sampling forage at Ennis Barton farm

Dock Control Field Lab

Last years ‘How to rejuvenate pastures’ hosted by James Barrett has led to a new field lab. James rotaseeded a dock-infested grassland and destroyed docks just by addressing surface compaction.

Dock infestation of pasture

Calcium levels were also found to be at good levels in the soil. The new field lab will be recruiting up to 10 farmers, a field each, to test out the impact of optimising soil structure through mechanical intervention and the use of granular and foliar calcium application. Please contact a member of the FNZ team if you would like to be involved.

What next?

Workshop “Gardening & Trees” – with FNZ & Nourish Kernow,

Sunday April 21st,  1:30pm – 4pm, Higher Culloden Farm, College Road, Camelford, PL32 9TL

As part of our community engagement activities, Westcountry Rivers Trust’s Farm Net Zero team are joining Nourish Kernow for the project’s next climate-friendly gardening workshop.

Learn about the environmental benefits of planting trees, shrubs, and perennial plants alongside food crops. The event will include a hands-on soil health assessment that you can try at home, plus ideas to help you manage your garden to best sequester carbon and adapt to a changing climate, as well as boosting biodiversity.

We will be taking a look at the trees recently planted at the farm to support its habitat management plan and hearing about the inspiration and challenges behind the farm’s wider Community Supported Agriculture project to create a regenerative market garden on the edge of town.

Have fun as you learn about the environmental benefits of planting trees, shrubs, and perennial plants alongside food crops at home.

Book here

Farm Net Zero farm events

We will be continuing to run a series of Farm Net Zero events in 2024, drawing on the needs and interests from the community of farmers. These will be advertised on our website and through this newsletter. If you have any suggestions for events we could run, please let us know.

You’ll find a full range of relevant events on our website.
Click here to view our full events page

Getting in touch

As ever, if you have any questions or ideas that would further support the community of farmers that we are working with, please get in touch with the project team (contact details below).

All information about the project including upcoming events and resources are available on the Farm Net Zero website. If there is anything you would like to see featured please let us know.

This project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, is a partnership between Cornwall CollegeThe Farm Carbon Toolkit, Duchy College’s Rural Business SchoolWestcountry Rivers TrustInnovative Farmers and Innovation for Agriculture.

Farm Walk with Carbon Farmer of the Year Finalist, Thomas Gent, Oakley Farm – 23rd May 2024

We are delighted to be able to invite you to attend this Farm Walk to hear from the team at Oakley Farm about how they run their arable farm following regenerative agriculture principles.

Farming with greenhouse gas emissions in mind, as well as all the other targets farmers work to, is fast becoming the norm.

Oakley Farm in South Lincolnshire has been in the Gent family for four generations. Now with father and son team Edward and Thomas managing the 800 ha business, they run their arable farm following regenerative agriculture principles.

Having already fully adopted minimal cultivations and the incorporation of cover crops across the farm, the team are now turning their attention to the potential to incorporate agroforestry and livestock onto their holding. Through continuously refining the management system Edward and Thomas have managed to produce 10 tonne/ha wheat crops with 150kg N and 30 litres diesel per hectare.

Event details

Location to meet/congregate : https://maps.app.goo.gl/UhwiPfPmZQYmCD8i6

What3Word: ///crank.frantic.rules

The farm walk will begin at 1.30pm and will provide an opportunity to find out more about Edward and Thomas’s strategy to reduce emissions on the farm and how this has benefited the business, leading Thomas to be named as one of FCT’s finalists in our first Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition.

The event will take place outside, please wear suitable clothing and footwear. Light refreshments will be provided.

How to book

This event is free but spaces are limited. Please book via our Eventbrite page by following this link

Farm Walk with Carbon Farmer of the Year Finalist, Craig Livingstone, Lockerley Estate, Hampshire – 14th May 2024

We are delighted to be able to invite you to attend this Farm Walk to hear from the team at Lockerley Estate about how they are working to reduce farm-based emissions whilst storing more carbon into soils and non-crop biomass.

Increasingly farming with greenhouse gas emissions in mind, as well as all the other targets farmers work to, is becoming the norm.

Lockerley Estate & Preston Farms, based near Stockbridge in Hampshire is a 2,000ha diverse estate which champions an approach to agriculture where biodiversity, soil health and the wellbeing of the community and future generations is at the heart of everything they do.

Craig Livingstone, Director of Farming & Estates, has four key aims to enable the estate to reduce emissions which are focussed on maximising soil carbon sequestration; reducing reliance on chemical inputs; using the wider estate to sequester more carbon and increasing the natural capital on the estate.

Event details

The farm walk will begin at 1.30pm and will provide an opportunity to find out more about Craig’s strategy to reduce emissions from the estate and how this has benefited the business, leading him to be named as one of FCT’s finalists in our first Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition.

The event will take place outside, please wear suitable clothing and footwear. Light refreshments will be provided.

How to book

This event is free but spaces are limited. Please book via our Eventbrite page by following this link.

Sustainable crop rotations

Looking back at 2023, it can safely be defined as a challenging year with the wettest autumn / winter we have seen for decades. Farmers have not only faced the challenge of maximising yields and optimising soil health, but also battling against the elements to drill crops into the ground. Hoping for a kinder 2024, this blog explores options to build resilience into crop rotations aiming to cultivate a balance between high yields and optimum soil health.

Minimising cultivation

First things first, this blog is not telling you to get rid of the plough. All machinery serves a purpose, it is just about knowing when to intervene. Within systems that have reduced their cultivations or those that have been adopting conservation ploughing (i.e. ploughing one year in three or more), soils tend to be more resilient through improved soil structure. Good soil structure has a matrix of small, medium, and large pore spaces able to retain and drain water as well as provide pockets of air for respiration and gaseous exchange and water for nutrient exchange. When we till the soil, especially when ground conditions are sub-optimum, we run the risk of squashing the pores and causing compaction and soil degradation, reducing water infiltration, increasing anaerobism (lack of oxygen) and building up toxic gases, all contributing to poor soil health and disappointing crop yields.

Carry out a VESS: Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure

It is important to get out there and dig holes; get to know your soil and how it behaves under certain environmental conditions. When you assess the soil structure, look for compaction and note its depth. Can this be remedied by deeper rooting species, or does it require mechanical intervention? Always keep the depth in mind as it’s no good going in too deep or too shallow.


Sustainable rotations begin with diversity. A multipronged approach combining arable crops, legumes and cover crops takes full advantage of all the tools we have in the box as arable farmers. Diversity in species above ground matches diversity in species below ground: helping to break pest and disease cycles and improve soil health through provision of various rooting architecture, root exudates and crop residues. The soil is alive and many of the nutrients available to crops and plants come from the activity of soil-dwelling organisms that are busy stabilising, consuming and releasing nutrients for the benefit of the crop. Diversity in crops and roots therefore contribute a rich source of food for soil fauna to feast on, enhancing soil fertility and subsequent crop health and crop yield. 

Where pests and disease more commonly thrive is within monocultures e.g. continuous cereals. We are seeing an increasing reliance on chemicals to control and abate problems within these systems, depleting our soils of beneficials in the process. Similarly, a lack of diversity in roots are only supporting a limited community of microorganisms. This is not sustainable; therefore, we must explore how we can incorporate more species within the rotation. OSR is one of many good examples. It has deep roots and is easily diversified with companions e.g. vetch / buckwheat / berseem clover. Maximising the number of crop species in a rotation will optimise the diversity of organisms below ground.

On farm, an easy way to measure how biologically active our soils are is by monitoring earthworm numbers. Earthworms are at the top of the soil food web and will travel to and reside where there is lots of food; they are also brilliant at breaking down residues and redistributing nutrients throughout the soil profile. How many worms do you count in a spade full of soil? Where are you finding the most? And can those numbers be replicated elsewhere on farm?


The blog wouldn’t be complete without talking about legumes. Approximately 78% of the air is nitrogen. If we can harness the power of leguminous plants to fix some of that nitrogen, we can cut costs by reducing the amount of artificial fertiliser whilst also minimising our environmental impact. Consider incorporating peas or beans into the rotation as stand-alone crops, clover as a companion crop or include legumes as part of a cover crop mix. Farmers are often able to reduce the amount of bagged fertiliser used after legumes.

Legumes to build fertility: field beans in an arable rotation

If possible, trial a small reduction across a proportion of the field first and see how your yields fare – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Cover Crops

Utilising cover crops between winter and spring cropping is an excellent approach to building soil health in between cash crops: stabilising soil structure by maintaining living roots in the soil throughout the year, feeding the soil biology and acting as a buffer protecting the soil from adverse weather conditions. 

On top of this, one of the biggest advantages of cover crops is that they are great at scavenging and holding onto residual nutrients left over from the previous crop, reducing losses from leaching. Once destroyed, the nutrients will be released back into the soil, improving nutrient use efficiency, and potentially enabling a reduction in artificial inputs required by the next crop. 

Cover crop mixes should be tailored to your needs and soil type. It’s better to choose species type based on what you are trying to achieve: building fertility, keeping the ground covered, and/or alleviating compaction. 

If possible, conduct trials and aim to include 3 or more species in the mix to capitalise on diversity in both the above-ground biomass for optimised photosynthetic potential (think assortment of leaf shapes to increase surface area from which to harness the sun’s energy), and below-ground biomass through varied rooting structures, depths, shapes and sizes (pumping sugars and carbon into the soil, building soil organic matter and feeding the soil biology).

Livestock Integration

Integrating grazing livestock into your rotation offers an alternative technique to destroying cover crops whilst also adding valuable organic matter to the soil in the form of manure. Including grass and clover leys also gives the ground a break, allowing time for recovery and offers another income stream from grazing or silage / hay making. The benefits of perennial roots in the ground over an extended period, especially if a mix of roots at different depths, will help to improve soil structure and build fertility for future crops.

Grazing livestock returning soil organic matter and building soil health.

Explore the Sustainable Farming Incentive options to see if herbal leys or a 2-year legume fallow could be economically viable.

Monitoring and Adapting

It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; be adaptive and tailor options to local environment and conditions. Trial different methods and see which suits your system best.

Regularly monitoring soil health, accounting for all nutrient sources, and keeping an eye on pest and disease prevalence alongside crop performance and weather is crucial to make informed adjustments to rotations as needed.

In summary, farmers are in a unique position in that yes, we produce emissions in the process of producing nutritious food however, we can also build soil health and boost biodiversity simultaneously contributing to offsetting our own emissions and future proofing our farms and landscapes. Implementing a sustainable crop rotation in the UK is not just about growing crops; it’s about promoting a future where productivity and soil health co-exist. By diversifying crops, integrating legumes, embracing cover crops, minimising tillage, incorporating livestock, and tailoring practices to local conditions, it is possible to achieve a resilient and sustainable agricultural landscape supporting local and wider communities for years to come.

Open for entries: Carbon Farmer of the Year

Announcing the launch of the 2024 Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition

February of this year sees the launch of the 2024 Farm Carbon Toolkit’s Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition. This competition champions UK farmers who are leading the way in adopting farming practices and developing new technologies which reduce farm emissions whilst optimising output, and adapting to climate change. 

After the success of last year’s competition we are delighted to announce that the 2024 competition is now open for entries. Click here to learn more.

The Financial Reward of Reducing Carbon

By Robert Purdew, Farm Carbon and Soils Advisor

There is a growing concern about carbon “tunnel vision” in agriculture, where the sole focus is on reducing emissions without considering the bigger picture. Reducing emissions is crucial, yet it’s important to acknowledge that it is only one piece of the puzzle and focusing solely on carbon can neglect factors such as soil health, water quality, biodiversity and other issues such as pollution. There is also often concern from farmers about how the pressures to achieve net zero targets can impact profitability, especially when incentives to be net zero are limited or non-existent, and investments in the infrastructure and technology required to transition to low-carbon farming are high.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. We can use an understanding of a farm’s emissions to make informed decisions to change management practices that can lead directly to both reduced emissions and increased profitability, and we can point to an increased number of farmers who are doing just this.

Mike and Sam Roberts farm 435 acres at Blable Farm, of which a large proportion is down to herbal leys. After Sam returned to the farm in 2018 a decision was made to review the whole operation and, in conjunction with James Daniel of Precision Grazing, the decision was made to reduce the herd slightly from 180 to 150 cows, implement rotational grazing on diverse leys and to focus on reducing inputs and improving soil health.

Cattle out wintering at Blable Farm

The effects were immediate and obvious. Soil health has seen a rapid improvement with better structure, increased earthworm numbers and soil organic matter is on the rise. The grazing period has been increased from 6 to 12 months and the farm hasn’t bought fertiliser since 2021, with none being used last year. Importantly, animal performance has increased in line with improved soil health and while cow numbers were reduced initially Mike and Sam are looking at increasing numbers again. All of this has seen a significant saving on input costs which has been re-invested into the business, including a full soil audit to better understand how soil health is improving. In line with reduced costs on-farm emissions have been reduced significantly with Mike confident the farm can reach net zero within 5 years, a commitment made as part of being a demo farm for the Farm Net Zero project.

Another example of a farmer using an understanding of their carbon footprint to drive down costs and improve profitability is Tom Burge of Oaremead Farm. Tom farms 760 acres of grassland on Exmoor and runs both a suckler herd and commercial sheep flock. In 2017 Tom began shifting to a more regenerative farming system which predominantly focussed on an improvement in grazing management, once again aided by James Daniel from Precision Grazing.

A person standing in a grassy field with cows

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Over 5 years, Tom has completely cut out the use of artificial fertiliser and reduced his feed use by over 70%. This has been made possible by an increase in dry matter grown of 0.9 tDM/ha, through improved grazing management, and has reduced input costs by 50%, with a similar reduction in emissions from inputs, as shown in the chart below. Crucially the farm is now profitable before taking into account income from subsidies and environmental schemes. In the next 5 years, Tom plans to completely cut out bought-in feed and to have halved fuel use and, like Mike and Sam, be well on the road to net zero while remaining highly productive and profitable.

Oaremead Farm emissions from inputs

These are just two of an increasing number of examples that we are coming across as we work with more and more farmers who are using their carbon emissions as just one metric to help improve their farm businesses. And far from impacting just a farm’s emissions and bottom line, the management changes that are being implemented are having beneficial impacts on those ecosystem services mentioned previously, soil health, biodiversity, water quality and reduced pollution. Proof if ever it was needed of the potential for long-term sustainability within our farming systems.

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: