Farmers are faced with the task of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 11% within the next 7 years. A daunting task for many, an impossible task for others, but one that will actually save farmers hundreds of pounds a year. The Low Carbon Farming Project started a few years ago to inspire innovative farming that both saves farmers’ money and decreases carbon emissions.

The project was set up in 2008 with funding from the RDPE (Rural Development Programme in England) via Duchy College and the Ashden Trust. At the heart of the project is a programme of free events, where farmers learn about carbon emissions on farms and how they can adopt low carbon practices. As well as producing information fact sheets, the project has developed a new online Farm Carbon Assessment Tool, which was launched in November 2012.

A model of best practice has been developed by the project, organised around what it calls the ‘four pillars’ of low carbon farming. The first pillar is ‘Nutrient Management,’ which looks at ways farmers can improve the storage and application of fertilisers and manures and thus decrease greenhouse gases, while increasing efficiency.low carbon farming

The second pillar is ‘Livestock Management.’ The project encourages livestock farmers to focus their attention on animal health and welfare. In doing so, farmers can expect fewer fatalities, meaning lower livestock-related emissions. Different grasses are also recommended. These have the effect of stimulating healthy gut activity, which in turn converts feed more efficiently into meat or milk.

Pillar 3 is ‘Soil and Grassland Management.’ Farmers are encouraged to look at soil biology, including micro-organisms and earthworms. Soil disturbance is discouraged, as this directly increases carbon emissions. Instead, low carbon farming advocates practices such as injection fertilisers and extended leys. Finally, the fourth pillar looks at ‘Renewable Energy.’ This is an opportunity for farmers to consider using solar power and other renewable energy to generate electricity and sell surplus back to the grid.

Farmers adopting these practices are experiencing better yields and higher profits. At the same time, the practices are proven to decrease carbon emissions, thus helping to meet the reduction targets set by Defra.

The Farm Carbon Assessment Tool (FCAT), developed by the project, is an online resource that helps farmers find out more detailed information on each of these key areas. It is freely available, easy to use and quick to complete, an ideal activity for a rainy afternoon. The tool generates a report, scoring key farming activities in relation to best practice. This is presented as easy to read graphs and can be downloaded for reading at a later stage. See the tool here: www.soilassociation.org/fcat.

The project is based at the Soil Association and works with both organic and non-organic farmers. Later this year, a Low Carbon Farming handbook will be published and an e-learning course is being considered, to spread the information further. As more farmers adopt low carbon practices, they can expect to enjoy benefits to their business while also reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Images by Alamy and Ronnie McMillan

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