The Myerscough College Ag Net Zero Challenge – Smiths
Land management is amongst the largest contributors to climate change and there is an urgency for agriculture to transform from being a net emitter of carbon (CO2e) to a net sequester of carbon (CO2).
Carbon Farm Audit #6
Courtesy of Paul and Elaine Smith
The Myerscough College Ag Net Zero Challenge is part of The Lancashire Colleges’ Strategic Development Fund Pilot, supporting colleges and local employers to work together to create a skilled workforce for a future low-zero carbon economy.
Mr and Mrs Smith from Home Farm in Croston, Lancashire, volunteered to participate in the Myerscough College Ag Net-Zero Challenge. They undertook a whole farm carbon audit to identify areas of improvement within their farm business to reduce carbon emissions.
tHE CARBON AUDIT
A carbon audit is an assessment of the emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) produced by each enterprise within a business and, where possible, looks at the sources of sequestration within the business. The carbon audit at Home Farm Croston was carried out by Carbon Metrics – a company that specialises in analysing and interpreting existing data and generating a targeted management plan to show how net-zero strategies can be achieved. The farm audit is calculated by using a carbon toolkit. There are currently over 70 toolkits available with no standard industry requirements for data. Therefore, in this case study, we used the average of two carbon audit calculators, Agrecalc and Cool Farm Tool, to produce the results.
Good Carbon Outputs per kilogram of produce. The farm is currently producing milk with a carbon footprint of 1.28Kg of CO2e per Kg of Milk. This is due to the high production per cow per year and maximizes animal efficiency, thus reducing the farm’s carbon footprint. This figure is expected to reduce further as milk yields per cow increase as they grow and further adapt to the robotic milking system now in place.
Efficient use of resources through the use of robotics. The usage of robotic milking parlours has benefitted the farm as it has enabled the farm to reduce its fuel usage in tractors and loaders, while it has increased the dairy herds productivity as forage consumption has increased due to the regular turning making it more appetizing for stock. In addition, the robotic parlour has also enabled the farmers to gain a greater understanding of the herd’s performance through increased availability of data. This has enabled the farmer to strategically target individuals in the herd to ensure their performance does not drop compared to other animals.
Areas for Consideration
Carry out a Soil Carbon test. Carrying out a loss on ignition test will help to verify the amount of Soil Carbon in your current soils. The programs used in auditing use averages to work out soil sequestration. This action is key to verify that soil carbon is being built up. This needs to be done yearly to show the Soil Carbon build-up.
Increase dairy herd size. As mentioned during the farm visit, it is worth considering the growth of the dairy herd to include more animals so that the farm sees an increase in the volume of milk produced annually. This will justify investment in capital such as additional robotic milkers and extending cattle housing while making the farm more profitable.
Tailor diets for high-performing cows. As mentioned during the farm visit, it is worth looking at the data being produced by the robotic milkers to tailor cattle diets to optimise milk production per livestock unit rather than at a herd level. This may result in the grouping of cattle into different cohorts within the herd depending upon their milk production.
Renewable energy. The farm is in a prime position to develop its electricity from PVC solar panels on the roof of farm buildings. Using this electricity generated on-farm to power operations such as lighting, or the milking parlour will enable the farm to cut its energy demands and make significant inroads into reducing its demand from the national grid.
Soil compaction issues. Issues with soil compaction can make a massive difference to the net emissions across the farm. One way to understand the state of compaction across the farm is by digging soil pits to explore soil structure. Furthermore, it is easy to make regular inspections just by using a spade. With appropriate cultivation techniques, soil compaction can be kept to a minimum; however – roots can’t do this independently. Introducing vertical fissures into the soil will reduce compaction and increase aeration in the soil, enabling crops and forage to benefit from faster growth rates.
Countryside Stewardship Schemes. The dairy remaining inside all year frees up pastureland from intensive grazing. So it may be worth exploring options available through countryside stewardship schemes to find additional funding for changes in current management practices.
Benefits for the Business
Improved return on investment. By following the areas of consideration and the mitigation measures, the farm can expect to see a better return on crop costs and fuel usage. It will also see the amount of CO2e emitted fall further, helping to achieve Net-Zero. The farm could look to invest in renewables, but this would only support a small proportion of the way to reach Net-Zero. Further work on fuel and fertiliser needs to be carried out to significantly reduce the farm’s carbon output.
Leading the way with Carbon Emission. The farm has a very real possibility of leading the way in showing how agriculture can help lead the way as part of the path to Net-Zero. As opportunities around carbon credits and soil sequestration could become monetised, the farm is at the forefront of these concepts and pilots, which should add value to the business and help open new areas of income as the industry transitions away from direct payments.
The results of the audit go some way to justifying the Smith’s decision to adopt largescale changes to their farming practices a couple of years ago. The transition to a robotic dairy system has enabled the Smiths to realise greater productivity across the dairy herd while reducing inputs in terms of both resources and times in the spent farming.
In the future the Smiths are looking to further maximise the most out this change in approach by possibly installing an additional robotic milking machine into the sheds to further enhance performance from the top performing head in the herd.
A more environmentally friendly approach
In the future the Smiths have shown interest in further helping reduce their footprint as well as helping with other areas of their environmental footprint such as biodiversity gain and water quality. The farm is looking to include more areas of biodiversity across its meadows as part of expanded Countryside Stewardship Schemes whilst also looking to address any areas of slurry and fertiliser leaching into the river through addressing compaction issues across their meadows.
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