Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The proactive approach to tackling our carbon footprint

The carbon footprint of agriculture in general remains high on the political agenda. Livestock in particular is widely cited as a significant contributor to agriculture’s overall GHG emissions. While the exact level of this may be up for some debate depending on which report you read (the much quoted 1996 FAO report Livestock’s Long Shadow suggested 18% of all emissions come from livestock but this has now been discredited), there is no doubt we must work hard to reduce our environmental impact and meet tough Government-set emissions targets.

The challenge is looking into how best individual farmers can make changes on their own farm that will have an impact – and how to encourage them to do so.

To this end, EBLEX and The E-CO2 Project have developed the online Sheep Carbon Footprint Tool to see where the most effective gains can be made in cutting the environmental impact of a sheep enterprise. It allows a sheep farmer to enter values relevant to their business, including fertiliser use, feed per lamb and daily liveweight gain to see where their carbon footprint stands. The values can be manipulated to see, for instance, how a footprint would be affected if they managed to get a greater daily liveweight gain or reduced the use of fertiliser inputs. They can test things in theory before putting them into practice.

The UK Climate Change Act 2008 requires a reduction in agricultures GHGs of 11% by 2020 from 1990 levels.  Research by EBLEX and The E-CO2 Project  published last year revealed the sheep production sector in the UK has been steadily reducing its carbon footprint over the last few decades. In the decade to 2010, the sheep industry in England has delivered a credible reduction of 9.3% in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) through greater output per ewe and reduced reliance on artificial fertiliser. Our Testing the Water and Down to Earth roadmap chapters have also confirmed that the livestock farmers who are producing food with the lowest carbon cost per unit are generally those who are making the best gross margins. Making changes, therefore, to reduce carbon footprint can also lead to better returns.

We hope the tool will be a useful one and that producers will have a look to see “what if?”  Work on a beef cattle equivalent is already underway.

It is vital that the industry takes the issue of reducing emissions seriously. If we do not improve performance and are not seen to be introducing measures to tackle the issue, it is inviting additional regulation as has already happened in other countries.