Cover crops, green waste compost and more efficient use of inputs can all help to cut the carbon costs of producing malting barley, bringing environmental and cash benefits to farmers.
Rather than wrestling with labels such as carbon footprint and greenhouse gases, growers needed to focus on energy use, said HGCA chairman Jonathan Tipples at an AHDB meeting about how the carbon footprint of malting barley can be reduced.
“Imagine there’s a large meter above your farm. Every time that meter goes around, it’s costing you money. It’s a question of clocking up less on that meter to produce the same,” he told growers at Stowmarket maltster Muntons.
Manufactured fertiliser accounts for the vast bulk of the greenhouse gases involved in producing a malting barley crop, said Ron Stobart of NIAB/TAG, which is researching soil systems and fuel usage, input management and use of cover crops to improve soil fertility.
For example, spring barley with a trefoil cover crop and a 75kg/ha nitrogen rate achieved a yield improvement of 0.25-0.50t/ha over land at the same nitrogen rate but with no cover crop. Lower nitrogen rates achieved proportionately greater yield differences. The value of composted green waste on cereal land is also being investigated.
There is further scope for improving the green credentials of the whole malt supply chain, with research from specialist agri-food business consultancy European Food and Farming Partnerships (EFFP) showing that up to the point of second processor, no-shows, rejections and poor delivery timings are much more common than they are further along the chain.
Muntons has already reduced the carbon footprint of its malt with the installation of the most energy-efficient kiln heaters available, which have a zero year payback, saving 8% a year on gas costs and giving the company CO2 credits, which can then help to reduce its tax bill.
Fertiliser manufacturers were installing scrubbers to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 90% and Mr Tipples expected the use of biosolids, such as compost from green waste, to make an important contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of malting barley in future.