Farmers could reap big financial savings by improving the carbon footprints of their farming businesses, according to a leading supermarket.


Sainsbury’s says that the 325 producers in its Dairy Development Group, who have taken part in its carbon footprint audit, have saved a total of 5000t of CO2 this year, resulting in “substantial” financial savings for some.

“It’s not just about doing the right thing for the environment, it’s about increasing efficiency, thereby improving profit margins at the same time,” Annie Graham, Sainsbury’s head of brand sustainability said.

As part of the scheme each SDDG member gets an individual audit that examines every aspect of the farm business, including electricity, fuel and fertiliser use, manure storage and application, machinery use and crop or livestock yields. It highlights how the farm is performing, benchmarks it against other producers and identifies areas for improvement.

“There’s no one answer to suit all farms but asking farmers what they’re doing is a good way of reviewing management practices,” Ms Graham said. Carbon output varied considerably between SDDG farms this year, from 518g CO2 equivalent per litre of milk on the best units, to 2243g on the worst, she noted.

SDDG farmer William Goodwin, who milks 700 cows on his farm at Ardingly in West Sussex, said he had spent around £95,000 on measures to improve efficiency on his farm, but annual savings were worth £60,000, or 1p/litre milk produced (see table).

“It’s like having a consultant come to the farm and really provides the impetus to change some of the things you’re doing,” he said. “The carbon scheme has been a very valuable tool and has allowed us to make some big savings.”

Sainsbury’s announced in July that it would extend its carbon footprint initiative to a further 6500 farmers across other livestock sectors. Beef and lamb suppliers will be the priority for the next six months, followed by pig and poultry producers.

But while farmers are improving their carbon footprint, the supermarket has no plans to advertise the fact on products. “Sainsbury’s is not going to carbon label food. I don’t think it informs or adds anything to consumers’ knowledge level at the moment,” said Ms Graham. “All the work we’ve done suggests it’ll confuse rather than inform.”

Efficiency savings

 

Water

Clean/dirty water is segregated and reused, while a borehole has replaced much of mains supply to the dairy. £22,000 invested, but water bills cut from £4500/month to £500/month

Manure

£35k invested in umbilical system to pump slurry around farm, plus nutrient plans and soil testing for all land has cut nitrogen fertiliser use 47% from 75t/year to 45t, worth £7500 (assuming £250/t for fertiliser).

Feedingstuffs

New, larger mixer wagon and enlarged straights store have cut daily feeding times by a total of 1.5hrs. Overall fuel use has been cut by 20,000 litres, worth £8000

Bedding

Buying bedding in bulk rather than bales has saved £8000

Waste management

All waste is recycled through Solway. Injection system now used for slurry application, cutting N losses by 50%