More to cutting carbon footprints than biofuels

Farmers can reduce their carbon footprint, but not perhaps in the way they were expecting. That was one of the conclusions of the recent Nuffield Carbon Farming Conference.

Organised by the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust and the Frank Arden Memorial Award, it gave a chance to hear some of the latest research into how farmers can work out how much carbon they currently produce – and reduce it.

Some of the key conclusions were

  • It is important that the industry does not over-emphasise the role of carbon sequestration. On typical farms, sequestration of carbon makes no more than a small contribution to tackling climate change.
  • By adopting Level I Carbon Stewardship practices, farmers can reduce their on-farm emissions of greenhouse gases. Level I practices are available, can be adopted immediately and do not involve radical changes.
  • Renewable energy production can help to reduce net CO2 release on farm and may also offer alternative income opportunities.
  • There are many opportunities for farmers to become involved with the emergent renewable energy sector either as individuals or by working with other partners. The latest round of RDPE grants encourage farmers to set up collaborative projects.
  • Heat-only biomass systems are the easiest to justify economically and are technologically stable. Combustion- based combined heat and power (CHP) systems that produce both heat and electricity look the least attractive both financially and technologically, especially on a small scale.
  • On-farm anaerobic digestion (biogas) systems appear economically marginal unless the value of the slurry disposal benefits and perhaps the heat produced are taken into account in the financial justification. Recent rises is the value of arable crops (and hence land value) have challenged some of the existing European on-farm anaerobic digestion business models.
  • More collaboration is needed within the industry to champion the role of land managers in mitigating the effects of climate change, in a similar way to the work done by Carbon Farmers of America.
  • The current bad press for bio-fuels’ carbon footprint could be improved if the majority of wheat destined for bioethanol plants was grown using minimum cultivations techniques.