As interest in carbon calculators grows, NFU poultry adviser Aimee Mahony and Policy Graduate Charlie Parkin ventured to Leicestershire to try out three poultry carbon calculator tools with Phill Crawley, vice-chair of the NFU national poultry board.
Phill is joint managing director of Sunrise Eggs and runs the business with his brother, Ady. Sunrise Eggs is a second-generation family farming business established in 1970 by the Crawley family. The business invested in free-range in 1997 and has seen steady expansion since. Today, Sunrise Eggs pack approximately four million eggs a week. The business supplies all sectors of the market including major retailers, food service and local shops from its BRC grade AA packing centre. All retail packaging, including plastic, is made from 100% recycled material.
“The purpose of this assessment was to try the calculators out, looking at their functionality and ease of use for poultry farmers. This trial focused on a laying hen perspective and Aimee and Charlie plan to visit a broiler enterprise to conduct a similar trial” explains Phill.
Although there are 64 carbon calculators on the market, Phil tried out the three most commonly used and applicable calculators: AgRE Calc, Cool Farm Tool and Farm Carbon Calculator.
What sort of data is required?
- Total fuel and electricity use
- Number of birds
- How manure is handled
- Waste (amount recycled and amount to landfill)
- Woodland area (type and age)
- Mortality rate
- Duration of lay (days)
- Purchased bedding (type and amount)
- Water use
- Feed components
- Transport from farm to point of sale
Each of the calculators asks for data to be input in different ways and some calculators ask for more detail than others.
Top tip – watch the units (some use tonnes but other use kg)
“I gathered most of the data needed beforehand to make the process as smooth as possible which definitely helped” said Phill.
The nitty-gritty of the three carbon calculators
Developed by the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit organisation, the Farm Carbon Calculator is free to use with an unlimited amount of footprints available. The tool provides a carbon balance looking at emissions and sequestration.
Some questions are not worded correctly for poultry such as “annual yield in tonnes”. This is not a familiar measurement applied in egg production – a preferred alternative would be to ask for the annual yield otherwise known as egg production in egg numbers i.e. dozens.
The figure provided for sequestration (trees on the range) was unexpectedly large and the calculator asks for “tree crown growth”, a more user-friendly way to report this would be to state the age of the trees.
For agricultural buildings the only option is a 60ft x 30ft barn and this is not universally applicable to poultry units. It will be helpful if users can select the type of system (i.e. multi-tier or flat-deck) and the number of birds (i.e. 16,000 , 32,000, 64,000) in order for the standard sizes for poultry houses to be pre-populated on the calculator. An additional option to input bespoke sized housing would also be advantageous.
The live results worked well and the final results are easy to interpret with bar charts and pie charts providing good visuals of the carbon balance.
One of the main disadvantages is that poultry feed is not adequately covered as it stands in this calculator.
SAC Consulting developed this calculator and it has been endorsed by the Scottish government.
The tool takes productivity indicators into account such as mortality rate and flock cycle. Some questions could be interpreted in different ways such as “average number of livestock over 12-month period” – it is not clear if this includes mortality. Again, this confusion is based on the vocabulary used and this could be rectified by considering the needs of all sectors equally. There was also a functionality error in the livestock weight section with auto filling boxes. Livestock weight is not as relevant for layers compared to broilers.
Overall it was felt that this tool was not as user friendly as the other tools but it covers the requirements for poultry relatively well.
To improve the existing tool the feed section needs to be updated with measures more relevant to poultry such as average grams of feed per bird per day as well as protein and energy content of feed.
The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) provides product foot printing only making calculations for mixed farming enterprises difficult. It is initially free for farmers with five product footprints available before a fee is required. Organisations that use the CFT to support sustainable agriculture pay to become members of the ‘Cool Farm Alliance’ which gives additional functionality.
The Cool Farm Tool was user friendly and the results were relatively easy to interpret. Inputting the data was simple with instructions taking you through the process with ease. The feed section of this calculator works well for layers.
The main downside to this tool is that sequestration is not accounted for in a livestock footprint.
Which tool worked best for layers?
“None of the calculators work well for laying hen enterprises as they stand. All of them could be made to work for poultry but I feel at present that AgRE Calc probably has the most potential” said Phill.
This trial will feed into the work of the NFU net zero steering group, consisting of a representative from every national board and forum. The net zero steering group is currently drafting a list of criteria that NFU members would want to see in any carbon calculator. The list is being populated by feedback following similar trials for each sector. The NFU is working with the carbon calculator developers to ensure that member’s voices are heard in order for carbon calculators to be as relevant and useful as possible.
Key elements of the feedback from the trial with Phill as part of this ongoing work includes:
Assessments should be completed on a flock cycle basis as opposed to an annual basis
Calculators must take carbon sequestration into account
Feed sections must be relevant to poultry
How do I make a start with carbon calculators?
“Try out the NFU Farm Status Indicator available on the climate change page of NFUOnline in the first instance. This is a quick and simple way to dip your toe into carbon footprinting. The Farm Status Indicator is not a carbon calculator but is an introductory tool providing a score from 1-5 on farm progress towards net zero. Afterwards, the Indicator links you through to the carbon calculators that I have tested if you also want to give those a go” explains Phill.