Increasing biodiversity and reducing carbon footprint on a dairy farm

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NFU dairy board appointee Jessica Langton is a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Derbyshire. Here, she talks about the environmental stewardship work taking place on the farm and her plans to invest in systems and processes to improve efficiencies and reduce its carbon footprint.

About the dairy farm

The farm extends to 140 acres with a predominantly Holstein and Friesian dairy herd along with a small number of Norwegian Red. This year, some Jersey cows have been introduced to increase constituents in the milk to deliver on the farm's First Milk Constituent contract.

The farm is on heavy clay soil and all permanent pasture, with improvements to grassland achieved through managed grazing, allowing species of rye grass and clover to flourish. Managing grassland in this way has encouraged much deeper rooting and healthier soils with a vast array of biodiversity beneath the surface.

Environmental stewardship

The farm is part of the Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship schemes.

Jessica explains:

"For this, we have certain fields that are exempt from fertiliser use and herbicides. These fields aren’t mown to allow natural grasses to flourish and in turn increase biodiversity on farm. We also have fields that have restricted grazing (only one cow per acre until 1 June) to allow nesting birds to flourish, with a particular interest in the lapwing."

The farm joins up with Langley Mill Wildlife – part of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust – which as part of its conservation measures is grazed by stock throughout the year to maintain woodland habitats.

In 2020, the farm began working towards LEAF accreditation. It conducted a LEAF sustainable farming review – an online management tool covering nine key areas:

  • Organisation and planning
  • Soil management and fertility
  • Crop health and protection
  • Pollution control and by-product management
  • Animal husbandry
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water management
  • Landscape and nature conservation
  • Community engagement

Investment in efficiencies and reducing carbon footprint

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Jessica says:

"We began working towards LEAF accreditation to raise our environmental awareness and make investments that are both affordable and sustainable. This tool enabled us to benchmark our business against others and identify areas where we can make the largest environmental impact."

In the future Jessica is looking at a variety of investments and management techniques to improve efficiency and the carbon footprint of the farm including:

  • Introducing herbal lays. Deep tap rooting systems improve nutrient cycling and introduce anthelmintic properties, which helps to reduce the worm burden in livestock and also fix nitrogen, which can reduce artificial fertiliser use.
  • Trialling a seaweed supplement to reduce enteric fermentation in the cattle and therefore methane emissions. This is part of a project Jessica is working on at Enactus Nottingham at the University of Nottingham called Project Ecologeco.

The farm is also in the process of:

  • Replacing the bulk tank and compressor with a newer, more efficient system that consumes less energy, reducing environmental impact.
  • Increasing soil testing to an annual basis instead of every four years to try and reduce application levels and better meet soil needs.
  • Creating a re-seeding policy to promote nitrogen fixation and increase grass growth levels and silage quality to boost grass to milk conversion ratios.