British agriculture’s journey towards Net Zero is a subject of much debate, but what practical measures can farmers take right now to make that first step?
Getting started is the hardest part. Carbon accounting, via audits, is expected to form a major part of future agriculture policy, possibly becoming mandatory for farm businesses.
Fine, farmers can crack on and get an audit completed, but as NFU Livestock Board Appointee Andrew Loftus pointed out at the NFU/AHDB Sustainable Livestock Production: Fit for the Future Conference in Cumbria, that may be easier said than done.
Mr Loftus said: “Many farmers ask me why the agricultural industry cannot have one standard carbon calculator that sets a bar and is endorsed by everyone. However, the reality is there are 68 calculators out there to choose from. In terms of ruminants there are probably 10 that are suitable, and they all have their unique good points in what is a free market.”
So, in short, you’ll have to pick the one that suits your farm best, perhaps on recommendation from a peer you trust.
The conference, which took place on Thursday 2 February at J36 Rural Auction Centre near Kendal, was opened by NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw.
“If we are serious about solving climate change, it’s the warming element of it we have to look upon and address. In this part of the world our ruminants are changing inedible proteins into something we can eat. In northern England we have an incredible climate for producing grass. This does not mean we should be producing less beef and lamb here; the opposite should be true. It means we should be looking to produce more and should displace other products around the world.
“We need to have the lowest carbon footprint in the world and be able to prove it. All lamb producers in New Zealand already have to conduct a carbon audit. We should not allow our competitors to steal a march and get in front of us. Assurance can be a dirty word but it can also provide us with a much better way of selling our story. We must embrace the challenge ahead.”
Other speakers at the conference included:
Carrie McDermid, Head of Marketing AHDB
Paul Coates, Morrisons supplier
Jim McKinstry, Vet
Questions from the 100 strong audience were encouraged, with south Cumbrian premium Hereford beef producer Maggie Kelly getting the ball rolling with a question for the NFU’s Deputy President.
She asked: “Should our goal be to have a pasture fed standard that we can use to market our products abroad?”
Mr Bradshaw replied: “I question whether it would be able to cut through all of the other logos and standards that are out there already. Would it not be better to use the Union Jack rather than dissecting our brand.
“We could spend a lot of time concentrating on the label rather than actually working hard to access new markets. We’d end up using all our energy defining what we mean by the standard. The more stringent that becomes you’ll probably take away any premium gained.”
During the science and solutions part of the conference, Head of Business Development for the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) Phil Bicknell spoke about the measures that could help deliver our Net Zero ambitions. For animals this included genetic improvement programmes, eradication of major livestock diseases and methane vaccines. In nutrition he spoke about new feed additives and novel feed and fodder crops. On the subject of waste co-composting and manure enrichment was discussed and for the land itself Phil spoke about biochar and soil carbon sequestration.
Agriculture Specialist at Morrisons, Alice Liddle, led the ‘Demonstrating sustainability within the supply chain’ section of the conference.
Alice spoke about Morrisons’ Sustainable Beef and Lamb scheme for farmers.
She said: “We are working with Red Tractor to assess the scheme through their new environment module. In return, beef and lamb producers will get free advice on carbon emissions, animal nutrition and biodiversity - including tree planting and landscape assessments.
“They’ll get discounts on products and services which help improve on-farm sustainability (including soil testing).
“Finally a 10p per kilogram premium will be paid for dairy beef finished under 18 months old to a sustainable diet. Schemes for suckler and store finisher production is to be announced later this year”
Closing the conference AHDB Beef and Lamb Sector Council Chair Colin Bateman said: “We’ve all been talking about sustainability at NFU and AHDB’s joint conference . We’ve been talking about measuring carbon, organic matter in your soils and what I want to encourage you as farmers to get involved in is actually collecting some data.
“We need to back up the stories we’ve heard about British production being half the world average in terms of emissions. High animal welfare and all the values that we hold very dear that enable us to sell our product at a premium price, data means we can actually start backing that up with evidence on farm.
“So please get involved, start thinking about sustainability on your farms and help us to tell your story so that we can connect with consumers better.”