How can we become carbon neutral?
A CASE STUDY from Bishop Burton Net Zero iFarm
A recent review of the carbon footprint at Bishop Burton, one of our Net Zero iFarms in East Riding, Yorkshire, has shown a carbon reduction of 2,441 tonnes of CO2e between 2020 and 2022.
Despite the farm being a net ‘emitter’ of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, their footprint has significantly reduced across the site within the two-year period, putting the 355ha college farm in a stronger position towards meeting their goal of achieving net zero.
So how has this carbon reduction been achieved?
When breaking it down by category, it is noticeable that the majority of emissions reductions have been achieved from livestock. In 2020, almost 80% of the livestock emissions were associated with animal protein sources, particularly soya. Given the high carbon footprint of soya, James Richardson, the Farm Manager at Bishop Burton, has been interested in looking at alternative feed sources for livestock on the farm. With previous experience of using herbal leys in the rotation, he is now beginning to introduce them to the college farm, with the aim of improving soil fertility, reducing fertiliser use and increasing resilience during periods of low rainfall. Combined with a general reduction in stock numbers this year, looking for alternative protein sources will significantly reduce the emissions from animal feed in future.
The choice to move fully to a strip till system in 2021 has also played a large part in reducing the diesel usage on farm, leading to a significant reduction of 13t CO2e. The new drill is also capable of variably applying seedbed fertiliser using maps created with the Contour system. The use of variable rate seed and nutrition ensures the farm is using inputs as efficiently as possible. Improving Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE) has also been a key area of focus for the farm, in investigating how they can reduce carbon emissions. James and his Agronomist, Rob Daniel, have been using nitrogen inhibitors across the farm, not only to reduce their emissions, but also to slow the release of nitrogen to the crop, preventing any environmental losses. In 2022, replacing straight AN for Enhanced Urea, has reduced the carbon footprint of their nitrogen inputs by 1 kg CO2e/kg of nitrogen. This equates to a 23.75 t CO2e reduction across the farm without any yield penalty. Using a more targeted approach has meant that, per tonne of wheat, their GHG emissions are significantly below the UK average of 340 kg CO2e/tonne for feed wheat. The important factor to note with figures like these is that they only account for the emissions from the manufacturing of fertiliser form raw material to farm gate. Although within some of our research we are quantifying the nitrous oxide emissions from the application of fertiliser, there are a number of variables which will affect these, so defining a final figure is very difficult.
A step closer to Net Zero
Achieving a significant reduction in emissions has been a huge success for the college farm, and with help from Rob, James will continue to test new approaches which could help to further reduce the farm’s emissions. A key area that the team will be focusing on over the next year is how to account for the level of sequestration on the farm. To date, a small proportion of the farm has historic soil organic matter figures, and these account for one year’s worth of data. For 2023-24, James is keen to sample the whole farm for soil organic matter – not only to quantify carbon stocks, but also to help him to prepare for the new Soil Standard under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).
“We are already practicing many of the elements of the SFI schemes on farm, therefore I see the SFI more as a reward for good practice than as an incentive to change. For me, good soil management is a long-term project, and significant change requires more than a three-year commitment. That said, a lot of the SFI standards sit well alongside our Countryside Stewardship agreement which commences in January 2023. As we move into a new period of Environmental Land Management (ELM), I’m interested to see how these schemes develop.” James Richardson, Farm Manager, Bishop Burton
FIVE TOP TIPS FOR ACHIEVING NET ZERO
Assessing the outcomes from several Net Zero projects over recent years at Agrii, we have recognised trends in some of the initiatives that help growers on their journey. So, what practices could you start implementing today?
- Using inhibitors where possible: Nitrogen fertilisers are the largest emitter in arable systems. By using an inhibitor, you are able to slow the release of nitrogen, in the form of nitrous oxide, to the environment. Other benefits of using an inhibitor include:
- Improving NUE – providing both economic and environmental benefits
- Reducing fuel usage – research has shown that inhibitors can enable you to cut out a pass of nitrogen later in the season
- Do the maths: try and calculate your farm’s figures to account for sequestration. This includes soil organic matter testing and knowing the length and width of the hedgerows on your farm (if you don’t know the length and width then the number of hectares they cover is fine).
- Add organic inputs into the system: While cover cropping, addition of organic manures, or incorporating crop residues can increase your emissions in the short term, improving soil organic carbon levels and general soil health will help improve your carbon balance further down the line.
- Reduce soil disturbance: This may not be possible in every system, but there is no getting away from the fact that cultivating soils oxidises carbon. Simply reducing the frequency of deep cultivations or ploughing over a rotation can reduce the loss of carbon and the diesel usage associated with crop production.
- Electricity usage: Where possible, choose a renewable energy tariff, or better still, use on-site renewable sources such as solar panels and biomass boilers for practices such as grain drying.
For more information on anything in this case study, please get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.