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Stackyard News Jul 08

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    New Study of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Farms

CLA Wales Director Julian Salmon is urging Welsh farmers to take note of the first study of its kind to provide detailed measurement of farming’s greenhouse gas emissions and then go online and use the CALM (Carbon Accounting for Land Managers) calculator to measure their own farm’s output.


dairy cattle

They can then compare their results against the range found in a Natural England study.

It revealed big differences from one agricultural sector of England to another and a similar situation is likely to apply in Wales.

The comprehensive study of 200 farms comes at a time when the agricultural industry is increasingly aware it must take steps to reduce its carbon footprint, particularly emissions of nitrous oxide and methane.

Agriculture is responsible for the majority of the UK’s nitrous oxide emissions caused by microbial activity in soils as a result of the application of nitrogen fertilizers – both organic and inorganic – essential for healthy crop growth. Methane emissions come mainly from livestock and manures. Both gases have a proportionally higher global warming potency than carbon dioxide.

The study shows that a typical 100 hectare cereal farm will emit the annual equivalent emissions of 78 cars or 50 average households.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: "Contributing to reducing the causes of climate change should be a major overarching objective for all who work on the land.

"This project is a key step on the road to involving farmers in making an important long-term contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As well as growing our food and stewarding our environment, they can play a key part in tackling climate change.

"The beauty of this calculation is it enables farmers to see for themselves which of their activities on farmland contribute most to global warming. The results have kicked off an important process and widened the debate around the various methods of measuring emissions from agriculture."

Julian Salmon said that although it was based on English farms, the study was extremely useful and will help CALM calculator users to understand more about their own businesses.

"The project by Natural England is a good first step but there needs to be much more work done to develop the baseline further so that more sophisticated advice can be given to land managers who are doing carbon accounts", he added.

The survey results revealed that:

· Dairy farms have the highest emissions (excluding specialist horticulture businesses) with an average of around 10 tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) per hectare.

· Cereal farms in general had the lowest emissions with an average of around two to four tonnes of CO2e equivalent per hectare.

· Draining or cultivating organic (peat) soils greatly increased CO2 emissions, due to the large amounts of carbon stored in peat being released to the atmosphere.

· The impact of existing woodland and, particularly woodland planting, on overall emissions was also noticeable. In one or two instances, woodland planting on a farm went a long way towards offsetting their total greenhouse gas emissions.

· A combination of increasing the uptake of renewable energy on farms together with woodland planting and management could potentially have a big impact on reducing a farm’s net GHG emissions.

· In the longer term, there is also the potential to deliver practices that enhance carbon storage in soils on the majority of farms.

Reductions in farm emissions are achievable while maintaining and even increasing production, mainly from more efficient use of energy and improving the precision of inputs, such as fertilizer. More significant cuts are possible with scientific and technological advances, but will require research and development.

Natural England’s Carbon Baseline Survey Project evaluates a greenhouse gas benchmark of farms and farm types using the CALM (Carbon Accounting for Land Managers) calculator designed, developed and funded by the CLA (Country Land & Business Association), Savills, EEDA and Increment Ltd.

The survey and report was conducted and produced on behalf of Natural England by Laurence Gould Partnership Ltd in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and their Carbon Reduction Programme (CRed) .

The calculator is free via the CLA website,, and the findings are regarded as a first step towards a benchmarking approach to improving awareness and management of the greenhouse gas impact of UK farms.


1. The study is the first of its kind to provide detailed measurement on a consistent basis of greenhouse gas emissions from farms.

2. Farmers were provided with action plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent for the medium-term (five years) and suggestions for a 60 percent reduction in their GHG emissions by 2050.

3. The audit only considered two broad soil types, mineral soil and organic (peat) soils. Clearly, soils are much more varied than this across farms and often within farms.

4. Results were in line with overall published UK agriculture emissions data. The dominant contribution to farm greenhouse gas emissions from the 200 farms surveyed came from nitrous oxide for all farm types, except horticulture, where carbon dioxide emissions are dominant because of heating and other energy requirements.

5. Average methane emissions were, as expected, highest on dairy farms (41 percent of total per hectare emissions compared to 47 percent nitrous oxide). The results highlighted the impact of nitrous oxide and methane emissions for many farmers who may not have been aware of the potent greenhouse gas impact of relative to carbon dioxide in agriculture.

6. Of all the farms studied (with the exception of horticulture, nature reserves and excluding carbon storage in or emissions from soil), nitrous oxide contributed 54 percent of emissions per hectare (CO2e), methane contributed 26 per cent and carbon dioxide 20 percent.

7. These proportions are as close as could be expected to the UK averages for agriculture (51 percent, 35 percent and 14 percent - where this CO2e figure excludes land use, land use change and forestry).

8. The results showed the marked impact of farming land on drained or cultivated organic (peat) soils. In line with the national inventory, farms where organic soils were cultivated or drained showed a marked increase in CO2 emissions above farms on non organic soils within all farm type categories.

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