Within agriculture, there is a growing demand to help farmers and growers understand their net zero position through the use of carbon accounting programs such as Agrecalc or the Cool Farm Tool.
Pressure for this is coming from government, industry bodies, and supermarkets such as Morrison’s who have recently announced a net zero pledge to source only products from farms which are themselves achieving a net zero position.
Businesses may have to invest heavily in upcoming years in order to help reach net zero. In agriculture we may start to see investments in the use of robotics more such as robotic feeders or milking equipment for dairy, or perhaps weeders and GPS systems for arable and vegetable enterprises.
These are high-cost systems though. For example, a milking robot can cost anywhere from £70,000 to £130,000 each. So how does a rural business justifiably demonstrate that their management practices and their potential investments are going to have a positive impact on UK agriculture’s carbon balance sheet?
Starting to investigate that link now will help to create a baseline from which businesses can move towards a sustainable pathway to net zero. The key at the heart of this challenge is better utilisation of data.
Why are we using historical data when an audit could be done in real-time, linking in the farm’s productivity and business outputs in one place? Looking at costs is sometimes a better way to realise efficiencies and by drilling down in more detail into current performance and practices this can reveal a better understanding of what the “carbon investment” is.
And if we can do this in agriculture, could we not do this in other industries to be assured that the journey to net zero is one of sustainability for both environment and business with any investments needed suitably justified from the data shown? The possibility is real just not currently in reach.
So why can’t we presently do this then? The answer has many factors.
Firstly, there are so many different carbon footprint calculators out there which give many different results based on the calculations and the science they use. There is some crossover in these calculations which may help to remove some discrepancy, but to do this on a level playing field the science and calculations have to be accredited to the same level.
Secondly, we still need a robust baseline for British agriculture and at a farm level. We cannot measure and manage something if we don’t have a baseline. This is the biggest potential stumbling block for any future schemes going forward.
By using carbon as the driving force for a farming enterprise, UK agriculture could be the world class leader in sustainable agriculture, helping farms and rural businesses to reach net zero and produce high quality products.
This is a time of seismic change in the agricultural industry in how the subsidy and grant regime will be restructured, and alongside this we see a wider industry and societal push to reach net zero. By starting to develop the relevant skills now, it will set the industry in good stead for the latter half of this decade, when there is stronger commitments to demonstrate and verify the carbon baseline and the net zero pledge.
Simon Haley, Carbon Metrics