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     Net-Zero Journey 

    Our target for achieving net-zero on our farm is by 2030. But what do we mean by becoming net-zero?

    We want the emissions that we produce from farming activities and inputs to be equal to the emissions we remove from the atmosphere.

    The guide produced by Innovation for Agriculture on behalf of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) called Farm of the Future: Journey to Net Zero has provided a snapshot of the systems that could help farm businesses start their journey to net zero. The systems have been split into three categories:

    • ‘Act Now’
    • ‘Start Planning’
    • ‘Think ahead’

    How could we ‘Act Now’ to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?

    1. Carbon auditing
    2. Regenerative agriculture: management plan
    3. Mob grazing and diverse leys
    4. Cover crops, catch crops and green manures
    5. Autonomous dairy systems

    How could we ‘Start Planning’ to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?

    1. Companion cropping, intercropping and integrated pest management
    2. More efficient land-use: arable
    3. More efficient land-use: livestock
    4. Animal health and welfare
    5. Feed additives
    6. Genetics
    7. Organic fertiliser treatment and applications

    How could we ‘Think Ahead’ to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?

    1. Smart farming
    2. Future farm energy production
    3. Delving deeper into farm-scale anaerobic digestion
    4. Energy storage technology and uninterrupted power supply
    5. Assessing and adopting net zero fuel options
    6. Autonomous vehicles
    7. Automating the fruit and vegetable sector
    8. Novel protein sources

    For more information about these systems mentioned in the categories, please click here to access the guide.

    What has Future Farm done to reach our net-zero target?

    The university farm transitioned to Future Farm in 2022, along with it a change in management structure and gradually new farming practices.

    Firstly, the farm have intensified their beef production using British Blue cross dairy steers and heifers from the farms dairy herd, all beef animals are now born in-house. In addition to this, the latest nutrition research was used to reduce feed costs and improve the sustainability of the unit. The animals are fed a forage-based diet formed from excellent quality grass silage and accounts for the metabolisable protein requirement, this diet has reduced costs in the unit, improved the average daily gain of the animals, and resulted in the heifers and steers finishing at 13.3 and 15 months of age, respectively.

    Secondly, the pig unit has recently introduced a 2nd finisher ration at the 80kg to 112kg weight range, this ration contains a lower true protein content which will lower the carbon emissions per liveweight gain from the unit. Work is about to commence in the form of a feed formulation trial, consisting of three diets (standard LUC soya, low carbon soya source and low carbon and beans), with the objective of reducing carbon emissions.  

    Thirdly, the ruminant team have been considering how to improve the grazing efficiency of the milking herd without causing any detrimental losses in milk production. With this in mind, the dairy unit have invested in some new genetic material, in the form of incorporating Montbelliard and Viking Red semen breeds into the Holstein Friesian herd. The introduction of these breeds will create a small block calving herd within the bigger herd, that will be able to graze grass efficiently and improve the farms milk to forage ratio. The small herd would also allow for research to commence into feed efficiency with the ultimate goal of researching if cross bred cows emit less methane. We are expecting the first generation of the cross bred dairy cattle in August/September of 2024!

    And lastly, we have been focussing on quantifying our farm in the form of carbon auditing using the carbon calculator software Agrecalc, we currently have two complete audits for years 2022 and 2023. In both audits, the focus has been on understanding our emissions output from time period 1st January till 30th/31st December (depending on the year).

    There has been considerable emphasis on all farm staff to improve the health, welfare, and productivity of animals in the ruminant and monogastric sectors between the two years audited, which has benefitted our greenhouse gas emissions in terms of product CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions and whole farm CO2e emissions per kilogram of farm output.

    Where do we go from here?

    There are many technologies we could introduce at Future Farm to help achieve the goal of net-zero by 2030. However, we will look at options we can adopt which will strategically work for our mixed farming enterprise. These options include:

    • Start practicing more regenerative farming techniques/create a management plan to transition towards regenerative farming
    • For the beef unit, expand the unit to a high performance outdoor dairy beef production system (then compare the indoor and outdoor units to evaluate emissions output and cost implications.)
    • For the sheep unit, work with Breed for CH4nge led by Innovis, to contribute towards the study of breeding low methane sheep and develop a genetic improvement tool focussed on sustainability with the emphasis on profitability, productive efficiency, and environmental impact of GHG emissions.
    • Gradually increase the number of ewes lambing outside to enhance soil carbon sequestration
    • Introduce feed additives into ruminant diets which are known to reduce the methane emitted from the animals
    • Reduce reliance on purchased feed, grow more feed for the animals on our farm
    • Reduce reliance on imported soya/soya-based diets for protein source, look into using low-carbon soya or soya alternatives (beans or peas) for animal feed
    • Re-establish/plant more hedgerows around the farm, helping to store and sequester carbon.
    • Conduct soil quality testing on all fields, to understand the available nutrients in the soil for more targeted fertiliser applications
    • The use of slurry additives to reduce the quantity of ammonia emissions released during storage and application of slurry
    • Install more electric and water meters, to obtain more accurate energy usage.
    • Look into more renewable energy avenues for the farm
    • Start the conversation and create a business plan for using electric vehicles and equipment on the farm

    Climate change is going to have a detrimental impact on all farms in the UK, the extreme weather is going to continue with severe droughts and torrential flooding becoming more common. The steps we can take as a farm to mitigate climate change will benefit the local community and the wider agricultural industry.

    It is important to note that every farm is different and some of the options available to mitigate climate change may not work on every farm. However, this should not deter farmers for starting their own journey to net-zero.

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