Reducing your farm’s carbon footprint
All Bord Bia certified beef and dairy farmers have access to a carbon footprint calculation for their farm. Bord Bia has been carbon foot printing Irish beef and dairy farms since 2011, with over 290,000 carbon assessments conducted.
The carbon footprint is reported to farmers in their Farmer Feedback Report, along with advice and recommendations on how to improve production efficiencies.
How is the carbon footprint calculated?
The carbon footprint is the ratio of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to total outputs of the farm enterprise. Output for dairy is kilograms of fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM) and kilograms of live weight for beef. Bord Bia uses a beef and dairy carbon footprint model to calculate a farm’s carbon footprint. Both of these models have been developed with Teagasc and are accredited by the Carbon Trust to its PAS 2050 Standard.
How is the data for the carbon footprint calculation collected?
As part of the Bord Bia audit process, farmers must complete a sustainability survey, in which they report on farm management activity. The sustainability survey is the only data source required for the carbon footprint calculation that is collected directly from the farmer.
Bord Bia has data sharing and transfer arrangements in place with industry stakeholders to reduce the burden of data collection on the farmer. For example, by using AIMs data farmers are not required to provide data on stock numbers, breed, ages of animals etc. for the production year.
There are four sources of data required for the carbon footprint calculation:
- Animal identification and movements database (AIMs) from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).
- Daily live weight gain from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) (beef only).
- Milk production data from dairy processors (dairy only).
- Bord Bia Sustainability Survey.
Further information on the data collected from farmers is available in this article on The Sustainability Survey.
Where do you find your farm’s carbon footprint?
The information provided in the sustainability survey is reported back to the farmer via the Farmer Feedback Report. Your most recent carbon footprint is displayed on the first page of the Farmer Feedback Report, alongside the percentage change from the previous audit (where available), and the typical carbon footprint of farms within your category. It appears again in section two, page three.
How do you know what is contributing to your carbon footprint?
On page three, a graph displays the percentage share of carbon emissions on your farm under the following headings and farm activities: animal digestion; manure; fertiliser use; forage/feed production; other (e.g. transport, fuel, etc.).
The farm’s previous result is shown and the average for similar farms. This allows the farmer to see which activities are contributing to emissions on-farm, how they compare with similar farms, and if emissions from these activities has decreased or increased since the previous audit.
Actions to take
Below we summarise the actions that can be taken to reduce emissions on-farm.
The largest proportion of emissions in livestock farming is from methane, which is produced in the animal’s gut as a result of digestion. An increase in animal numbers can increase methane emissions. Focusing on animal health and productivity, and improved grass yield and utilisation can help manage these emissions.
Emissions from manure occur due to the storage and spreading of slurry and the excretion of manure during grazing. The use of a Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment i.e. a trailing shoe, can be used to decrease the loss of nitrogen (N) to the atmosphere at the time of spreading. Where there is a difficulty using trailing shoe, trailing hose or umbilical systems should be considered. The application of slurry close to the surface of the soil on mild days with little sunshine results in greater availability of N that can be taken up by the grass roots. The greatest value of the N in slurry is available to the soil in spring, therefore Teagasc recommend aiming for 70% of slurry applied in spring.
Emissions from fertiliser occur when fertiliser is applied. Interactions with the environment (sunlight, water etc) lead to losses of N and Ammonia to the atmosphere and soil. The application of Treated Urea, in place of C.A.N and straight Urea, can reduce GHG emissions and Ammonia losses. A 71% reduction in nitrous oxide emissions can be achieved using protected urea. The incorporation of white clover into pasture-based systems can reduce the requirement for N fertiliser application and can increase herbage dry matter intake.
The use of soil test results can be used to identify lime, N, potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) requirements of your soil and a Nutrient Management Plan can be used to ensure that optimal soil fertility is maintained.
Emissions from feed occur in the production and use of imported feed (concentrates) on the farm. Emissions can be driven by the individual ingredients of concentrates such as soy sourced from South America. Feed emissions can be offset by improving grass quality and utilisation in the herd thus reducing the need for imported feed in the animal’s diet.
Emissions related to electricity use, tractor and machinery use, and other general on-farm energy requirements are recorded as ‘other’. The use of low energy lighting and renewable technologies can reduce emissions related to electricity consumption.