ENERGY INDEPENDENCE CARBON DICTIONARY IN THE FIELD
AN ARABLE FARMING
When compared to Diesel:
When compared to Electricity:
When compared to Diesel:
When compared to Electricity:
fertiliser, fuel and energy costs at record highs, there has never been a more important time to think about managing inputs better. Efficiency, reducing use, considering alternatives – all three are key. Add in the fact we are experiencing extremes of weather, and there is no doubt about the scale of challenge we face. But farming is nothing if not resilient – it now needs to become even more so.
And while it might have been something which was initially a bit ‘green’ or something which was simply too complicated and should be the preserve of corporates, managing your farm’s carbon footprint could hold the key to better business resilience.
In today’s farming environment, the principles behind it are the things which will help mitigate the challenges. Who would not want soils which cope better under extreme weather conditions, crops which perform well with reduced fertiliser inputs and lower fuel and energy bills? They are all core benefits of addressing and managing your farm’s carbon footprint.
Farming is under pressure to help the UK meet its net zero target. And while agriculture has some way to go, there is ambition; the NFU has set a target of net zero by 2040, a decade earlier than the UK Government target.
There is plenty happening, with new research and technology helping farmers understand their farm’s potential and offering ways of reducing inputs – many of them covered in this Carbon Toolkit. In Scotland, farmers are already being incentivised to do their farm’s carbon footprint with free soil analysis being offered as a benefit.
But there is confusion and worry too. What should you choose to do? Is this just an ‘on-trend’ thing to be replaced with something else in a few years’ time? Will your carbon footprint be the starting point for any new support payments? And will the contribution of individual farming businesses really make any difference?
There are always unknowns, but given such unusual operating conditions, managing your farm’s carbon footprint is a positive way to build a more resilient business. This toolkit, packed with information and case studies from our sponsors Bayer, Hutchinsons and New Holland, aims to give you inspiration as well as explaining some of the reasons why carbon matters.
With such challenges facing agriculture, the ability to be able to measure, manage and innovate for better efficiency must be welcome. It is a time of unprecedented change, but there is guidance, enthusiasm and an openness about sharing pitfalls and progress which should make knowing and addressing your farm’s carbon footprint something to be welcomed.
Fewfarmers could argue against the need to build more resil ience into their busi nesses. The last few months have been a case in point – who would have thought we would be facing nitrogen at £1,000/tonne, fuel at record high prices and extended drought conditions?
Contending with those three factors alone is enough to make anyone look hard at their options. Some farmers have already taken action as a con sequence of seeking to reduce their farm’s carbon footprint; the approach they have taken and work they have done is applicable to everyone.
Becky Willson, technical director of the Farm Carbon Toolkit, says: “There are some really key areas you can focus on even if you are not yet interested in carbon – the work makes sense financially.
“Some people think they will be told ‘don’t do this or
Sharply escalating costs for fertiliser and fuel, coupled with extremes of weather, mean there has never been a better time to look at your farm’s carbon footprint.
that’ – but you don’t need to start with humongous deci sions. It’s about understanding what’s happening on your farm, then identifying things you can do with little or no cost, and then some longer term things.”
The first step is to under stand what’s happening, and she advocates doing a carbon calculation. There are several organisations who offer this, and a free one is available from the Farm Carbon Toolkit.
“It will help identify your hotspots to focus on; you need to measure it to manage it.
“Take a critical look at your business through a different lens – what are the things that are causing the most issues and what can you do to address them? It’s not about making a sudden change but understanding your system and how you can change it on a gradual basis. You can start by
even just doing tramline trials or making changes in one field to see how changes work on your farm.”
Building resilience into the farm business means looking at how you can better use bought-in nutrients and fuel, meaning you are at less risk from volatility. More resilient soils will perform better, re lease nutrients for crops better, and be more able to cope with intense rainfall and drought, she says.
On an arable farm, about 60% of the carbon footprint comes from nitrogen, 20% from power or field operations, 10% from seeds coming onto the farm and the remaining 10% from P, K and other nutrients.
“Yes, there are some people who have cut their N input from 250kg/hectare by about 50% but that has taken years – it is about making gradual change, so your business still performs well and is resilient.”
Easy wins include looking at fuel use, she adds.
“I have yet to find a farm
which cannot cut its electric and fuel bill. Cultivation practices, looking at how you drive round the farm and tyre pressures can all make a really big difference to costs and your carbon footprint.”
Trialling reduced input rates or different methods on your best and worst performing fields, or even just in tramlines will help build confidence about what you can do on your farm, she says.
One of the best ways to make a start is to speak to other farmers who have made changes, and to attend farmer meetings.
“It’s all very well saying ‘cut x or y’, but it’s about how you do it, and having a support network really helps, especially as this is a continual journey.”
Even growers who have been focusing on this for several years are still evolving and changing their approach, she says.
“It is often a really exciting
WHILE growers might choose to make some less productive areas of the farm into areas of wildlife habitat, much can be done with existing features.
Over the longer term, look at making the most of hedges and field boundaries as they are reservoirs for beneficial biology, says Becky Willson.
“There are fantastic fungal networks under hedges, and they can help bring amazing predators into fields. These
thing and can reinvigorate people as they are trying new things. Now, they are coming to the fundamental realisation that it all comes back to soil.
“People are looking at what impact nitrogen has on their soil’s biology, and how they can make their systems more self-sustaining. How much can they reduce nitrogen or herbicide and fungicide inputs without affecting yield? There are some beautiful crops being grown with very low inputs.
“There is an increase in people looking at intercropping and having permanent understoreys in crops, as well as having really diverse rotations. They are starting to think about crops as a mechanism to feed the soil rather than the other way around – it has flipped their mindset.”
Arable growers have also started to realise the value of integrating livestock.
“Cover crops are brilliant, but they are even better if you can bring livestock in too; they are the ‘golden hoof’, providing a use for the cover crop and giving the benefit of manure too.”
boundaries are environmental features which will enhance your crop performance even in extreme weather.”
Farming in a way which helps the farm’s carbon will in itself help improve biodiversity, she adds.
“Some farms are alive with biodiversity as they have such a diverse rotation, perhaps growing cereals followed by a cover crop. It all works together, working with nature and the benefits it provides.”
The next tranche of progress will be where farmers look at how they can have more perennial crops in their system, or permanent understoreys, as well as how they can ensure good levels of fungal activity in their soil which links into carbon and a crop’s ability to access nutrients. Maximising energy efficiency will come through crop canopies using as much sunlight as possible and highly efficient fieldwork, she adds.
“Improving your farm’s carbon footprint isn’t ‘one size fits all’. It is what is best for your farm. It is about being flexible, making the system and principles work for you. Your soil will take time to adjust, and the farmers who make this work are the ones who are reading soil and climate conditions and being the most flexible.”
She says patience is one of the most important factors too.
“There will be times when you are itching to get going but stick to your guns about what you are doing. Also, with current input prices, if you put less on to start with, the potential for margin is higher, as it’s not just about yield.”
E S I L I E N C EBecky Willson Arable growers have also started to realise the value of integrating livestock.
When New Holland first mooted the idea of a methane-powered tractor 13 years ago – fuelled by energy, in the form of biomethane, produced on-farm – it seemed like a far-off utopian dream. Would it be one of those concepts that is much talkedabout, yet never quite seems to come to reality?
The answer is a definite no, as this year marked its move from nine years of developing prototypes to launching full commercial production. More than 400 units of the T6.180 Methane Power tractor are expected to roll off the Basildon assembly line this year. Many will be exported to other parts of Europe – Germany, France and Denmark are particularly strong
markets – but there are some closer to home too.
Essex farmer Ben Sell has one and has seen the whole concept working on-farm. He and his team, along with New Holland’s technical specialists, have been a key part of driving the evolution of a tractor fuel revolution.
Mr Sell, whose family farms just
over 1,000 hectares close to New Holland’s Basildon manufacturing plant, has run two prototypes of the tractor and has now taken delivery of one of the new full production models.
All have been thoroughly tested in the business, which includes a 350-head South Devon suckler herd, arable crops of wheat and barley, producing 5,000 large straw bales each year, contracting and an electricity-generating 0.5MW anaerobic digestion (AD) plant which was installed in 2016.
His close proximity to the Basildon plant, diverse farming operation and the fact he already ran three conventionally-powered T7.210 Auto-Commands and was familiar with the brand meant he was a natural choice for testing the new technology.
He says: “We were asked if
The main change in the engine is the cylinder head, with gas injectors and spark plugs instead of the diesel injector.
we would consider helping to provide user feedback for tractor developments, but we didn’t expect our first test machine to be methane-powered.”
Aside from the front-mounted range-extending fuel tank, the T6.180 Methane Power looks exactly the same as its diesel equivalent. From the outset, New Holland has been clear that the tractor must perform just as well too.
David Redman, the manufacturer’s tractor product specialist for the UK, explains that it uses the same six-cylinder 6.75-litre engine, with identical 175hp maximum power output and 740Nm maximum torque.
The main change in the engine is the cylinder head, with gas injectors and spark plugs instead of the diesel injector. Methane is injected in each cylinder, giving constant, clean and maximised combustion, he says.
This gives the ability to have a much simpler after-treatment system, so the methane-powered T6 does not have a selective catalytic reduction system – instead it just has a simple three-way catalyst tucked under the bonnet.
Mr Sell’s first tractor, which arrived on-farm in February 2021, was put to work on haulage and PTO tasks such as chopping straw for bedding cattle.
A subsequent prototype has also been used with the farm’s Keenan diet feeder wagon, as well as topping, rolling cereals,
operating the 16,000-litre Marshall slurry tanker to put digestate from the AD plant back on the land. Other operations have included drilling maize, subsoiling with a twin-leg Keeble subsoiler at 12-14in, lots of trailer work and operating a nine-metre rake for silage.
During the time on-farm, New Holland’s technical team worked with Mr Sell to tweak the tractors’ performance so it ran at an optimum level, as well as discussing and addressing anything which would help improve it. All the farm’s team of tractor drivers had the opportunity to try them, and Mr Sell says all really enjoyed the experience.
As the tractor’s design, build and performance is exactly the same as the diesel model, most of the work has involved tweaking software. Some of the early work with Mr Sell involved testing the tractor with various implements and fine-tuning torque curves so it behaves exactly like a diesel. However, one of the software updates involved tuning the exhaust – at 5Db quieter, Mr Redman says it needed to sound better.
“During our work with Ben, we also found that there was a real sweet spot at 1,500rpm for PTO work. Keeping it at that level really gave a benefit – it was most efficient there.”
The full production model Mr Sell is using now is exactly the same as the final prototype, with the addition of lights on the front of the 850kg front-mounted range extender tank. This tank
than a gas-to-grid unit. While gas from the farm could be further processed for use, he has been using a ‘virtual pipeline’ from an HGV lorry trailer to fuel the tractor, which has worked well.
The tractor – when fitted with the range-extending tank – will do about seven hours of work on one fill.
This is an option being used on some farms, while other businesses using the prototypes have produced their own biomethane, either via their own gas-to-grid AD plant or a sophisticated capped slurry store. Mr Redman says there is also an option to establish a refuelling point from the conventional gas network via Cadent.
– compared with a straightforward plastic tank on its diesel equivalent – plus some of the other components required mean list price for the T6.180 Methane Power is about 20% more. However, the differential may reduce in time as New Holland produces more methane-powered units, adds Mr Redman.
And while the initial cost may be more, he says the saving on fuel compared with a diesel is more than 30%, making the difference negligible over a threeto five-year period.
can be removed to fit a front loader, something Mr Sell did with one of the prototypes when working on the silage clamp and loading feedstock for his AD plant.
While the tractor can be fuelled by home-produced biomethane, Mr Sell’s AD unit is a gas-to-electricity plant rather
The tractor – when fitted with the range-extending tank – will do about seven hours of work on one fill, with its 10 steel tanks taking only a few minutes to top up in what is a straightforward, clean process. All the fuel tanks have an electronic shut off and a manual shut off too, ensuring safety.
As refuelling is quick and easy, the farm is starting to change its work pattern, filling the methane tractor on a little and often basis. This means it is never at the stage of being empty and helps maximise its work time.
The cost of the steel fuel tanks
“We also expect it to be no different in long-term performance compared with diesel, achieving 800-1,000 hours per year, although some prototypes working on AD plants have done more than 1,200 hours a year.”
Service intervals are currently 600 hours, with sparkplugs being the limiting factor. However, work is ongoing here, and a successful outcome would be a 750-hour interval, he says.
For many of the unit’s overseas buyers, some of whom are facing strict green rules, the tractor’s low emissions are the biggest attraction. It produces 95% less particulate matter (PM) than X
T H A N E P O W E R T R A C T O R
diesel, 62% less NOx and 11% less carbon dioxide.
“Overall, there is an 80% fall in emissions – it is a big tick in the green box,” says Mr Redman.
The emissions profile, coupled with the ability to produce fuel on-farm, may also drive other UK businesses such as large-scale veg growers and processors to consider the tractor, particularly
THINKING about fuel choice and machinery set-up can help farms improve their carbon footprint almost instantly.
David Redman, product specialist for New Holland, says the availability of two new types of fuel means tractors and other engines can run cleaner.
The first, from Shell, is known as GTL, which stands for gas to liquid. It is only a couple of p/ litre more expensive than red diesel, he says, and is made from gas which is then converted to a liquid diesel.
“It has very good emissions properties and would cut your carbon footprint.”
The other, which has been
when retailers are looking for evidence of farms addressing their carbon footprint.
For Mr Sell, the circular nature of methane power, from using the tractor to prepare land and drill maize for his AD plant to perhaps eventually using ‘home-grown’ methane to power it, is a big
The rear service connection port for gas, plus electrical connectors.
attraction. He can appreciate the benefit of being self-sufficient and thinks there may be opportunity to have further T6.180 Methane Power units on both the arable and livestock sides of the family’s business.
For New Holland, plans are afoot to produce a wider range of methane-powered tractors to suit buyers looking for higher and
lower horsepower options. It is currently testing a crawler tractor on-farm in Italy, and working with FPT, its engine development division, on smaller engines. Iveco, another sister company, has years of successfully supplying gas-powered hard-working commercial vehicles so the technology is already well advanced and accepted in other industries.
around for longer but has recently been rebranded, is HVO100 – hydrogenated vegetable oil, which was previously known as B100.
“Both are approved for use in any Stage 5 diesel engines.
At New Holland, we were the first to start using cold pressed oilseed rape oil as fuel, and now methane, but our vehicles will run on all of these alternatives as part of our Clean Energy Leader strategy.”
Where farms choose to use GTL fuel, he advises draining all diesel tanks (on vehicles and in yards) fully and then changing the filters before moving to GTL.
“You cannot mix the two.”
Tractor set-up can also help reduce a farm’s carbon footprint, as running them more efficiently will reduce fuel use and emissions. Technology such as the manufacturer’s Dynamic Command transmission will keep revs as low as possible in work, usually about 1,500rpm, which will reduce fuel use, he adds.
Tyre pressures should be checked and maintained for the work being done, and it may be worth fitting a central tyre inflation system where tractors and implements are doing a lot of road and field work. He believes that in time,
central tyre inflation will become a standard spec, much like GPS now.
Using GPS or RTK will boost operational accuracy in the field, he says, again helping to reduce fuel use and operator stress.
“Plan for the fewest passes possible and most efficient way to tackle the work. Accuracy is important, as in a crop such as potatoes being 5cm out each time will mean you potentially have fewer rows in the field.”
Idling time should also be questioned.
“Think about when and why you are burning fuel, such as the time your tractors are sat idling on a headland.”
Bayer’s global Carbon Programme aims to help and link the supply chain from farm to fork, and to provide common, consistent standards and measurements.
Formany people inves tigating their carbon footprint – on-farm or further up or down the supply chain – there is confu sion about how it is measured, what is measured, and the fact there does not seem to be one approach or standard.
But for Bayer, its Carbon Programme aims to provide a single, dependable methodol ogy and calculation for farmers and its customers. It is a global programme, which launched in the USA and Brazil in July 2020, with the European pro ject starting in June last year. Now, 27 farmers from seven countries – France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ukraine and the UK – are tak ing part, alongside specialists from Bayer and food supply chain experts.
The aim, explains Bayer’s carbon business lead for Europe, Middle East and Africa Lionnel Alexandre, is to decar bonise the food system in a way that works for farmers, the supply chain, the environment and consumers. A key part of the programme is to ensure discussion between everyone involved, to look at what to test as part of its development, and to generate learning across the supply chain.
“In the EU, the situation is extremely diverse – there are
so many different cropping systems, so there will be huge knowledge sharing. We are also enriching our knowledge from the US and Brazilian growers who are involved.
And while all of the questions round carbon in farming are related to climate, soils, crops and so on, we have to be very careful not to generalise –there is a lot of complexity,” he says.
While Bayer is best known in agriculture for its seeds and crop protection business, development of its Climate FieldView digital farming plat form provides the basis for the essential part of the project –monitoring, reporting and ver ification (MRV). Without MRV, there can be no baseline, no targets for improvement, and,
crucially, no measurable ben efits or returns from tackling carbon on-farm. A core part of the programme is develop ing a digital tool to allow this.
“We will help with collecting the best quality data on-farm and can measure the impact of changing practices accurately. We need robust capabilities to help the food chain develop their approach. The move to do this is driven by needing to increase the quality of data and then having to disclose very transparent data. By doing this we can build something which companies can certify at a point in time,” he adds.
That certification could be crucial for publicly-quoted companies in their annual re ports, or even to access finance in future, he says.
The programme will run for three years initially, and the first task for the farmers involved has been to measure their soil carbon, and then to assess the impact of adopting new practices such as cover cropping and reducing culti vations.
“This is about change man agement for farmers – but we will never compromise on their yield and productivity as part of this project, as this is their income. Disconnecting from
productivity would be a big risk, and it is why we are focus ing on the value chain rather than carbon credits, which work on a per hectare basis.
“In the value chain, compa nies want supply, so everyone throughout the food chain needs productivity. If we can help build the science behind this, or understand the con sequences of change, we can optimise the options to secure productivity and reduce overall emissions,” he says.
A key point for farmers is who ‘owns’ the carbon in a supply chain?
“There is endless discus sion about its value. We are discussing with our partners [in the project] about how farmers get value.
“But climate change is also an effort that every layer of the value chain has to look at now. Big companies have a legal obligation to change, but for growers, it’s not only the carbon credit or opportunity to get new contracts – there are core benefits. We know
more cover crops bring better soil health, for instance. And in future, it may be that access to finance or the best interest rate might be for those farmers who can demonstrate what they are doing [in terms of carbon emissions].
“Today, carbon is still a nice to have, but it will become mandatory,” says Mr Alexandre.
Farmers in some countries involved in the European project have already been pushed to change their systems, particularly in France, Belgium and Germany, while growers in Spain and Poland have already made changes as they want to find the best solutions now in order to secure a licence to operate in future, he adds.
And while the farmers have been keen to participate, he says he has been ‘astonished’ by the positive welcome from the food chain, with whom they are discussing a feasibility study as part of the project.
LIONNEL Alexandre says: “We have a commitment to be net zero by 2050, but as a business we also wanted to look and see how we could support farming in decarbonisation.
“When we were deciding on what to focus on, we looked at where we could bring the highest value, and as part of that it is important to understand how carbon accounting works.”
All greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reported in three ‘scopes’. Scope 1 and 2 are from your own business’ activity – so for instance, if you are making yoghurt, you could reduce your carbon footprint by using greener energy or looking
“I would have expected more challenge on this, but we have had fruitful and interesting discussions already. There has been no negative reaction.”
Those in the supply chain –particularly global companies – would welcome commonality in standards, language and monitoring, all of which the project aims to deliver.
at your supply chain and asking participants to look at and reduce their footprint and that of the products they supply.
Once you have done all of that, you could choose to reduce your footprint further and become carbon neutral by offsetting or buying carbon credits; this is Scope 3.
“But this does not push you to reduce your own emissions,” he says, adding that this option is often why companies are buying land to plant new forests.
Concentrating on Scope 1 and 2 – helping companies look at decarbonising their supply
“This should be globally harmonised, and [the approach to and score of] a credit in Brazil or value chain project in Italy should be the same. It is extremely complex and takes time, but it will be very valuable and better for everyone. ”
Starting at farm level and building the project slowly to
27 farmers from seven countries are taking part in Bayer’s Carbon Programme.
chain – is Bayer’s chosen route.
“If we can help value chains to reduce their footprint, we can build a project to incentivise farmers to go for greener, less carbon-emitting practices.
“We feel we can help to make this happen with our digital capabilities, as well as our seeds and crop protection products. We are able to monitor, report and verify on-farm, which means the value chain can gain the certificates they need for carbon accounting, whether that is a simple one which just refers to monitoring, or a fully certified approach which can be used in official company reporting.”
ensure measuring, monitoring and reporting is correct and can be standardised is a key goal.
“Learning by doing is essential on this project.”
Read about some of the UK farms involved and what they are doing on p18-19.
O G R A M M E
The farm at Whitley Manor comprises 200 hectares of owned land, with a further 400ha of contracting.
Itcan often be tempting, once you have done something for a while, to think you have got to grips with it and to settle into a routine and habit. But for Shropshire grower and contrac tor Harry Heath, changing and adapting his farming practices has become the norm.
Asking ‘why’ and keeping an open mind have been the keys to changing the family farming business to one which has put soil health, the environment, resil ience and profitability at its heart.
And it is an approach that he thinks is even more crucial now as farming faces such turbulent times.
It has meant some tricky decisions – including getting out of intensive pig production this spring after 53 years and dropping potatoes and sugar beet crops. The maths made it an inevitable decision to give up indoor pigs, which would have been further impacted by rock eting energy costs. And while markets evolve and change, he says it can be very easy to fall into a trap of continuing to do
z Keep an open mind
Be willing to learn
something because you have always done it.
Root crops were dropped a few years ago, once the family started to become worried about their soils.
“Regen has become trendy over the last four to five years, but it was before this that we started to see our soil structure and health deteriorating and we decided the way we were farming was not helping.
“While we grew potatoes and sugar beet for the right reasons –they were profitable – we had to look at the long-term sustainabil ity of the business. There were a couple of light bulb moments too when we had intense rain and had a lot of run-off and erosion. Soil is so much more than just a medium to grow plants.”
Now, the farm at Whitley Manor comprises 200 hectares of owned land, with a further 400ha of contracting – something which will increase next year. There is no fixed rotation, crops are direct drilled only when conditions are right, and there is a much greater focus on thinking about what the right thing is to do in the condi tions, rather than farming by the calendar and fixed ideas or plans.
Being proactive and reactive means Mr Heath is continually learning.
“At times, we have gone too far the other way and have ended up with unintended con sequences. Drilling oilseed rape too early had a knock-on effect with our grass-weed problem, for instance.”
The key to farming in this way is always to ask ‘why’, he says. This extends to the discussions
he has with his agronomist, Ed Brown from Hutchinsons, who is the firm’s head of agroecology.
“I am probably not a very easy client, but we don’t have recommendations which just land on the desk – we have got to justify everything we do. But Ed is also very good at asking ‘why’, and we are good at challenging one another.”
That approach and desire to learn has led to Whitley Manor becoming one of Hutchinsons’ Helix Farms, specialising in agroecology. It means Mr Heath is involved in a number of on-farm trials which have soil health and the environment as their focus.
The farm has been mapped using Hutchinsons’ TerraMap high-definition soil mapping, a process which has given him a huge amount of data, including carbon, organic matter, nutrients and soil texture profiles with up to 800 reference points per hectare and 28 map layers.
“Finding time to really dig into all of this data is a challenge, but I am going to spend time with the specialists from Hutchinsons and Ed looking at this and how we can enhance value.”
Changing the farm’s soils will take time, he says, and he is aware that it can be like snakes and ladders – progress can be quick but can fall quickly too. He believes a stepped transition to direct drilling – with min-till as a halfway house – is a good option for anyone considering making the change.
“It is easy to go cold turkey and make the change too quickly, which adds risk.
“The really good thing about direct drilling is that it does separate cultivation and drilling. We had a power harrow and combination drill and bought a direct drill, but if I did it again, I would go for min-till first – we did
The farm grows several winter crops – barley, wheat, oilseed rape and beans, as well as spring beans and some bicrops such as boats (spring beans and oats).
do some cultivation before direct drilling though.”
A trial looking at direct drilling without the use of glyphosate is one of the farm’s most prominent trials, located just on the side of the farm drive.
“We are weighing up light cultivation versus glyphosate and so far we have seen no detrimental effect from just using cultivation. We do need to be able to keep glyphosate, but if we can use it wisely and less, I would hope we can continue to use it.”
Herbicide resistant ryegrass is another challenging area on-farm; it needs active management, resulting in Mr Heath changing cropping in affected fields. Two years ago, ryegrass out-competed oilseed rape, so the field was sprayed off and spring barley direct drilled into it, but it was also over-run with ryegrass.
“Then I decided to hit the reset button and plough – I will use the plough when I have to, as every hectare has to be productive. We then put it into sunflowers for birdseed which was a success – but dealing with the ryegrass and multiple crops was a painful learning process. However, we are growing four times the acreage of sunflowers this year, so sometimes opportunity will present itself.”
Besides sunflowers, the farm grows several winter crops –barley, wheat, oilseed rape and beans, as well as spring beans
and some bicrops such as boats (spring beans and oats), which help reduce overall nitrogen requirement.
“Bicropping is a lovely idea but it does require some thought about the end use and harvesting something with similar sized seeds can be a challenge.”
Crop nutrition is another focus area, and increasingly so with the ‘ballistic’ price of nitrogen. So far, N rates have been reduced by about 20%, but with a cautious view as Mr Heath says he needs to be confident the soil is cycling nutrition.
“We are doing tramline trials to determine our own farm N response rate, given we have
FOR growers who have already made changes to their system, future developments are around nuance, says Hutchinsons service leader Matt Ward.
“Omnia will help with measuring and accurately identifying where things could be improved, such as potentially managing lower yielding areas differently. It is about recognising where you are efficient and where you need to become more efficient, especially after you have the early wins.
a long history of applying organic manures, and using some biologicals to see how they perform.
“We are also using sap testing, and I see a lot of value in it as you can put your finger on the pulse of what is happening right now in a crop. However, the problems with accessing the service this season and delayed results made them almost obsolete. We used an N meter too, but we thought sap testing was the gold standard.”
All of the work and trials at Whitley Manor are aimed at keeping the farming business moving in the right direction, with flexibility adding resilience to farm performance and profitability. But it is also proving to be an interesting and absorbing way to farm for Mr Heath.
“Even a few trials a year are a hook to go in a different direction, and I think it’s important to be willing to learn. We are really just at the start of our journey and we have ambition to do better.”
For more on Whitley Manor and other Helix Farms, visit www.helixfarm.co.ukX F A R M
“There is no fixed agenda with farming like this. It is not about throwing away technique, it is about the most appropriate choice and about ensuring productivity to reduce carbon per tonne.”
He cites the Helix national site as a case in point. The area with the highest carbon footprint per hectare – due to an additional cultivation pass to reduce compaction – gave the highest yield. This meant it actually had a good carbon/ tonne figure due to the additional productivity.
Soil is a critical part of your farm’s carbon footprint, but what are the core principles involved, and what is and is not possible in terms of soil and carbon?
Thesoils on your farm are unique, with their character coming from their parent material which controls depth, texture and stoniness. Their health, however, is directly affected by management, which can both improve or harm their structure, nutrient content, organic matter and biological activity.
Ensuring soils are in good health is critical to being able to successfully reduce your farm’s carbon footprint, and there is lots to think about, as NIAB’s head of farming
systems research Dr Elizabeth Stockdale explains.
Organic matter in soil is the main store of carbon; increasing soil organic matter increases soil carbon. Storing carbon in soil is not as complicated as you might think – it is like a bank; if you pay more in, you have more in the bank. But, it is easy to mess up by spending more than you put in.
“The carbon cycling processes are a balance of continual stabilisation and decomposition driven by the biology in the soil. Every organism in the soil breaks down carbon to live, so good soil health is about good cycling of organic matter,” she says.
“Paying more in will increase your organic matter. That comes from maximising photosynthesis as plants are the only thing which take carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into organic matter.
So, minimising bare soil and ensuring there are living roots in the soil at all times is important – cover crops, continual winter cropping or even letting a weedy stubble grow will all help.”
As a starting point, it is essential to know your soil’s character and its potential to hold carbon, Dr Elizabeth Stockdale says.
Returning residues to soils also helps increase organic matter. This ‘new’ organic matter drives aggregation and structure, helping with crop establishment and rooting, as well as improving water balance and nutrient use efficiency.
Where straw is baled, she recommends growers think about how they might offset that loss of organic matter.
Straw for muck deals or fully processed waste or compost are options, if they can be obtained locally, but simply ‘shuffling’ of waste does little to help a farm’s carbon footprint.
However, it is possible to overdo this, she says, for example, when fields growing carrots might be covered in five years’ worth of straw, which is like having a big Sunday lunch once a week and nothing in between.
“For good soil health, regular additions of active, fresh organic matter help the cycling of carbon and this is what will drive soil structure-forming and stabilising processes,” she adds.
“The insider knowledge that farmers have about their own farms and soils is key to success. Many soils are not storing as much carbon as they can, and it’s about achieving the personal best for each soil taking its character into account. Not all of them will break world records, and that difference is what makes some ground good for, say, potatoes rather than wheat.”
As a starting point, it is essential to know your soil’s character and its potential to hold carbon, she says.
Light soils are made up of sand and silt particles like ‘little rocks’, she explains, and these cannot hold onto car-
bon. Clay, however, is active and its particles have a huge surface area, so there are many more places for organic matter to stick and become stabilised.
In a case where muck is limit ed, it is important to choose the right area to spread it.
“Most people would choose the sandy, low organic matter area. However, it may already be holding carbon to its po tential, and adding muck won’t help further. Spreading it on the heavier soils, even if they have slightly higher organic matter already, might be the right thing to do if those soils have still to reach their potential.”
Soils also perform better with minimal disturbance, as this reduces decomposition losses.
“Intensive tillage will result in less stabilisation of any organic matter inputs in the soil. So aim for fewer tillage operations and less tillage intensity overall – reducing depth, speed and so on. This will also help reduce fuel use.
“I’m not suggesting you should throw the plough away though. It is about being as gentle as you can with the soil, so do the minimum required to produce a good seedbed. There is nothing inherently bad about ploughing when it is used in the right place at the right time, for instance when
you need to invert weed seeds to 10-15cm.”
Increasing soil organic mat ter is a slow process, she says, and the transition to a new equilibrium might take five to 10 years.
“You will see changes in three to five years, often first through improvements in soil structure, but it is slow to measure. It is also finite; soil will come to a new balance point.”
It is also reversible, she adds.
“If you stop the increased inputs, it will start to go back wards and that can be a tricky thing if you have put some sort of carbon credit scheme in place.”
Carbon trading is based on the carbon stock rather than concentration, which means measuring the bulk density as well as the carbon content through the soil’s layers, and taking account of soil stoni ness, as stones cannot hold carbon.
Doing this for the UK farms involved in Bayer’s Carbon Initiative showed how variable the carbon stock was across farms and even within fields. Soil carbon stock varied from 37 tonnes/hectare to 132t/ ha in mineral soils within the
first 30cm depth of soil, which is where an average of 63% of total soil organic carbon measured to 90cm depth was found.
“The large variation does need to be accounted for when you are measuring soil carbon, but this is where local knowledge comes in along side yield maps so farmers can select sampling sites which quantify and account for this variation.”
The results, though surpris ing in their variability, also showed there was a positive relationship between yield and total carbon stock. Soil properties which increase car bon storage potential, such as depth, fewer stones, and good biological activity also pro mote crop growth and higher yields. This in turn increases carbon returns from high root mass and crop residues from centuries of photosynthesis, she adds.
“It shows that a focus on managing soils well to opti mise yield can also increase the soil carbon stock and im proving soil health also helps to optimise resource use in terms of water, fuel and so on. Overall, it’s about understand ing your own farm and putting the principles into practice –it’s good soil husbandry.”
WHILE getting soils to their optimum can take years, it is also very easy to mess them up with a mistimed cultivation or harvest in wet conditions. Waterlogged areas and falling pH levels also lead to less decomposition of organic matter, so the organic matter additions will not be breaking down as they should.
This is often seen clearly in
the uplands, where blanket bogs develop. In some cases, a wall might separate two very different looking pas tures; the green, productive side will have been limed in the 1970s. This means the soil is slightly less acidic, produc ing higher quality forage, and without a spongy surface as organic matter is mixed into the soil, says Dr Stockdale.
R E P R I N C I P A L S
“The insider knowledge that farmers have about their own farms and soils is key to success”
DR ELIZABETH STOCKDALE
There are a lot of buzzwords – and sometimes confusion - when it comes to carbonterminology. This straightforward guide from AHDB explains it all.
Solid, lots of carbon atoms, stored in soils and plants – and fossil fuels (very old plants); often (incorrectly) used as shorthand for carbon dioxide (CO2), so beware of confusion
Carbon dioxide (CO2)Gas, each molecule of which has one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms; global warming potential of 1. Usually emitted by respiration and combustion
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)
• CO2 is the yardstick – with a global warming value of 1
• Methane (CH4) – global warming potential 28 times the impact of CO2. Particularly relevant to livestock (enteric fermentation and manure management) and paddy rice systems
• Nitrous oxide (N2O) – global warming potential 298 times the impact CO2. Occurs in fertiliser manufacture and the breakdown of fertilisers and other organic matter in the soil
Money made available for storing or sequestering carbonCarbon ﬂux
Occurs when carbon moves between two systems, such as plant material and the atmosphere; sequestration is the net flow of carbon out of the atmosphere, while a system which emits more carbon to the atmosphere than it sequesters is a carbon sourceCarbon footprint
A way of estimating the impact a production process has on climate changeCarbon or CO2?
Plants and soil store carbon, but it is carbon dioxide (CO2) which is found in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change; one tonne of carbon is equal to 3.67t of CO2, so if you have 10t of carbon stored, that is equivalent to 36.7t of CO2 emissionsCarbon sequestration
The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storage in another system, such as vegetation; if the carbon dioxide sequestered is more than the carbon dioxide emitted, the store is increasing and is known as a carbon sinkCarbon stocks
The amount of carbon contained in soils; this varies enormously, ranging from sandy arable soils with fewer than 40 tonnes of carbon per hectare to peat soils with up to 300t/ha Carbon trading
A market used to manage greenhouse gas emissions; instead of cutting their own emissions to meet mandatory targets, companies can pay someone else to cut theirs, or to sequester carbon Climate change
The process by which the climate is changing over periods of many years; for example, rainfall patterns may change in terms of both amount and seasonality; climate is the overall sum of weather, which is the natural variability which we experience day to dayGlobal warming potential (GWP)
Describes how much impact a gas will have on atmospheric warming over a period of 100 years* compared to carbon dioxide; each greenhouse gas has a different atmospheric warming impact, and some gases remain in the atmosphere for longer than others
*This standard, also known as GWP100, is the internationally accepted measure, but alternatives exist, including GWP20, modelling impact over 20 years, and GWP Greenhouse gas emissions
The release of gases of which the molecules reduce the rate that solar heat energy in the Earth’s atmosphere is lost back into space as infrared radiation
Methane is one of the two main greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, with 28 times the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2e); it is largely a product of livestock production, mostly from enteric fermentation in ruminants, but also from slurry, manure and waterlogged landMitigation
The process of finding ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions created by human activitiesNitrous oxide (N2O)
Nitrous oxide is the other of the two main greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, mostly from cropped land – it has 298 times the global
warming potential (CO2e) of carbon dioxide, and is mostly created by fertiliser production and its breakdown in the soil, together with the decay of other organic matter
Renewable energyEnergy generated from naturally replenished resources, such as sunlight, wind, water and biomassSoil carbon
Also soil organic carbon (SOC) is carbon stored in organic matter in the soil; it comes from decomposing plant material and is vital for soil health; about 58% of soil organic matter is carbon Water vapour
The most important greenhouse gas of all, but only a contributor to global warming undervery specific circumstances
Formany people thinking about carbon on-farm, the initial reaction is to think about moving to direct drilling. But is that really the best option for your farm, your carbon footprint and your bank balance, and how can you minimise the chances of potentially making an expensive mistake?
Now a new module for Hutchinsons’ Omnia Digital Farming suite will allow anyone to look at the impact of buying new machinery, changing operations or moving to a different rotation. Results are visualised through several layers or maps, which makes seeing the impact of changes very straightforward and user-friendly, says the company.
For each crop, it is possible to build in variable costs and operations, or pull in those already defined in the farm’s virtual machinery shed, within its Field Performance module and then add the rotation. Income, variable costs, gross margin, fixed costs, net margin and tCO2e are calculated per hectare and over the year. Users can also run different cropping or machinery scenarios alongside one another.
Will Foyle, farm business consultant at the firm, says this will allow farmers to fully plan, particularly now rotations are more fluid and direct payments are reducing.
“Businesses are starting to scrutinise operations more closely, especially with rising fuel and fertiliser costs. Growers are also under pressure to manage production and emissions outputs, as well as remaining financially and environmentally sustainable.
“It is a complicated picture, but this will break it down step-bystep and allow people to make decisions on costs and carbon. It is very simple to make changes and re-run to see the impact.”
Where someone might be considering investing in direct drilling, he says it will help give a true picture of the financial impact of such a move, including any yield penalty, plus highlighting whether there are other factors which could be addressed. Dropping crops from the rotation or introducing others or placing land into environmental schemes can all be easily assessed.
“It means it is possible to cost out any range of scenarios in terms of pounds and carbon before implementing them on-farm. Until now, it has not been possible to model these questions within a precision farming system using real and accurate farm data.
“It’s an invaluable exercise to undertake before making any changes to rotations or machinery in order to make the right decisions in what is currently a confusing picture.”
Launched in August, the Business Performance module builds
on the suite of Omnia modules already available, which includes the Field Performance module that was launched last year. While the Business Performance module is focused on forecasting, the Field Performance module provides the ability for retrospective calculation of the cost of production of field operations in £/t, CO2/t or CO2/ha.
Soil carbon, organic matter, nutrients and texture are measured as part of the company’s TerraMap digital soil mapping service, helping growers understand their soil, its potential and limitations. The results identify opportunities to optimise use of nutrients, lime, seed and organic manures, as well as understanding soil reserves.
Both modules and TerraMap sit alongside Omnia’s well-established Cost of Production and Yield Performance mapping, Carbon Mapping and E-Seed capabilities.
BEING able to ‘virtually’ change management or other factors on your farm and see the impact before actually doing it will give growers more confidence.
According to Hutchinsons head of services Matt Ward, it will also help people realise that change can be far more straightforward than they might initially anticipate.
“It will be easy to look at the impact of doing things such as growing spring barley rather than winter cereals. Spring barley requires less cultivation and less fertiliser but has a similar gross margin as a result of lower costs and has reduced carbon emissions too.
“It can’t foresee everything that will happen, but it will take the guesswork out of changes in terms of productivity and carbon footprint.”
Three UK farmers involved in the Bayer Carbon Programme are looking forward to finding out more about
FOR Shropshire cereals grower Andrew Williamson, the ability to ‘inset’ carbon as part of the supply chain – as the Bayer programme will –means a welcome focus on productivity, as buyers will want to buy tonnes of crop, so carbon per tonne, rather than focusing on reducing his car bon footprint on an area basis, which might impact productiv ity and profits, he says.
The focus on productivity means he is also driven to do the right thing to look after his soils, which means a flexible approach, and potentially more cultivation if a field requires it.
He is no stranger to looking after his soil and was able to give Bayer’s project team a huge swathe of data from more than a decade of soil sampling, yield maps, conductivity results and more. This helped with the develop ment of Bayer’s digital MRV (monitor, report, verify) tool, and also formed the basis for
decisions about where to sam ple across the two fields in the project. More than 25 metrics were measured in each of the soil samples, giving very detailed results, and it showed there was little change over time in carbon stocks, he says.
“We think we are close to the carbon equilibrium in a lot of places – that is, we won’t see much more carbon being sequestered as the soil is at its limit. This would be slightly concerning if we wanted to sell the carbon in future, but we have a lot to learn and I feel we are at the bottom of the learning curve with this.”
Interestingly, one of the fields has been direct drilled since 2018, while the other has ‘had the most cultivation of any of our fields’, he says.
“It was surprising that the levels of organic matter and carbon were not particularly different.
“We chose the fields as they
had been consistently man aged for the last three years, so by the end of this project, it should give us some good information about the longer term.”
The biggest carbon emissions on his farm come from nitrogen fertiliser, so a reduced rate (160kg N/ha) was trialled on feed wheat alongside the farm standard (220kg N/ha). In order to avoid results being affected by the inherent variability across the field, tramlines were split in half and alternated, producing a chessboard pattern.
ClimateView and Field View were used to view data collected from the combine, and so far, Mr Williamson says there was a substantial posi tive difference with the higher rate of N, though figures have yet to be verified.
“We have had a pretty good year, with good sunlight, and even at today’s fertiliser prices it still just about makes sense to go for the higher rate. But whatever decision we make carries a lot more risk today,” he says.
“So far, the project has certainly given us a lot to think about, and we really want to get a better under standing of our soils, how to improve them and our carbon footprint.
“It is a great opportunity to learn about how things will work in future and to reassure myself that what we are doing is right.”
SOUTH Oxfordshire-based farms manager Simon Bed dows had already dropped 275hp from his tractor fleet as part of a move to direct drilling and cultivating as little as possible four years ago and says the project will highlight areas where he can efficiently save carbon.
“We have started to look at our nitrogen use as part of it, and our fuel use – they are both things we, and other farmers, can do something about straight away. If we can use nitrogen more efficiently, it’s a big gain relatively easily.”
The farm near Reading has a huge variety of soil types, with one 40-hectare area ad jacent to the farmyard having 16 different types. Knowing this, he has been practicing variable rate application for seed, fertiliser and agchems for some time, and has used FieldView to analyse performance post-harvest. The precision approach has increased field yield averages
their farms and carbon.
by 0.2 tonnes/ha to 0.75t/ha depending on the field and season.
This year, as part of the project, he has conducted a trial on nitrogen use in spring barley, comparing the farm’s standard 110kg N/ha with a reduced rate of 70kg N/ ha. Test plots across the field were mapped using the soils data and FieldView.
“We wanted to look at the impact of reduced N on yield and grain N. We couldn’t see much difference in yield and haven’t had the grain N results yet.”
The depth and detail in volved in the project is huge, which means Mr Beddows can look much more deeply into what he is doing as the farm moves towards net zero.
“The project should give us a much better handle on what we can do to grow crops more efficiently, reduce our carbon footprint and increase profitability.”
John Barrett, the summer drought has scuppered the intention of planting a cover crop before wheat in the field dedicated to the Bayer project. It is the second year that cover crops have proved challenging, but results of some of the other trials, par ticularly with fertiliser, have been interesting.
He says: “We went into this project as we wanted to look at nitrogen, nutrients and soil, and we know that in terms of carbon, nitrogen trumps everything else, so we have to try to use less of it.”
The farm has been soil sampling regularly as it has used biosolids for many years, and also applies only straight N as a result as P, K and S levels are maintained via the sewage sludge. A heritage wheat crop, com bining three old varieties, was planted in the trial field and N application rates of
47kg N/ha and 95kg N/ha compared.
“The rates were low because it was a heritage wheat and we anticipated low yields. There was no significant impact from increasing the rate and it didn’t go flat either – it was a good year for those crops.”
However, heritage wheats are not a mainstream crop for the unit; it was grown on contract as a one-off field trial to see how the margin would
compare to conventional wheat. While the result was positive, the requirement for separate storage makes it logistically difficult.
He admits to being worried about N going forward due to its price and says its use will have to be optimised for each year depending on the circumstances as a result.
“We have been using a Yara N sensor in the field and I like the idea of doing more of that so we can apply only what is required.”H E F I E L D
AS part of its Carbon Pro gramme, Bayer is working with ADAS to look at nitro gen use efficiency. Nitrogen fertiliser is the biggest con tributor to greenhouse gas emissions in arable farming, with nitrous oxide (N2O) having a global warming potential which is 298 times the impact of CO2. Being able to reduce its use and use it efficiently is key to cutting farming’s carbon footprint, says the company.
ADAS senior crop re search scientist Christina Baxter, with her colleague
Daniel Kindred, has worked with Bayer’s farmers to op timise their N use in project fields. This has included soil mineral N testing, estimat ing the crop’s N demand, potential yield and grain quality. The work also takes into account fertiliser recov ery, which averages about 60% on crops – varying from 55% on chalk to 70% on sand or silt.
“For the first 50-100kg N/ha applied, there is a big yield response, but the response curve flattens after that. So growers are
applying 30-50kg N/ha less than their farm norm to see the effects of this.”
Growers are using Fieldview to help with these tramline trials as Dr Baxter says it provides a quick and easy way to conduct their own trials, but adds that field variation does need to be taken into account. Grain samples from the crops will be analysed post-harvest as this gives a good indication of the impact of a change in N strategy, she says.
Kevin and Katie Hoare gained the county council tenancy at Trenance Farm, Tideford, four years ago.
Slurry is pumped into the store and the resulting digestate is pumped out into a covered lagoon in the yard.
A methane-powered revolution is underway in Cornwall, which will give vehicles and even farms total energy independence.
Whileenvironmentalists may make a lot of noise
about the methane-emitting properties of cattle, it is set to provide freedom and independence from fossil fuels and the electricity grid for everything from tractors and vans to farms themselves.
Cornish dairy farmers Katie and Kevin Hoare are the first to see the benefits. The methane generated by slurry from their 108-head milking herd is captured, cleaned and bottled for storage. It is then being used to power the New Holland T6.180 methane tractor they have on-farm, as well as vans used by the local authority roads department.
Next, they are set to trial a methane-powered generator which will allow them to be totally off-grid and power the entire holding using methane generated on their Saltash farm.
The technology behind the project comes from Bennamann, whose founder and technical director Chris Mann is an applied physicist by background. His previous work has involved working on
jet propulsion, satellites and other technical projects. Now, technology he used during a 1992 satellite-based project looking at mapping the ozone layer is key to cooling the cleaned methane, allowing it to be stored as a liquid.
He says: “This reduces its volume by a factor of 600, so it can be moved on the road, delivered to wherever it is needed and means there is no reliance on the grid.”
Methane in ‘raw’ biogas has little value as it is dirty, he adds. But Bennamann has developed a mobile processing plant to clean and cool it, and it can now be stored as fuel for months in low pressure square tanks, which makes transport efficient too.
Mr Mann initially looked at putting biocyclers on every farm to use the technology, but it would have taken farmers 20-30 years to pay back the cost.
“We realised there were many small farms like Kevin and Katie’s which needed new slurry storage, and that as part of upgrading their farm, we could use space on top of the
lagoon to capture ‘fugitive methane’ which would then be cleaned for use using our mobile equipment.”
Mr and Mrs Hoare gained the county council tenancy at Trenance Farm, Tideford, four years ago, but the farm’s slurry facilities required urgent attention.
Mr Hoare says: “The existing pit was done and while the council had been planning to replace it, they didn’t have the finance to be able to do it.”
However, the council was able to obtain £10 million of grant funding towards its green energy commitments, and as part of that, six farms –including the Hoare’s – were selected to be part of the project collecting methane from capped slurry pits. The cleaned methane is destined for the council’s roads maintenance department as more and more gas-powered vans and vehicles join its fleet.
As the first capped slurry store to be installed, there was plenty to learn. The Bennamann team worked closely with Mr Hoare, who had been involved in the construction sector before gaining the tenancy so did most of the work, alongside a friend who runs a plant hire business.
Construction started in 2019, with an earth-bound lagoon being dug out, and a rubber liner placed in it with a metal frame round the outside and a cover. At this point the farm began using it as a store, before a second cover was placed over it and sealed. This second cover means there is a
gas storage layer between the two covers which is where the methane is collected.
Mr Hoare says: “Within 24 hours we could see the cover beginning to rise and now it is fully inflated the dome never changes in shape or size, even when we take methane out.”
Slurry is pumped into the store and the resulting digestate is pumped out into a covered lagoon in the yard. Four pumps – one at each side of the store – allows the slurry to be mixed rather than crusting and settling. Analysis has shown that the digestate is better than the farm’s previous slurry, he adds, and this is spread using a trailing shoe on the slurry tanker with a flow meter used to monitor application rate.
When the gas is extracted, the mobile processing machine – which will eventually be shared by the project’s six sites – draws the gas out and filters it to remove carbon dioxide. It is then compressed and pumped into large gas bottles in a rack of 10, ready for use. These gas bottles are
the filling point for the tractor, a process which is quick and easy, adds Mr Hoare.
“It’s just like an electric car hook up. There’s no noise, you just see the pressure gauge increasing and it takes only a few minutes.”
The tractor has been put to work on the farm’s hills and rough grazing areas doing topping initially, and as the summer drought has meant the cows are inside on rations, it is now powering the farm’s 10cu.metre vertical spiral diet feeder every day.
“To the untrained eye you wouldn’t know it was gas – it drives the same and sounds the same, but then if it didn’t perform like a diesel tractor, why would anyone buy it?”
While it does need topping up more regularly than its diesel equivalent, that is less of a problem on a dairy unit, he says. Refuelling in further off fields could be done using a mobile methane gas bottlebank, something which Bennamann offers.
Shortly, the farm will also be trialling another prototype – this time a hybrid gas generator
with battery storage of 4050kW, enough to run the whole farm, says Mr Hoare.
“We are going to trial being off mains electricity for 24 hours and see how we get on.”
Mr Mann believes many farmers could benefit from independence from the grid, particularly as energy and fuel prices spiral. He is aiming to establish clusters of farmers across the UK who will cover their earth-bunded lagoons and share a mobile methane processing unit, all of which can be financed.
He expects investment payback to be three to five years, with farmers benefiting from a share of gas sales, while also having less slurry to move and reduced fertiliser requirement due to capturing all slurry ammonia. This is in addition to the ability to run a methane-powered tractor, generator and other vehicles.
New Holland recently invested in Bennamann, which means the project will benefit from its knowledge of methane-powered vehicles. All 250 of the UK’s local authorities will be moving to clean fuels to meet their carbon commitments, and Mr Mann says the manufacturer has the ability to supply gas-powered trucks, vans, tractors and generators, providing a ready market for farm-produced methane.
E N E R G Y I N D E P E N D E N C E
This summer Kent farmer Doug Taylor reaped the rewards of a long-term project to increase soil organic matter and now plans to take his soil and carbon even more seriously.
Fewfarmers would expect yields of up to 12 tonnes per hectare from their wheat on the back of only 167mm of rain since January. But en suring soils have an optimum level of soil organic matter has meant Doug Taylor’s crops performed well even in a year of drought on his sandy down land soils.
It has been the cumulation of almost 20 years of work on the 400ha he farms at Hope Farm, near Folkestone in Kent. Before then, the family ran a dairy too, with dung going onto the lighter arable soils. But when they stopped dairy ing and also stopped burning straw, Mr Taylor says the land soon became less resilient as a result. Windblow on the sandy soils caused crop damage, shearing off new plants.
“We could see how dung
Farmers who are seeking more land should instead think about farming vertically – down into their soil to get it functioning better, says Ian Robertson, head of soils for Hutchinsons.
“A lot of what I do is old-fashioned, but a lot of people have forgotten how much soil can do and have always reverted to a bag or can.”
had transformed the soil in the past, so looked for another source of organic matter and found composting.”
Back in 2003, the business started composting 3,000t of green waste for the local council, pioneering kerbside collections. Today, it process es 35,000t, using most of the resulting compost on-farm and selling up to 5,000t. Compost is spread after harvest and
kept as near to the surface as possible, with the soil just ‘tickled’ to ensure the fine compost material disappears.
The focus on increasing soil organic matter over a long period has had some surpris ing results, as attendees at a recent meeting discovered.
Using an excavator to dig soil pits meant it was easy to see
the soil structure to a depth of 1.5 metres, and to notice that wheat roots had grown down worm holes to this depth. The worms had also pulled com post that far down into the soil as their holes were lined with black compost.
Hutchinsons soil special ist Ian Robertson, who has advised Mr Taylor for many years, has recently done some tests on bacterial and fungal load in the soil. While the farm has a lot of organic matter, there is a suspicion it is not gaining the full benefit and the soil is not cycling at its optimum yet.
Mr Taylor says: “The soil is low in protozoa, which along with nematodes, turn bacte ria into plant food, so we are looking at using a compost tea, made with older, more bi ologically diverse compost or with willow clippings added, in order to increase this.”
But he says changing the way you farm should be done cautiously. Many people have gone too quickly from massive inputs to a regenerative ap proach and he warns that soils need to be weaned off the old system over a period of years.
“People often tell me farm ing like this takes time and costs more, but there doesn’t have to be a yield penalty. If you have done things right,
there should be a reduction in input costs, leaving a better margin.
“It does require more man agement though, and I like cli ents to do something on their farm every year which makes them feel uncomfortable.”
Trialling different ways of doing things on your own farm, even in a small area, can bring about surprising results, he says.
Measuring the outcome of everything he does has become easier now that the farm is being mapped using TerraMap which will show a whole host of attributes, but particularly organic matter and carbon in its various forms. It also means he has specific data points and can use the information alongside satellite imagery for variable rate nitro gen application.
According to Matt Ward, services leader at Hutchin sons, the farm’s use of Omnia
rape and spring beans, with winter oats and spring linseed grown this year too. Like many farmers focusing on their soil health, he has cover crops on-farm, mainly to protect soils over winter. This year, they are based on rye and spring oats with the addition of linseed, buckwheat, vetch and some radish.
The focus on increasing soil organic matter over a long period has had some surprising results, as attendees at a recent meeting discovered.
dominates the soils, and while you can’t decrease it, you can make the soil better able to work with it.”
– which started about 18 months ago – will help back up decisions about variable rates. The information from both systems means there is a discussion about whether low yielding areas could be improved or whether they should be managed for a much lower yield potential.
Mr Ward adds: “For nitrogen application in particular, there is the potential to stop feeding a 7.5t crop as it if was going to be a 10t crop. That would be a significant N saving.”
Composts are regularly tested for nutrients before spreading, with the last application (at 26t/ha) calculated as supplying 98kg/ha phosphate, 192kg/ha potash, 73kg/ha sulphur and 689kg/ha of calcium. According to RB209, green composts supply only very small amounts of crop available N, but repeated long-term use will increase supply of soil nitrogen.
The compost has a pHDOUG TAYLOR
range of 8.2-8.4, so the farm has not spread any lime for about 15 years, though this used to be an annual occurrence at 2.47t/ha.
However, the high pH does mean crops have to work hard at the root zone to acidify the soil, using a lot of energy which would be better spent growing, says Mr Robertson.
“We have found calcium
This originally involved replacing locally-bought lime with magnesium limestone from Derbyshire, and then looking at placing fertiliser in the rhizosphere of the plant to get it functioning better, as well as using more nitrogen-fixing crops.
Cropping on the farm is varied. Primarily cereals, Mr Taylor grows first and second wheats, winter barley, oilseed
“Brassicas and radish are good for the soil structure, but what we want is mainly protection from rain in winter and a fibrous root system to drill into with discs in the spring which helps stop any smearing.”
Cultivation is more complicated with this way of farming, he adds.
“A plough and power harrow is very simple, even when it rains. But with direct drilling, you have to stop after about 30 minutes of rain as it starts to smear, which creates a superhighway for slugs. Stopping can also create issues with variable germination times.”
The farm still has a plough, which has not been used for a few years, but Mr Taylor would use it if needed.
“I’m not fixed in a mantra – we just need to do the best for the crops we grow. Luckily, our organic matter levels mean we can direct drill, and all our winter oilseed rape and cover crops have gone in direct.”
This winter, Mr Taylor plans to spend time interrogating his data in Omnia and doing more on carbon monitoring.
“It’s simple to set up, so every activity on-farm will have a carbon cost. So we will know our cultivation carbon cost, for instance, and want to better understand what we are doing.”
“I’m not fixed in a mantra – we just need to do the best for the crops we grow”The farm’s use of Omnia started about 18 months ago.