The College of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (CAFRE) has confirmed that carbon calculators can be used to estimate the carbon footprint of farming businesses.

Senior CAFRE technologist, Aleathea Brown spoke at the first of three CAFRE-hosted webinars, which will address the myriad challenges facing milk producers as they strive to drive efficiency and improve the sustainability of their businesses.

Brown also referenced the steps that milk producers can take to reduce the level of emissions from their business, while still maintaining food output and profitability.

She said: “Carbon dioxide [CO2], methane and nitrous oxide are the three greenhouse gases [GHG] emitted from dairy farms.

“Methane is a short-lived gas in the atmosphere; however, it has a global warming potential 28 times that of carbon dioxide.

“Nitrous oxide is a long-lived gas and is produced through the application of slurry and nitrogen fertiliser. Its global warming potential is 265 times that of carbon dioxide.

“These are the three gases that must be measured when calculating the carbon footprint for a farming business,” she added.

“To sequester 1,000t of carbon dioxide per annum, a farmer would need to plant 100ha of trees.”

Brown pointed out that a carbon footprint is the total GHG emissions caused by an individual, organisation, service or product – within a given year – expressed as a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

Carbon calculators

The CAFRE representative said that it is important for farmers to measure the carbon footprints of their businesses annually, by using carbon calculators.

This will allow farmers to identify the source of emissions and then agree the steps that will be required to reduce them.

According to the CAFRE representative, agriculture accounts for 26% of Northern Ireland’s annual GHG volumes.

Given the need to reduce these emission levels, farmers in Northern Ireland are being advised to follow a four-point plan, in order to meet this objective.

Plan to reduce emissions

Action points in the four-point plan include:

  • Improving livestock management systems;
  • Improving farm nutrient management;
  • Locking-in carbon, whenever possible; and
  • Using renewable energy sources, while also improving energy efficiency levels across the farm.

Brown continued: “I have spent the last couple of years investigating the potential use of carbon calculators that meet the needs of farmers in Northern Ireland.

“Step one was that of defining the criteria that a calculator must meet. This includes the need for Tier II compliance, from a IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] perspective, plus a specification that would have a whole farm coverage by both product and by enterprise.

“It was also important for the calculator to take account of the amount of sequestration that is actually taking place within a business, plus all aspects relating to the use of renewable energy and the on-farm energy efficiency levels being achieved within a business  

“The calculator must also be PAS 50 compliant with the scope to keep up with the emerging science. Based on these criteria, CAFRE is now using the ‘agrecalc’ carbon calculator option.”

However, CAFRE said that there are other calculators available and staff are available to advise on how to use them.