Low carbon show elevates net zero discussion

The current energy crisis is adding urgency to the need to achieve a net zero future, was the main message from the recent Low Carbon Agriculture Show. CHAP’s Innovation Sector Lead, Dr Katja Maurer, attended the event, and summarises key learnings.

During the keynote discussion, Defra’s Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, Victoria Prentis, spoke about the key role that agricultural systems play in carbon storage, such as peatlands, grasslands, agroforestry, and wetlands. This is countered by a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from fertilisers, whilst increasing nutrient efficiency, and overcoming the impact of fertiliser scarcity.

With this in mind, the Government’s net zero strategy aims to have a fully decarbonised system by 2035, and agriculture has a key role to contribute to reducing emissions and increasing energy security. Incentives for farmers to play their part are a key aspect of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) funding.

Potential of AD systems

A strong theme of the show was anerobic digestion (AD) – the benefits and opportunities for farm businesses. The benefits of small AD systems are in processing on-farm generated waste, replacing mineral fertilisers with digestate, and generating heat and/or electricity.

The rising cost of fertiliser presents an unprecedented opportunity for the AD sector in the use of digestate as fertiliser. Digestates are rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, and can be used to replace mineral fertilisers. Besides the cost benefits, the use of digestate has a wider range of positive impacts for the environment and society such as increasing the sustainability credentials of the agri-food sector, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to circular economies, generating local jobs and promoting rural economies.

Understand your carbon footprint

Importantly, the target for the UK is to cut carbon emissions 42% by 2050. Julian Bell from SAC Consulting explained the importance of measuring and managing the carbon footprint. He highlighted that key in this is –

  • Identifying the market, but also the risk for the business
  • Establishing a baseline for farm carbon using a practical carbon tool and
  • Understanding the mitigation measures and cost benefit for the farm

To support this, a consortium formed of academia, industry and farmers are currently developing the UK Farm Soil Carbon Code which is soon to be published. This will provide a clear, consistent and universal approach to the measurement, reporting and verification of soil carbon sequestration, giving UK farmers new opportunities to engage in carbon markets and contribute to a net zero food supply. Importantly the Code will enable a common approach to soil carbon understanding and evaluation.

The key to soil health

Implementing an integrated management approach which includes biology, chemistry and soil physics, is the key to soil health, which contributes considerably to carbon storage. Elisabeth Stockdale from CHAP’s partner NIAB gave advice on the first steps to improving soil health. This included knowledge of the site, crop and nutrient management, maintenance of organic matter and biological activity.

Further reading on this topic can be found at the UK Soil Health Initiative .

This blog highlights some of the key themes shared at the Low Carbon Agriculture Show. For more information on soil health, read our recent blog on getting to know your soil, by Dr Andy Evans.

To contact our experts, email enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk

Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.