Benchmarking emissions for UK agriculture and horticulture

Reaching net zero in the arable and horticultural sector may not seem easy, but is achievable.

Farming’s unique ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere underpins the opportunity to deliver net zero for farming, as well as the potential to support other UK sectors, provided a robust and viable value can be placed on this carbon. Without baseline benchmarking, we cannot define our starting point and it becomes difficult to achieve the rate of change necessary, or make comparisons with international competitors. To address this, a bespoke report was commissioned, working alongside the AHDB.


Whilst agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK and globally, farmers also manage some of the largest stores of GHGs on earth, which offers a unique potential to mitigate climate change. The UK government’s 2019 Greenhouse Gas Emissions report estimated the sector was directly responsible for around 10% of UK emissions. To address this, in 2019 the NFU set an ambition for agriculture in England and Wales to reach net zero by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the UK government’s 2050 net zero target. Meeting those targets will require us to continue to transform current farm practices and to develop new technologies. Critically, the arable and horticultural sector needs to better understand the full extent of emissions generated by growing crops, to enable identification of hotspots and opportunities to reduce them.

Report title:

Benchmarking greenhouse gas emissions for the UK arable and horticultural sector; supporting the journey to net zero.


The report reviews the existing GHG emission evidence base of assessments completed across arable and horticultural crops grown in the UK, as well as some international comparators. The evidence base was produced by different authors, using a range of tools and methods.
The data are presented as a series of emission intensities, showing the minimum and maximum values for a crop, and highlighting differences in approach and methodology that may have an impact.

Of the six million hectares of crop-able land within the UK, nearly three quarters is utilised on an annual basis, of which around 70% is for cereal production. The remainder is split between oilseeds, potatoes and horticultural crops. Therefore, the review sets benchmark GHG emissions for the most important UK crops.


Access the published report here


Reaching net zero in arable and horticultural crop production requires agriculture to reduce its emissions as much as possible while balancing what remains through carbon removals (sequestration). Evidence for quantifying emission reduction is more robust and consistent than for some kinds of carbon removals, though there is currently a considerable focus on GHG removals, an almost unique attribute of the agricultural sector. Emphasis should be on reducing GHG emissions as much as possible, with carbon removals used to provide a sufficient overshoot or ‘headroom’ in sequestration to counter the present levels of uncertainty.

Emissions come from three main sources: embedded emissions in nitrogen fertiliser manufacture, emissions (direct and indirect) from soil nitrogen dynamics, and energy use on farm. In arable crops reducing emissions due to nitrogen fertiliser is more important, while in horticulture, especially where stored long term or produced in a glasshouse, energy production is of higher importance.

To drive reductions in climate impact, actions need to reduce emissions per hectare of production, while maintaining or increasing production. Changes in technologies around low-carbon fuels, energy generation and supply, and the manufacturing of nitrogen fertilisers will help reduce embedded emissions associated with crop production.

Reaching net zero, while not easy, is an achievable ambition. Improvements in efficiency, both in terms of yield and resources, has the potential to significantly reduce emissions. In the medium-term, new technologies are likely to decarbonise some of the embedded emissions in raw materials brought onto farm, while in the longer term investigating how land is used and optimising production may offer bigger opportunities to remove carbon. Funding mechanisms, either through public or private schemes, will be needed, with innovation pathways carefully monitored to ensure that the right practices are adopted and implemented in the right places.

To discuss the report further, please contact enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk 


To discuss the report further, please contact enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk