Summer well and truly arrived in June with the sunshine and warm weather providing a welcome break after a relatively cold spring.  According to the Met Office, June 2023 is on track to be the hottest June on record in a series which goes back to 1884.

Meanwhile, climate change and carbon emissions continue to dominate the policy agenda.  The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) recently published plans for a new programme of Farm Support and Development including measures on Farming for Carbon.  But what does farming for carbon mean?

Confusingly, the term carbon is often used to describe all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including methane and nitrous oxide as well as carbon dioxide.  Reducing these GHG emissions is needed to alleviate the so-called greenhouse effect of the earth warming, which is contributing to climate change. 

Under the Climate Change Act (NI) 2022, ambitious targets have been set for reducing GHG emissions which all sectors of the economy in Northern Ireland are required to meet.  DAERA will be publishing its first Climate Action Plan later this year which will outline what actions are needed to meet the interim targets.

Agriculture must also play its part in reducing emissions, but the good news is that there is still a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked.  Generally speaking, a more efficient farm tends to be a more profitable farm with a lower carbon footprint.

To be able to identify areas for improvement it is important to first measure the carbon footprint of the farm and help is now available to do so. 

Working in partnership with DAERA, a Carbon Steering Group has been set up, comprised of the various agri-food industry trade bodies, to help create a programme which allows all farm businesses to understand where they are on the carbon journey. 

The Carbon Steering Group has been helping to test the concept of whole farm data collection, starting with 100 farms, whereby data has been collected following NI Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) inspections.  The data collection for this testing phase is almost complete and is said to have been positively received by those participating.

It is important to note the results generated from providing this data will not cause a farm business to ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ so there is nothing to fear from doing so.  Instead, the purpose is to better inform the farm business of where there may be areas for improvement, which may in turn improve the overall efficiency of the business and boost profitability.  To do so, professional advice will be essential.  In the agri-supply sector in NI there are around 130 sales and advisory personnel who are members of the Feed Adviser Register (FAR).  FAR members undergo continuous professional development, ensuring that they are up to date with current issues related to whole farm feed planning, nutrition, health, welfare and fertility, and environmental policies. 

Going forward DAERA have indicated that participation in the Carbon Benchmarking Programme, which is due to commence in the Autumn, will be a condition of receiving future farm support. 

Last month, the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) had the pleasure of welcoming Martin Mulholland, Head of Carbon Reduction Branch in DAERA, as the guest speaker for the Association’s quarterly lunch.

Martin updated NIGTA members on the new Farming for Carbon measures.  Members were particularly interested to learn of the forthcoming Livestock Dietary Emission Challenge Fund, which will open in Autumn 2023 and will provide funding for industry, researchers, advisers and their farm business clients to work together to formulate and test livestock concentrate diets which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ammonia emissions and phosphorus losses to the environment. 

Precision nutrition is an integral part of the environmental emission reduction strategy and the Challenge Fund should provide a valuable platform for testing and validating new and existing concepts for reducing emissions while maintaining or enhancing performance.