Working towards net zero on farms
Helping farmers in Cornwall achieve net zero is the aim of a collaborative project involving more than 40 farm businesses. We spoke to project officer Alex Bebbington to find out more.
Farmers in east Cornwall are working on reducing emissions and increasing soil carbon sequestration with the help of a group of experts from five organisations. The Farm Net Zero project will see trials of different farming methods and extensive testing and measurement to quantify improvements.
It follows the successful completion of The Soil Carbon Project in 2021, which investigated the best methods for quantifying soil carbon on farms. This project involved farms across the county testing different methods and culminated in the publication of a field and lab guide summarising the team’s recommended approach.
But the farmers involved wanted to continue measuring soil carbon and carbon footprints to see the differences their changed farming practices make over time, explains project officer Alex Bebbington from Duchy College’s Rural Business School.
The Farm Net Zero project was launched in early 2021 as a collaboration between Farm Carbon Toolkit, Westcountry Rivers Trust, Innovative Farmers, Innovation for Agriculture and Duchy College, with funding from the National Lottery Communities Fund.
Demo farms seek the best ways to reach net zero
“Over five years we will be working with three demo farms, which all have the goal of achieving net zero by 2025,” Alex says. The three farms are Blable Farm at Wadebridge (suckler beef), Erth Barton on the Antony Estate (beef and cereals) and Ennis Barton at Fraddon (dairy and beef). Over the duration of the project, other farmers will be invited to visit the farms to see the practices they implement, he explains.
These practices include rotational grazing. “By setting up paddocks and moving stock every couple of days, you can avoid overgrazing and reduce fertiliser use. You also don’t need as much livestock feed which costs money and contributes to the farm’s carbon footprint.”
Other examples include use of compost, either from a green waste company or by processing farmyard manure. “One of our farmers is using green waste bedding in their cattle sheds. They no longer have to buy in straw from arable areas and after use in the sheds, it can be directly applied to the fields. It has more available nutrients than normal farmyard manure, so there are lots of benefits,” he says.
Overwinter grazing, diverse cover crops, the performance of dairy cows on mixed herbal leys and the use of field vegetables in a forage rotation are also being investigated on the demo farms.
Some 40 monitor farms have also been recruited across east Cornwall. They have had baseline calculations taken for carbon footprint and soil carbon, and will be introducing practices to improve soil health which will be tested annually.
The project team hopes this work will create a more in-depth understanding of the link between different farming practices and soil carbon sequestration. Alex concludes: “We will be able to show farmers the benefits they bring not just for the planet, but for their businesses too.”
Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.Future Farming Programme