Three main ways we can achieve Net Zero farming
July 13, 2021
Net Zero emissions are a goal of governments and organisations alike. And with the British 2040 Net Zero farming goal, all eyes are on agriculture to optimise its operations.
There’s no denying that we need to curb the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. But trying to do this while maintaining a profitable business can be tricky.
Luckily, many Net Zero solutions address a farm’s efficiency and long-term profitability. They don’t just offer a green certificate, but also an improvement to the entire operation.
Those are the solutions we are focusing on today.
What is agriculture’s carbon footprint?
Agriculture is not the biggest offender when it comes to global emissions. In the UK, it accounts for about 10% of all greenhouse gases.
Yet, our food system accounts for one-third of emissions globally, and agriculture is responsible for the majority of it.
Production processes and land use are the main reasons why farming can be carbon-intensive. Land use change (in the worst case – deforestation) is also an issue.
Is Net Zero farming possible?
With all the land it covers, agriculture has a lot of carbon-capturing potential. We can do a lot when it comes to efficiency, energy use, and energy sources. Farmers can also implement circular solutions and ensure nothing goes to waste.
More efficiency and precision.
Our farms have improved yield massively following the introduction of technology. Who’s to say that there is no room for further growth?
By striving to be more precise, farmers can do more with less.
Making savvy swaps.
Finding alternatives to carbon-intensive products is a good start, whether it’s a low GHG fertiliser, or more sustainable, efficient feed. A great example would be reducing the use of soy on a poultry farm and focusing on locally produced grains or insect protein.
Working towards energy efficiency.
Energy use takes up a large chunk of a farm’s footprint and addressing it can help on a path to carbon neutrality. Naturally, renewable energy sources are a great long-term solution. But where those can’t yet be implemented, well-insulated buildings and regularly maintained machinery are key to limiting energy use.
Conducting an energy/carbon audit is a good start to see what can be improved.
Using technology and data.
Our farms have become more efficient because of technology. This trend is bound to continue. There are many areas where innovation can work with nature to achieve higher productivity. Implementing automation across many points of agriculture is bound to increase productivity.
We can’t improve what we do not measure – and the same goes for agriculture data. Technology enables farmers to gather all sorts of numbers, from feeding intake to energy efficiency.
More data also opens the door for more accurate forecasts, allowing the farmer to be prepared for the conditions of tomorrow.
Agricultural waste, including rejected grains and vegetables, can prove tricky. Farmers can struggle to transport it to someone who needs it – if there even is such a person. And the carbon footprint of food waste can be massive. Globally, it is right behind China and the US when it comes to emissions.
We can take inspiration from nature, where waste doesn’t exist. Everything is either absorbed by the soil or eaten by insects. With insects, we can tackle on-farm waste and grow animal feed at the same time.
With all the land that it covers, agriculture has an incredible carbon-capturing potential. By managing the land with carbon neutrality in mind, farmers can use what they have to help us all reach Net Zero.
Building soil carbon.
Building resilience of our soil can help bring us all closer to Net Zero.
The no-till method and using cover crops where possible can help soil sequestration. As carbon can oxidise fast during cultivation, doing so less often and at shallower depths can help minimise its effects.
Besides carbon sequestration, healthy, diverse soil will need fewer outputs and contribute to higher profits.
It’s no secret that trees are great at carbon storage. One tree can take care of half a tonne of CO2 when fully grown. While some farms opt for dedicated woodlands, many will find that trees scattered across the farm will work best for them.
The same goes for Britain’s iconic hedgerows. They are of great benefit to a local landscape and biodiversity. They also provide shelter from wind and rain for livestock.
Researchers are still conflicted on whether responsible grazing can make a farm carbon neutral. Still, carefully choosing the breed, quantities, and placement of grazing animals can minimise the footprint of the entire process.
A five-year study conducted by a team of researchers from Michigan State University and the UCS suggests that we can manage cattle in a way that makes grass-fed beef carbon-negative in the short term and carbon-neutral in the long term. The technique focuses on moving the cattle at intervals ranging from days to months. It does not allow continuous grazing.
It’s hard to be sustainable when the very source of energy for our operation is unsustainable. This is why many farms use renewable energy.
Both wind turbines and solar PV can replace a large percentage of a farm’s original energy source. Running a farm on 100% renewable energy is possible and cost-effective, but can be a big investment.
What are the challenges of Net Zero farming?
The truth is that many farmers will face challenges when trying to reach Net Zero.
Solar energy sounds great, but is expensive in the short term.
Better grazing techniques move us a step closer to carbon neutrality, but they can be labour-intensive.
Whether it’s a policy issue or a funding issue, agriculture may struggle to reach the carbon neutral dream.
As a farmer, what challenges are stopping you from reaching Net Zero? Comment below or message us on Facebook.
Insects’ role in Net Zero farming.
Insects have a lot of potential in helping us reach Net Zero. They can feed on waste and transform it into high-quality protein for farm animals and humans alike.
Tried and tested on chicken farms, our X1 insect farm takes care of the feeding and growth of the larvae. It requires minimal input as the AI oversees the entire process and notifies the farmer when the insects are ready to harvest.
You can see our solution in action here.