Down to Earth Showcases Positives from Reducing On-Farm Emissions

Visitors to Wednesday’s (3 July) packed-out RABDF Down to Earth Event at Grosvenor Farms in Cheshire learnt how reducing on-farm emissions by leveraging the ‘easy wins’ can positively impact farm profits.

The 1,300 visitors heard from the team at Grosvenor Farms about their ambitions to become net zero within six years by driving improved feed digestion from more efficient use of feed, use of co-products, improved genetics, and focussing on their waste streams.

Dairy Manager David Craven and Arable Manager Charlie Steer explained the joined-up approach taken by both sides of the business to create a circular farming system.

They have one of the lowest carbon emissions within the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) milk pool at 939kg of CO2e/litre, reducing emissions by over 40% over the last 10 years while improving profits. The average across the TSDG milk pool of 323 farms is 1,158 kg of CO2e/litre of milk.

Mr Steer said it was vital that farmers knew their carbon footprint to move forward. “You need to understand your position and where you can get to, and then you can set out a plan to do so. Without that, if you haven’t got a starting point, you don’t know where you will go,” he said.

AHDB Environment Advisor Professor John Gilliland reinforced Charlie’s message by telling all producers to start considering ways of reducing emissions and recording their journeys.

“I would encourage all farmers not to put their heads in the sand. Know your numbers, go for the win-wins and engage the win-wins. Grosvenor has done exceptionally well; they’ve leveraged the win-wins to show that as they bring their footprint down, their profit has gone up,” he said.

He said on-farm emission data was vital to ‘telling the story with transparency and integrity’ and that producers should be armed with it.

Easy-wins

Speakers advised visitors on some of the easy wins they could take to reduce emissions. Consultant Adrian Packington outlined how the new feed ingredient, Bovaer, used at Grosvenor Farms, can reduce enteric methane.

The product is being fed at 60 parts per million (ppm) in the total diet, equating to 1.5g fed per cow per day. He said: “If we’re going to move towards low-carbon dairy, we really have got to address enteric methane. At COP 26 in Glasgow, 155 countries signed up to the global methane pledge to reduce methane by 30% by 2030. So, reducing methane by 10% is not enough.”

Initial data at Grosvenor shows that feeding Bovaer has reduced methane by 31%, or 1.3 tons of C02 per cow per year.

Dr Anna Sutcliffe, Ruminant Technical Manager at AB Dairy, also gave examples of how dietary changes can reduce emissions. She said swapping soya for a protected rape was a good start.

“At Grosvenor, they use rape as their primary protein source. Nova Pro, a protected rape product, has a bypass protein content similar to soya so that you can replace that quality protein.” She explained how co-products such as Trafford Gold and Brewers Grain draft have very low emissions values as the carbon has followed the head product.

Breeding is also contributing to emission reductions, with visitors hearing during the Genetics and Feed Efficiency Talk Station how genetic selection and the use of genomics can help. Speakers from Cogent explained how Eco Feed, an index that measures feed conversion, can reduce feed intake and methane production by 15% for every 5-point increase in the EcoFeed score while maintaining production.

Payments for unproductive land

Grosvenor Farms also outlined how they have focussed on de-risking their business by optimising the higher-yielding land areas for food production and less productive areas that were resource-hungry and financially unsustainable for habitat protection and enhancement. Now, 12% of their land is in some biodiversity scheme.

Edward Earnshaw from Just Farm explained that money can be made by identifying unproductive land for Environment Land Management Scheme (ELMs) payments.

“For those people that are prepared to look at it, these payments can add up to be quite a significant part of the gross margin, let alone net margin, and that is where I’d encourage people to start with and focus on what works, what fits and what pays.

“Unproductive flower-rich grass areas are one of the best ones because they are hugely practical (to plant) in an area that doesn’t perform well. It’s worth almost £330 an acre, and that comes back to making every acre pay, knowing which parts of the farm produce and where they can’t then get paid for doing something else in that area that fits,” he said.

RABDF Chairman Robert Craig said Down to Earth highlighted that reducing on-farm emissions doesn’t have to be about making huge investments. “We have seen from the event and Grosvenor Farms that the fine-tuning can make a big difference over time, not only in emission reductions but also in overall farm profitability. Grosvenor Farms is a clear example of how a drive to reduce emissions has positively impacted productivity and output,” he said.

Visitors can tune in to some of the action from Down to Earth by listening to the podcast hosted by Kite Consulting at Down to Earth out this Friday at kiteconsulting.com/podcasts/

About RABDF

RABDF is the sole UK charity focused on the unique needs of milk producers. They are the only dairy organisation holding a Royal Warrant.