Thursday, 26 November 2009

Carbon Farmprints

Last night I went to Lakeside Farm Park to attend the WFU Open Meeting "Carbon Footprints in Farming". The event was led by FWAG Director Dr Glenda Thomas.
Glenda informed us about what actually goes into creating carbon footprints. Also what percentage farming contributes to the carbon footprint of the whole food cycle.
There were also other panelists at the event to discuss the issue. They included NFU Cymru President Dai Davies and AM Andrew RT Davies.

The talk identified 'carbon sources' and 'carbon sinks' in farming. Basically what creates Green House Gases (GHG) and what soaks them up. For example tractors are a carbon source and soil biomass is a carbon sink.
Glenda noted that Farming accounts for 9% of the UK's Green House Gas emissions and the food production process accounts for 18%.

Then Glenda broke down the whole process of the food chain from farming to retailing, cooking and catering and what areas produce the most carbon omissions. Glenda took the potato as an example and surprisingly the point of the potato life cycle that produced the most GHG was when the potato was being cooked in the home. This suggests that actually maybe it's not farmers carbon footprints that need to be under attack, but the general public.
Quite often farms do a lot of recycling and re-using. Some of the people at the conference commented that people that have grown up in rural communities are taught from a young age to be environmentally aware and not waste energy or food. There was a strong sense that it is not farmers that need to be re-educated about carbon footprints but the consumer.
Farmer's already have a lot of processes in place to reduce carbon emissions and they are working hard to do more.It seems that farming is in the spotlight more than other businesses that could be cutting down on their carbon footprint. We can all do more to reduce Green Houses Gases not just business and industry.

To lower farming carbon emissions it would be best to invest in long term projects. This is becoming increasingly difficult with falling product prices. Supermarkets are continuously squeezing producers in a world where consumers just look for the cheapest price. A survey carried out by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that 55% of people think of the price and value for money when buying food compared to 26% who care whether it is locally grown and just 21% who think about the welfare of the animal. It seems that as consumers we are quite happy to point the finger when we disagree with a certain farming method but we will carry on buying the cheapest products rather than the ethically sound produce that we asked for. The word hypocrisy springs to mind.

In the discussion afterwards Dai Davies mentioned that if he had one wish it would be "for Tesco to produce food on the same amount of land with the same regulations as farmers and try and produce a profit". These words sum up the amount of pressure farmers are under from supermarkets and consumers to produce organic, eco-friendly, free range products yet not getting a fair price for their efforts. A farm can't just turn organic over night, it takes time and money to put the stamps of approval in place. Dai also said "Agriculture is the answer to climate change and not the problem" When there have been reports in the media that, to save the world we must become vegetarian, it suggests that eating meat could become as socially unacceptable as taking drugs or petty theft. Has it really come to this?

Dai called for a inquest into farming planning regulations to make it easier for farmers to build small energy farms or wind turbines to help create eco friendly power. There are schemes that look into renewable energy on farms but at the moment there is limited funding available for it. The balancing act that farmers face seems to get tougher all the time.

There was also a debate about intensive and extensive farming. Reports have shown that intensive farming produces less of a carbon footprint than extensive farming. But in a market that is driven by the consumer I don't think they would be happy with the thought of cows huddled up in a shed all the time being pumped with grain. The idea of cows running free in the fields is much more appealing to the mass market. Then there is the argument that a lot of the grain that is produced in the UK is used for cattle fodder when it could be used to feed people. But one farmer I spoke to at the event said there just isn't the demand on cereals and grain for human consumption in the UK and that most of his crop is used for fodder on other local farms as that's where the market is.

At the end of the meeting we looked how farmers can reduce their carbon footprints.

  • managing nitrogen input and ensuring it has a benefit
  • don't convert forest to agriculture
  • identify and breed stock that are genetically suited to production efficiency
  • maximize the final product per unit of input.
Most of the above farmers do already. It was an interesting discussion. But what works for one farm may not work for all. The difficulty I believe in cutting carbon emissions on farms, is that each farm will have to be looked at individually as there wont be one global solution. Farmers can do more but then so can everybody else. Climate change is a big worry at the moment and we all need to work towards being more environmentally friendly.

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