As part of Harrison Drury’s series of updates on new funding options available to rural businesses, we spoke with Simon Haley and Simon Travis of Carbon Metrics, a North West business which assesses the carbon footprint of farms to provide practical advice for introducing more sustainable practices.
Why has carbon management become such an important issue to farming and rural businesses?
Research by the NFU shows greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture were equivalent to 45.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017 – representing some 10 per cent of total UK emissions. Although emissions from farming have decreased by 16 per cent since 1990, little further progress has been made since 2011. The UK Government plans for the UK to become net zero by 2050, with the NFU aiming to knock 10 years off this date.
The food and drink sector including supermarkets may aim to achieve this much sooner with Morrisons aiming to have all suppliers in the food supply chain Net Zero by 2030. Therefore, carbon management has become a more prevalent issue within agricultural industries, with farmers and landowners now taking a keener interest in how their businesses can run more sustainably and environmentally friendly in the long-term future.
How does Carbon Metrics assist rural businesses and landowners in measuring and auditing?
Carbon Metrics assists with the generation of detailed carbon audits, using data gathered from the business and inputted into carbon calculators such as AgRE Calc and Cool Farm Tool. The generated data is used in a report to aid rural businesses to understand the results and mitigations from the data and highlighting where both carbon-based, and economic improvements can be made.
By looking at carbon emissions results from two carbon accountancy programs using the same data set, then a more robust set of mitigation measures can be constructed which may be more targeted and lead to better environmental and financial returns for the business.
With the impact of the Agricultural Bill, and the Environmental Bill expected later this year, the world of farming is changing. What’s your view of the biggest changes to come?
As the agriculture and environment bills come into force, UK agriculture as a whole, will have to become more efficient to be resistant to fluctuations in markets in the long-term future. Rural businesses are going to need to take a key focus on how the company can become more productive, specifically by looking at where efficiencies lie within the business and where improvements can be made.
New data and technologies are slowly being introduced; however, these will need to be more widely used by businesses to increase productivity. By using carbon emissions as a key metric in this productivity measure, and linking in on farm finances, the sustainability of a business is able to be measured and show how improvements in productivity can help improve a business’s environmental credentials as well as improving its bottom line.
In respect of the funding framework, what are the key differences between the new funding options now available to farmers and those available currently?
With the onset of the Agricultural transition plan for 2021 to 2024, a more diverse range of funding schemes are coming to the fore, with the aim to pay ‘public money for public goods’.
A good example of a new funding scheme released under this aim is the Farming in Protected Landscapes fund, in which the main focuses are on nature recovery, climate change and business sustainability. The implementation of a carbon audit and management plan for businesses applying to the fund is beneficial to both the landowner and DEFRA, as becoming net zero by 2050 is a key priority for the UK government.
With this in mind, it is likely that farmers and landowners are going to be required to adapt their businesses and the land by becoming more environmentally friendly, whether this be through carbon management or land use practices.
In light of these new funding options what do you think the biggest challenges for rural businesses are likely to be?
Businesses are likely to face large changes in the near future, particularly on the front of becoming carbon net zero, more productive and increasing sustainability. New schemes being brought to the fore require more information, decisions and detail compared to previous schemes, and the money being paid in the new funding options is money that has been removed from BPS reductions each year.
Therefore, it is of upmost importance that business become more proactive on the funding foreground, buy asking for and taking advice on the options available to them in order to cover the cost of BPS reductions. Autumn 2021 is when a couple of brand-new funding options are going to become available, such as the Farm Resilience Fund and the Farming Investment Fund, which may be of interest to some farming businesses.
Would you be able to give a few examples of how you have helped farms in the past to reduce their carbon footprint?
One example is for a dairy farm near Penrith who had carbon emissions of over 5.6m Kg of Co2 equivalents, and through looking at the management of the dairy replacements, we have been able to drop 1.6m Kg of CO2e from the total in the last two years. Not only did this help improve the environmental credentials, but it also added £15,000 to the business in animal sales and improved overall turnover by £60,000. This was a huge improvement for the business and helped to improve their business sustainability.
Another farm we have worked with is now looking at how they can use the renewable energy already on farm, in the form of a wind turbine, to drive an electric feeding system. This will remove a large quantity of diesel from the livestock enterprise, whilst helping improve the farm’s carbon emissions.
Further to this, we are working with the farm to access finance and technical support to help achieve these goals within the next 12-18 months, meaning that the farm can make use of the new grants as previously mentioned to make the business and its forthcoming projects more financially viable.
If you are seeking further information on the new funding options available to rural businesses or wish to discuss access to finance to improve the carbon management of your farm, please contact George Wilson from Harrison Drury’s rural sector team on 01772 258321.