The race to net zero farming systems
The agriculture sector is extremely vulnerable to a changing climate. Already, changes in rainfall in Australia have cut profits across the sector by 23% compared to what could have been achieved in pre-2000 conditions. Therefore, the sector has an intrinsic interest in climate change mitigation.
As pressures to reduce GHG emissions from policymakers intensify, and consumers become more aware of the impacts of their consumption choices, there will be a potential competitive advantage for farmers to minimize GHG emissions and reach net zero. Farmers and researchers in many different countries are looking to move to Net Zero farming systems but is this feasible?
How can farming operations achieve net-zero?
In the UK, Harper Adams University has pledged to become the first net-zero, mixed crop-livestock farm. Four action groups have been set up to achieve this vision focussing on:
Productivity – reducing inputs and maximising outputs, with a particular focus on arable, dairy, and sheep.
Water and energy – focusing on better slurry management and use as a resource, water conservation, and use, electricity-generating opportunities including small scale anaerobic digestion.
Land and soil health – improving farming practices to restore and optimise soil health, looking at biodiversity and natural capital across the Harper Adams estate e.g. intercropping practices and mixed crop-livestock rotations.
Data and benchmarking/systems boundaries – focusing on making data available for teaching and research and underpinning the evidence base for achieving net-zero.
Measurement for management
Measuring GHG emissions at the farm level is critical. Carbon footprint calculation tools are coming onto the market, enabling farm enterprises to identify and measure emissions, benchmark key performance indicators, identify mitigation strategies and monitor improvements.
New Zealand’s sheep and beef sectors claim to be close to becoming net-zero thanks to the woody vegetation on many of the country’s farms. Woody vegetation has helped offset between 63% and 118% of on-farm agricultural emissions, a new study, led by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), says.
On average the woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms is absorbing about 90% of these emissions. Beef and Lamb New Zealand CEO Sam McIvor said absolute greenhouse gas emissions from NZ sheep and beef production had reduced by 30% since 1990.
Can net-zero farming achieve real impact?
As well as reducing the environmental impact of food production and helping countries to meet their GHG emissions targets net-zero farming has clear producer advantages.
Net Zero Farming could boost efficiency and farm financial performance, meet changing consumer preferences and bring significant competitive advantages.
Although the race is on for farmers in many countries to reach net-zero, the way in which they achieve this is expected to come under increased scrutiny, with off-sets being an area of particular contention.
In order to achieve real impact, farmers will need to exploit sustainability performance improvements across all aspects of their operations.
As Farrelly and Mitchell's co-founder and Managing Director, Malachy provides unmatched expertise. Working alongside CEO's, executives, and leaders from public and private sectors, Malachy empowers agribusinesses to fully achieve their potential.
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