Accurate carbon accounting is now being demanded by supply chains, governments, and financial institutions to explain, and improve, the carbon footprints of land and food. In response to the growing need for a simple-to-use, accurate and science-driven carbon audit tool, SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), has developed Agrecalc.
The Agrecalc tool is used by a host of retailers and their supply chains, corporate farming businesses including Grosvenor Farms, and by governments to track payments schemes, such as the Scottish Government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme and similar schemes for Farming Connect Wales.
Financial institutions use Agrecalc to support both their efficiency and environmental agendas with farm clients, and levy boards, including AHDB and QMS, have used it to determine guidance for emissions reduction. The tool is being used by over 2,500 businesses or institutions.
The latest addition to the tool is a soil sequestration module, which has been much anticipated by the industry.
Julian Bell, Agrecalc’s business lead, is an economist, he says: “We’ve always viewed carbon as part of accounting and of farm efficiency calculations, and it’s increasingly being seen as a good discipline for business.”
The mission of the tool is to assess what is technically feasible to get a farm, or supply chain, to lower carbon emissions, and the ultimate goal of net zero, where viable.
“Agrecalc takes farmers beyond a simple tick box tool, to one that assesses all the farm practices and looks at layers of change – from the simple to the more complex – to improve their efficiencies.”
“We have a model farm that allows us to examine how management practices contribute to carbon reduction, importantly this now considers the role of soils and their management,” Mr Bell explains.
“Typically, most farms can attain the first 10-15% of carbon reduction with changes in practices, such as growing more legumes, sampling manures and soils to reduce fertiliser use, or implementing paddock grazing,” he says. “The next level of 10-15% improvement should be feasible from more significant investments such as new machinery or systems’ changes, whilst achieving 30-40% reduction is likely to require more drastic measures such as afforestation.”
Some of the strongest recent interest in the tool is coming from farmers themselves, as well as the more established supply chain and governments, Mr Bell notes. “It’s free for farmers to use as a single licence and is very easy to use, taking around one to two hours to input the information.
“What farmers like is that it’s another way to look at their business, it’s a great way to feed their competitive nature and it’s making them examine the nitty gritty to deliver more profit.”
Companies and institutions pay for the service via a user licence-model, and all profits are invested back into the system to further develop its capabilities and to keep it scientifically up to date.
The system’s agricultural modeller is Dr Alasdair Sykes, one of two in the five-strong Agrecalc team who hold doctorates in agricultural greenhouse gas modelling. Agrecalc is simple to use, despite the inclusion of numerous scientific models and studies within its framework, including being the first tool to use the accredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) methodology for soil carbon sequestration.
Dr Sykes said: “Calculating emissions from farming systems is often complicated, because agricultural production is complex and decentralised, and the data gathering process is multifaceted.
“Added to this, farmers may often be subjected to information overload regarding their emissions, often with much of it being contradictory.”
He adds that the aim with the all-new Agrecalc soil carbon module has been to make accounting for soil carbon sequestration easy via a simple interface, whilst still extricating the all-important farmer effect versus what would happen naturally.
“The core elements of this are land-related variables, such as soil type, climate and land use, overlaid with management factors such as tillage or stocking density, and finally factors relating to inputs to the soil, such as fertiliser or manure.”
Dr Harry Kamilaris, is responsible for marketing and Agrecalc’s new website, agrecalc.com. He says that, fundamentally, the tool identifies the main sources of carbon emissions in agriculture, measures these emissions, monitor improvements, while providing farmers with a one-page AgreReport summary of physical performance, whole farm sustainability indicators and emissions, as well as recommendations for improvement.”
SAC Consulting’s practical farm experience has been core to Agrecalc’s development process, a fact that adds value to a tool designed to help the sector reach its goals.
Julian Bell adds: “A practical farm example which demonstrates well how businesses are using the tool is Grosvenor Farms. Their team had been carbon auditing their dairy units for several years, and despite many improvements to the system, they hadn’t seen much improvement in their carbon scores.
“We ran their information through Agrecalc and found that they had, in fact, reduced their carbon emissions by 16% per litre of milk produced. They did this through a range of methods, including improved genetics, using sexed semen to produce more beef cross calves, and improvements to housing and nutrition.
“We have since helped the Grosvenor team to develop a plan to take their business to the next level of carbon reduction.”
Mr Bell concludes by saying, “as farm businesses across the country face an uncertain future given changes to payments, as well as pressure on profitability, the aspects we are very clear on are that emissions reduction and improved environmental standards will be at the heart of what farms need to address to secure their future income; both from the market and, likely, from government too.”