Levy funded pilot project to showcase importance of on-farm environmental baselining

The intense pressure faced by farmers to deliver on environmental targets will be addressed through a new pilot, launched by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), with support from Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), to individually baseline up to 170 farms across Great Britain.

Posted on May 21 ,00:10

Levy funded pilot project to showcase importance of on-farm environmental baselining

AHDB is investing £2.5 million, with the long-term vision to create the opportunity for a nationwide standardised data set across the beef and lamb, cereals and oilseeds, dairy and pork sectors, that brings integrity to the industry and enables more accurate reporting of emissions and the environmental impact of agriculture. In Scotland, the pilot will be a collaboration between AHDB and QMS, who are investing £375,000 to support participating beef, sheep and pig farmers.

The pilot focuses on accurate measurements to reveal the net carbon position (the balance of emissions and carbon removals/stocks) of farm businesses, including carbon sequestration potential. The pilot will provide a dataset which shows the range and variety of results from individual farms, which will allow the industry to move away from relying on national and international averages.

By measuring greenhouse gas emissions, landscape and soil carbon stocks, water run-off, as well as using soil analysis of individual farms, the data collected will help to demonstrate the real environmental benefits of British agricultural products, both domestically and overseas. It will also provide a more accurate reflection of its position and progress towards Net Zero.

The pilot will allow the industry to demonstrate how it delivers a collection of public goods, benefitting all of society, such as improving water quality, reducing greenhouse gases, building carbon stocks, enhancing soil health and supporting biodiversity both above and below ground.

AHDB Chief Executive Graham Wilkinson said: "Agriculture faces the biggest challenge of a generation in demonstrating the positive impact that farming systems can have on the environment. This is amplified by a lack of accurate, on-farm-level data. Our industry-first pilot will help change the story of British agriculture, which has been dominated by gross greenhouse gas emissions.

"We all know that agriculture has a critical role to play in achieving Government targets, however, the picture is often more complex because of our role in not only producing greenhouse gasses but our ability to store and sequester carbon across the whole farming system. This project is not just about measuring carbon or soils, it is a transition to informed action. AHDB is bringing the industry together on this mission and has committed to investing significant levy funds to lead this baselining pilot.

"Our ambition is that baselining should be rolled out to every farm across the country, and we will be working with stakeholders and Government to discuss how this could be supported by the industry in the long term. We are also seeking to work with existing systems suppliers and potential users, such as financial services, to see how we might co-operate to everyone’s benefit.

"Through our discussions with stakeholders, we know we have a great deal of support for this project, but it also raises questions on environmental data, and who is best placed to act as a data custodian for agriculture. We are in early discussions with the industry to develop proposals to protect farmers’ interests and provide solutions for how environmental data might be provided to those that want it where farmers agree to supply it".

Sarah Millar, CEO of QMS said: "Through this pioneering baselining project, we have a unique opportunity to showcase tangible evidence of what we already know: that Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork actively contribute to landscape preservation and carbon sequestration as well as food production. We are pleased to be working alongside AHDB to help provide the evidence needed to underline the positive environmental credentials of food production in Scotland".

Chris Gooderham, AHDB Livestock Science and Environment Director, said: "The pilot is the starting point to measure any changes delivered by the farmers taking part. However, it will also provide a huge dataset from which we will be able to draw some early observations. For example, the relevance of carbon stocks, the potential for increasing soil carbon storage, and what impacts it.

"Early on we will also be able to gauge the relative capacity of above ground and below ground carbon, the impact of farming methods and land uses on emissions, carbon stocks, biodiversity, run off risk and soil health. By measuring and analysing this data it will help us understand the critical elements that could be rolled out across the rest of the industry.

"We also want to see what else the technology can deliver, pushing the boundaries to understand what is possible in terms of accurately measuring environmental metrics, particularly using remote monitoring from satellites which could help with measuring more frequently and at lower cost".

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