We have had a lot of inquiry lately about how producers can understand their farm carbon footprint and address the growing consumer “backlash” against animal production.
There are a growing number of tools and calculators for measuring the carbon impact of your business, and as usual it’s a moving feast.
The best summary of the different tools at the moment is from Agriculture Victoria and is available here http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/weather-and-climate/understanding-carbon-and-emissions/on-farm-greenhouse-gas-accounting-tools
What do we recommend? Depends on how keen you are!
If your interest is in just seeing a snapshot of where your farm might sit, then the GAF frameworks http://www.greenhouse.unimelb.edu.au/Tools.htm are fairly simple to use in the form of an excel spreadsheet, but it needs some pretty detail information. Open one up and have a look. There aren’t great easy-to-use tools for mixed farms as yet.
To help you out, in 2015 Holbrook Landcare had a Carbon Farming project that used an early version of GAF tools developed by University of Melbourne researchers to measure some enterprises here in the Holbrook area, including some mixed farming operations. These may help you place where you might sit and to start thinking about addressing the footprint in the future. View at https://holbrooklandcare.org.au/carbon-farming/ – click on “Case Studies” or drop in and grab some hardcopies.
The key message from that work is that by far the simplest way to reduce emissions on farms in our region is to offset them with sequestration activities. The case studies suggest enterprises (in this rainfall zone)could be carbon neutral by increasing vegetation cover to 8%.
Improving fertilizer efficiency, especially nitrogen, is also a key factor. Matching fertilizer application to need saves you money and reduces nutrient run-off into waterways and emissions in the form of NO2 which is an even worse GHG than methane. Growing more biomass means growing more Carbon, so healthy pastures with adequate nutrition and grazing management for adequate groundcover means more soil carbon.
Managing the herd for maximum efficiency (and less time spent on farm) is the other way to influence the emissions profile. Calving and lambing in Spring means quicker growth rates and shorter retention time of animals on farm. There is a lot of research going on – feeding supplements that reduce methane emissions from individual animals and genetics and technology for greater feed efficiency will come in to play in the near future.
I think rural Australians are up for some awkward conversations with our urban friends and family this Christmas – consumers are bombarded with messages about the evils of meat production. Consumers are looking for redemption without too much inconvenience, and they think meat is easy to give up. This gets reinforced by marketing departments of the plant-based protein companies who are in overdrive, so we are seeing it everywhere.
For us in Holbrook, you can safely say that pasture-based meat production has the potential to be carbon neutral through practice change and growing trees and shrubs to offset animal emissions, which also supports biodiversity in the landscape. And we have been doing it for 30 years with Landcare!
Good luck – It’s quite a rabbit hole to go down after a few wines….