Carbon footprint on the farm

Since we have become increasingly aware of the extremes of weather coming our way we have had to consider ways to make our farming system more resilient. This has actually been very productive in a host of unpredictable ways. It has brought our farming system ever closer to Nature as we have learnt to diversify and adapt bringing in bio-diversity and enabling us to look ever closer at our carbon footprint. So we have been on a quest to reduce the carbon footprint of the farm for well over a decade now before such things became fashionable. Organic farming is very much about farming carbon; that is what we do, we use carbon to produce crops for you to eat and we have to make sure that we put at least as much back as we take out. If we fail to do that, then the fertility of our soils is gradually depleted and our yields will drop for evermore, we then feed less people, as that is the other thing we do, we feed people.

So, carbon is a big deal to us and we make sure we manage it well. There are two aspects to this, how we accumulate carbon and how we spend it. The first is about collecting carbon from the atmosphere, we do this through growing crops and particularly through the use of green manures to improve fertility. The carbon is then transferred to the soil via the action of billions and more different micro-organism, bacteria and fungi. We also accumulate carbon through our hedges, trees beetle banks, field margins and a host of other bio-diversity features that we have installed within our growing systems. This is our positive carbon footprint.

The second aspect of our carbon management is how much of this accumulated wealth we spend. This is our negative carbon footprint. This is the energy we use to produce the crops via diesel and electricity, our delivery service, the embodied energy in tools and equipment, any new buildings, packaging and a host of other inputs. We use a sophisticated programme to measure everything that goes out and everything that goes in.

The results are encouraging and for 2012 the last full year we monitored we were able to show that the whole business  produced just over 16 tonnes of  CO2e (That is measure of all greenhouse gases expressed as the equivalent CO2) This is a remarkably low figure for any business and is about the same as two small households produce in a year. But better news was that our carbon sequestration-what we put back into the soil through a range of bio-diversity features came to 21 tonnes, so we are actually carbon positive by 4 tonnes in a year. There are few businesses that can say they are carbon neutral let alone carbon positive.

However 2012 was not a typical year, we did very little irrigation as it rained the whole summer long, irrigation takes quite a lot of energy. And due to the fact that our business has shown little or no profit for several years has meant that we have not invested in new equipment or any building projects. Not spending on the business reduces the carbon footprint considerably. If I was to go and purchase a new tractor this week it would have the effect of wiping out our positive carbon footprint for a long time. So we make do and mend; our two tractors have a combined age of 64 so their carbon debt was paid a long time ago and our delivery van is now 10 years old and has reached the age in carbon calculations of no longer having any cost.

So the carbon picture is a changeable one and will vary from year to year, and we continue to look at ways to improve it and develop alternatives to reduce our energy consumption whilst maintaining high levels of food production.

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