Concern over the need to show ‘additionality’ to gain incentives is holding farmers back
Should the agri-tech industry take the lead and develop a set of environmental standards to support the transition to net zero agriculture? This would create an evidence-base of good practice for retailers and consumers and underpin a movement towards food production with lower environmental impacts, argues Agri-TechE.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, sees a role for the industry itself in reaching a consensus on baseline measurements that can document existing public goods delivery. This would remove the limbo for farmers during the transition to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.
She says: “There is a concern among progressive farmers that payments under ELMs will rely on ‘additionality’, that is, improvements that are made after the scheme is adopted. This creates the dilemma, as farmers that may already have transitioned to regenerative farming before 2024 and have healthy soils, may be penalised.
“One area of confusion is the use of carbon to benchmark performance. Carbon is used not only as an indicator of soil health, but also to assess agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and through credits as a mechanism to reward farmers for their role in mitigating environmental impact. But there is little consensus across the industry about how to measure and account for the different forms of carbon.”
The latest developments in carbon management will be one element of discussion at a forthcoming meeting ‘Agri-Tech and ELMs’ hosted by Agri-TechE on 22nd March 2022. Farmers, advisors and technologists will be sharing learning points from collaborative projects and discussing alternative future scenarios.
Jake Freestone, Farm Manager of Overbury Enterprises, will be providing an overview of the current situation. He explains the farm has been following a no-till policy and has built up organic matter in the soil: “We need more resilient soils in order to cope with climate change and to grow crops with less and less artificial inputs.
“Over the last seven years our organic matter has risen by an average of 0.2% a year, which is significant. We’ve stopped using insecticides on our combinable crops- our fertiliser is down over a quarter on most crops, our spring barley fertilizer is down 35%, our fungicide use has halved in the last two seasons – so we’re having a much better time, and we’ve completely eliminated soil erosion.
“If ELMs encourages more farmers to transition into minimum till farming that would be a great outcome. But for ourselves, while there is always room for improvement, the low hanging fruit has already been picked. I certainly feel that we need to be rewarded for continuing to do what we are doing, once the basic payments system has been removed.”
The farm has been experimenting with tools that measure carbon as an indicator of soil health as part of a project with Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG-SW).
Jake continues: “The project with FWAG-SW is trying to establish baselines for soil carbon across various fields, looking at how we can measure and monitor that carbon and its changes over time.
“There are lots of different ways to measure soil carbon. And the variability and inaccuracy of the actual analysis is worrying. However, what I’m excited about is the potential to use satellite imagery for remote sensing of carbon in the soil, backed up by ground truth testing.
“We’re in discussion with a company doing this – and they’re managing to achieve somewhere close to 90% accurate carbon-content readings from their satellite imagery, compared to soil core measurements – and that will be great.
Jake is also looking at on-farm carbon calculation, generating offset trading certificates using a platform from Trinity AgTech called Sandy and selling these through Trinity’s Natural Capital Market. The platform can also estimate biodiversity and water runoff risks using globally recognized methodology.
Sandy is set to gain ISO accreditation later this year and it is one of the technologies to be discussed at “Agri-Tech and ELMS – the Innovation Enablers” on Tuesday 22nd March at 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden.
Jake Freestone will be joined by several farmers presenting at the event, which will be chaired by Andrew Blenkiron of Euston Estates. Measuring, monitoring and getting paid are all challenges to be discussed at the interactive event which will feature lightning presentations by innovators with a variety of solutions. Find out more at agri-tech-e.co.uk.