Pressure is mounting for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from farms. Technology is becoming increasingly important, allowing farmers to understand their farm’s current environmental impact and identify areas for improvement.

The NFU has set a target for farming to become net carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the government’s target. Consumers and the supply chain are becoming increasingly aware of the impact food production is having on the environment and demands for farmers to demonstrate their carbon footprint are likely to increase.

“British consumers are increasingly demanding evidence of high-welfare and environmentally friendly practices from their food producers. Using data driven technologies to demonstrate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is vital,” says Glas Data’s Colin Phillipson.

“Research shows that becoming more efficient and improving animal health goes hand in hand with reducing a farm’s environmental impact. This is good news for farmers as they should be able to improve their environmental credentials at the same time as increasing profits,” adds Colin Phillipson.

The link between efficiency and environmental impact

Ruminant livestock have been singled out for their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and dairy farming in particular has been in the spotlight. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is embedded in feeds, fertilisers and fuels. Methane (CH4) is produced by ruminant livestock’s digestive systems and manure. Nitrous oxide (N2O) comes from manure and fertiliser. 

There are many opportunities to make changes to reduce emissions according to Colin Phillipson: “Herd management has a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Herd health, animal nutrition and soil and nutrient management all have a part to play.”

Running a more efficient farm means lower greenhouse gas emissions. A study in the dairy sector showed that the most efficient UK dairy enterprises produce 400g less CO2 per litre of milk than the least efficient farms.

Using technology to drive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

So how can technology help? First of all, farmers need to get hold of the data they need.

Colin Phillipson explains that this has never been easier. “The farming ‘Internet of Things’ uses sensors to provide data from all aspects of a farm, everything from water leak detection to monitoring water troughs and even animal health, thanks to a smart rumen bolus.”

Glas Data works with Verfacil, a leading LoWaRAN expert and Internet of Things (IoT) installer to set up an IoT network on farms. Once installed, the devices and sensors automatically transfer data independently, so there is no need for farmers to manually collect data.

There will be a rapid expansion in increasingly sophisticated sensor technology over the next few years, allowing even more data to be collected. The challenge is what to do with all of this data, how to analyse it and how to use it to make decisions to improve efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a challenge that Glas Data has been working on for several years. “Our GlasCore agricultural dashboard helps to bring all of the data collected on a farm into one easy to use dashboard, which can be customised to each farm’s needs. Data is imported in real time and the system can be set up to deliver alerts when certain thresholds are reached and the farmer needs to take action. GlasCore allows farmers to benchmark their data against others, as well as using modelling to predict what may happen in the future,” explains Colin Phillipson.

The 2040 net carbon zero target may seem like a long way off, but Colin Phillipson believes that farmers need to start demonstrating it is possible now:

“Consumers, processors and retailers are only going to get more demanding and will want farmers to demonstrate greenhouse gas emissions are falling. Technology will allow farmers to make the decisions that will reduce emissions and increase productivity through better fertility, feed efficiency and decreased waste and medicine costs. And crucially by showing a continual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the sector will be able to demonstrate that zero-carbon farming is possible.”