CIEL |Net Zero Carbon & UK Livestock Report April 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced from the main livestock types by 23% and ammonia emissions by 15% if wide scale and highly effective mitigations are adopted across UK farms. This is a key finding of the most recent report April 2022 published by CIEL.

Rapid and widespread change needed to meet net zero targets for livestock

The report April 2022 is believed to be the first of its kind to model and collate data at this scale. It covers a range of mitigating scenarios in real life case studies across dairy, beef, sheep, pig and poultry farms.

CIEL commissioned an independent consortium of expert scientists from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Queen’s University Belfast, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Rothamsted Research to deliver the report.

The publication follows on from ‘Net Zero Carbon & UK Livestock’, produced in 2020, which established benchmarks for a range of farming systems across the main livestock types in the UK.

‘Net Zero & Livestock: How farmers can reduce emissions’ goes a step further to look at a wide range of mitigation options that can help reduce emissions at farm level. The report aims to provide farmers, advisers, supply chain partners and policymakers with the information to support evidence-based decision making when it comes to farming in a net zero world.

As acknowledged in the report’s conclusions, there are many positives to take from the findings. However, the report reaffirms the substantial change required if the UK’s livestock industry is to achieve its net zero target for 2050.

Production Efficiency
The report April 2022 emphasises a need for most farmers to focus on improving herd or flock production efficiency in the drive to reduce their carbon footprint. Increasing productivity per animal while reducing input costs, and maintaining overall productivity at the same level, is something that can be done now. Farmers can focus on aspects such as age at which females first breed and their productive lifespan; the number of offspring produced and their growth rate; and rate of milk or egg production. With input costs being top of mind for many in our industry, the potential efficiencies around feed, forage and nutrient management are particularly pertinent.

Innovation
The importance of new technologies and wide-scale adoption is also critical to reduce emissions further. The use of rumen methane inhibitors was one mitigation strategy modelled on dairy, beef and sheep case study farms and detailed in the report. The assumed efficacy of this technology could be considered high. Work is ongoing to help bring these technologies to market and develop delivery mechanisms that are better suited to grazing systems and less dependent on concentrate feeding.

Collective Action
The report calls out a range of mitigations which when used in combination can contribute to both reducing the carbon footprint of farms as well as reducing national emissions of greenhouse gases.

Although the report April 2022 delivers positive, practical solutions for the industry, it also highlights that change on-farm requires collective effort. Everyone within the supply chains must work together to reduce emissions while still producing the nutritious, safe food the UK needs. Farmers cannot, and should not, be expected to deliver this on their own. The report re-confirms that the livestock industry could deliver a large reduction in greenhouse gases to significantly contribute to the goal of net zero carbon by 2050, but even that requires universal adoption of the various known mitigations across all livestock farms in the UK – something that is not being currently achieved.

There is critical need for new innovations and for change to be rapid and widespread, actively supporting adoption of both known and new mitigations.

Read more below, and download your own copy of the full report April 2022, ‘Net Zero & Livestock: How farmers can reduce emissions’

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    Read the Net Zero & Livestock: How farmers can reduce emissions report April 2022 Executive Summary

    Delivering our UK ambition for net zero carbon by 2050 continues to be a major focus for all sectors of the economy and society. An output from COP26 was the commitment to science-based plans focused on recognised methodology, with regular reporting of progress against agreed targets. The need for rapid and coordinated action was the clear and consistent message.

    Within agriculture, livestock production continues to receive considerable scrutiny. There is a lot of great work taking place within supply chains, but we need to accelerate the activity and help provide the information and tools that work at farm level.

    We recognise that it is not just about emissions. Delivering holistic sustainability is a much broader concept, encompassing topics such as biodiversity and environmental management, rural communities and infrastructure, economics and continued provision of nutritious food. Farmed animals have an important role to play here. However, it is emissions that we are measured against. We can and must minimise emissions and reduce the carbon footprint of our livestock food products. This will be delivered through a focus on efficient use of resources, minimising waste and appropriate use of new technologies and practices. This report is focused on how we can reduce emissions at farm level.

    CIEL’s 2020 report, Net Zero Carbon & UK Livestock, established benchmarks for a range of farming systems across the main livestock types in the UK. This 2022 report builds on that by looking at a wide range of ‘mitigations’ – the strategies and technologies that can reduce emissions. This will provide farmers, their advisers, supply chain partners and policymakers with information on a range of options to consider, ultimately supporting better, evidence-based decision-making.

    As with our 2020 report, we have commissioned an independent panel of expert scientists to provide evidence from which to assess the relative merit of this range of mitigation options. Absolute impacts will be dependent on an individual farm’s situation, but this is the best evidence we have for comparing mitigations for cost, ease of implementation, impact and confidence in the evidence.

    There is something useful for all types of farm systems in this report. Good animal husbandry to improve flock or herd efficiency will reduce emissions. Choosing lower carbon cost feedstuffs will deliver benefits. New products and technologies have the potential to advance us faster. Most likely, our journey towards net zero will involve some combination of available options. Farmers must choose those best suited to their individual situation.

    In reading this report, it is important to consider the following points:

    1. National Inventories for greenhouse gases (GHG) do not consider emissions occurring overseas. So, for global impact, we use life cycle assessment (LCA) of a product’s carbon footprint. This methodology is employed by the majority of carbon calculators.
    2. For some mitigations, the science is still evolving or evidence is sparse. This is reflected in assessments of ‘certainty’. There is an urgent need for research to address critical knowledge gaps.
    3. There is a great need for innovation – our 2020 report concluded that known technology can deliver less than half of the reductions sought, so new innovations are essential to deliver the remaining target reduction.

    CIEL has a key role in delivering the innovations needed for the livestock-food sector. We have the capability required to address a range of issues and can call upon expertise to help drive innovation through industry-academic partnerships. Please contact us to explore and develop your research plans or innovation ideas.

    Lyndsay Chapman, CIEL CEO

    This report provides a high-level guide, looking at key mitigations livestock farmers can adopt now or shortly, to reduce their carbon footprint and drive down net emissions reported through the National Inventory. It follows the CIEL report in 2020 on Net Zero Carbon & UK Livestock.

    Ruminants

    For dairy, beef and sheep systems, mitigations for improving production efficiency, through, for example, improved fertility, health and genetic gain, contributed significantly to reducing the carbon footprint and overall emissions. This often requires investment and system changes on farms. However, this practice has the advantage of requiring fewer animals for the same level of output. Fewer animals with improved efficiency result in more land being available for woodland and/or forestry, for example, capturing carbon within the farm. The scale of this carbon capture will depend on the nature of the afforestation or other strategies adopted, along with land type and location. For a typical 200 cow dairy herd, we estimated emissions could be lowered by 15% through improved production efficiency coupled with afforestation of land released.

    More importantly, dietary methane inhibitors were found to be very effective at reducing the carbon footprint of dairy, beef and sheep farms, and on reducing methane emissions from ruminants at a national level. Dietary methane inhibitors should be available in the near future. However, while this report has made an assumption with regard to their efficacy, scientific investigation and innovation is still required to optimise their adoption and effectiveness for grass-based systems.

    Other mitigations, such as age at first calving, adoption of anaerobic digestion (AD) and use of nitrification inhibitors were addressed. Modelling found that they can all contribute positively within ruminant systems.

    Monogastrics

    With regard to pigs and poultry, while their impact on national emissions is smaller than ruminants, their carbon footprint is greatly influenced by the source of feed ingredients. The effect of land use change (or not) associated with the protein ingredients within pig and poultry diets had the most significant impact on the carbon footprint within the farm case studies.For example, the carbon footprint of the pig and broiler farms modelled increased by over 100% when the protein ingredients were associated with land use change, compared to when no land use change was considered. It is noted that home-grown ingredients will be of most benefit if sourced from ‘non-land use change’ practices. Soya from ‘non-land use change’ practices grown in other countries should not be
    considered negatively.

    Changes associated with manure management practices, such as using manure from pig and poultry farms in AD systems, should also be associated with reductions in carbon footprint.

    Livestock farming can reduce its emissions significantly by a combination of strategies and widescale adoption

    Sector-wide

    Scenarios and mitigations described in this report are not exhaustive but demonstrate the potential reduction that might be achieved in the global warming impact of livestock farming in the UK. The way to measure this global warming potential will also be a critical factor in the years ahead, such as the conversion of methane emissions to CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq), i.e. the potential replacement of GWP100 with GWP* to better represent the short-lived nature of methane gas.

    However, the ‘global cooling’ effect often shown by GWP* calculation will only cool the planet long-term if methane emissions continuously fall into the future.

    Lastly, this report has highlighted that through wide-scale adoption (100% across the UK) of some of the most impactful mitigations, a 23% reduction in GHG and a 15% reduction in ammonia emissions from UK agriculture could be achieved. While this is encouraging, it also indicates much more innovation, adoption and the realisation of carbon capture is needed to contribute to the UK goal of net zero by 2050.

    Overall, livestock farming can reduce its emissions significantly and capture more carbon in the years ahead. Achieving this will involve a combination of strategies and wide-scale adoption. It is also vital that farms measure and monitor their carbon footprint and act on the information it provides. Carbon calculators are essential tools to help farmers reduce their footprint. However, their benefits will only be optimised if overall emissions are reduced at the national level. Further detailed modelling is needed to establish how this can be achieved whilst supporting the food security of the UK.

    Professor Elizabeth Magowan, Director, AFBI, and VP, British Society of Animal Science

    This series of fact sheets highlight the practical steps that can be taken to help reduce emissions on-farm. Each is informed by the key findings within the complete report ‘Net Zero & Livestock: How farmers can reduce emissions’.

    The 4-page fact sheets include real-farm scenarios and recommended mitigation options, clearly indicating the impact each can have to support decision-making. Please download and share with your relevant farm networks.  If you would be interested in receiving printed copies, please contact us through the web enquiry form.

    Download the relevant fact sheet below:

    Dairy

    Sheep

    Equivalent fact sheets for the beef, pig and poultry sectors are coming soon.