Farming: Checking if the figures add up on carbon calculators

Lack of standardisation means farmers could choose the ‘Betamax’ of carbon calculators from the plethora available, but not engaging with carbon auditing and addressing emissions represents a far more substantial risk.

That was the message to come out of Arable Scotland, the country’s leading event for crop growers at the James Hutton Institute’s Balruddery Farm just outside Dundee.

With a focus on the sector’s efforts to address climate change and biodiversity while maintaining productivity levels, the farming industry’s desire for a single harmonised system for assessing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration to validate individual businesses' progress towards net zero was plain.

It was widely accepted that the introduction of such assessments was not only set to form part of Scottish Government policy but was also increasingly being called for by buyers and banks.

However, many in the industry have claimed that the range of tools for calculating carbon footprints was confusing.

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And the fact that they all gave different answers was putting farmers off taking the plunge and becoming involved in what often seemed a complex and time consuming exercise.

But while calls for the authorities to intervene and pick one tool as the standard were understood by the Scottish Government’s head of agricultural policy division, John Kerr, he said that although such a move might be simple in a centralised economy such as China, there was a risk that favouring only one approach would stifle the innovation currently underway in that sector.

“What I do know is that this is definitely the shape of the future – the way that you measure the emissions of your business is definitely going to be important for support and for you selling into the market - and taking this step forward would be valuable.”

Giving the assurance that the administration would "work hard" to ensure that any businesses who adopted the “wrong” tools wouldn’t be unduly disadvantaged he warned: “But I think choosing not to engage would be the biggest risk.”

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NFU Scotland’s Kate Hopper said that while many farmers had asked what the adoption of carbon calculators would do for their businesses, there was a growing realisation that as well as giving a measure of emissions, the tool could also been seen as a means of assessing efficiencies.

In the longer term that could be the means of validating the value of management procedures in the carbon market.

But in common with the majority of the day’s speakers, she stressed that farmers should think long and hard before they ventured into this market and advised, instead, that any carbon offsetting was kept within individual businesses or within the farming sector as a whole.

And rather than sell credits off, producers were advised to work with buyers and other sectors of the supply chain to gain recognition for work which reduced the carbon footprint of agricultural products – and for a significant portion of the value which this added to be maintained by the primary producers.

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