A new research initiative has been launched to help grassland farmers achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. The Net Zero from Productive Grasslands Partnership (NZPGP), established by Germinal and Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), draws on expertise from the whole supply chain so producers can also maintain production and farm profitability.
Grassland is the UK’s biggest crop, with temporary and improved permanent pastures covering 11.2 million hectares.
It is also the UK’s biggest carbon store, with around 2bn tonnes of carbon believed to be sequestered in grassland soils – more carbon per hectare than forestry.
However, farming is facing an intense period of change with farm subsidies moving from direct payments to environmental land management schemes. Small improvements in carbon sequestration or carbon emissions can be scaled up to make a large difference nationally.
At the same time, the climate is becoming more unpredictable with weather events impacting food production to an ever-greater level and many farm input costs are at their highest ever, while the demand for food increases.
With calls for a lighter footprint and a healthier product also growing louder, farmers are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint.
To remain efficient producers of dietary protein and to maintain the carbon locked up in the soil, raising livestock on grassland is essential, but that grassland must be productive.
The formation of the Net Zero from Productive Grasslands Partnership means focus is already being given to several areas that will be of benefit in the future.
Germinal GB’s Managing Director, Paul Billings, says:
“The group is already looking at a range of opportunities in soil and grassland management, livestock and plant nutrient use efficiency, and emissions reduction. There is also work on how the ruminant livestock sector and associated supply chains can embrace the circular economy concept to drive progress.
“The net zero mountain in front of us is large. To reach the summit, we need to change what we do in significant ways. Each change has an impact and a reaction, and we need to coordinate these changes to ensure we do not take one step forward and two back. The NZPGP offers a unique approach, with stakeholders from across the wider food supply chain focused on the same goal – helping grassland farmers achieve net zero while maintaining food supply. There is no single lever or button we can pull or press to achieve success; it will be the combination of incremental gains.”
Working with farmers is the best route to finding new solutions that will be taken up in practice. But farmers cannot solve this challenge alone. They need the support of forward-thinking members of the supply chain to achieve net zero. It is only by working collaboratively with farm input suppliers, farmers and producers, food processors, food retailers, advisors, levy boards, and unions we can start to make real progress.
Dr Christina Marley, a Reader in Sustainable Grassland Systems and Agri-foods, in IBERS says: “To achieve net zero grassland-based agri-food systems requires ideas for innovation from all stakeholders involved across the supply chain. By working together, we can share current knowledge and determine the scientific innovation needed now as we strive to achieve net zero by 2040”.
The Net Zero from Productive Grasslands Partnership whole supply chain network partners are: Germinal, Aberystwyth University, Mole Valley Farmers, Dalehead Foods Ltd, Sainsburys, Waitrose, LEAF, NFU, NFU Cymru, CIEL, KTN, Hybu Cig Cymru, AHDB, Pilgrim’s UK, Müller Milk and Ingredients, WD Farmers Ltd, NRM, Kingshay.
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