The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) has passed the milestone of 750 carbon-benchmarked farm enterprises.

Carbon benchmarking allows a business to gain an understanding of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and compare that information so previous years and its peers.

The college commenced its quest to increase the number of carbon benchmarked farms with the establishment of a pilot benchmarking project involving participants in Environmental Business Development Groups (EBDGs). 

In January 2021, the opportunity to participate in carbon benchmarking was opened to all farmers participating in Business Development Groups (BDGs).

By December 2022, CAFRE said, over 500 farm businesses with 750 farm enterprises had taken the opportunity to find out more about GHG emissions within their farm enterprises.

The majority of these have been beef farms (37%), followed by dairy farms (32%), sheep farms (25%) and other (6%).

CAFRE said it is encouraging those producers in BDGs who have not yet availed of the opportunity to complete carbon benchmarking to get in touch with their CAFRE adviser.

For producers who are already completing a financial benchmarking, it said, the addition of carbon benchmarking will provide an added helpful measure of the environmental sustainability of their farm business.

Carbon benchmark

Once a farm business has received their carbon benchmark report, the guidance from CAFRE advisers is focussed on four key pillars: Management of soil nutrients; land; livestock; and energy. 

The college said that “every farm is different” and there will be range of opportunities to achieve improvements in each individual case.  

Many improvements can be made under the four pillars, CAFRE said, but the main ones are as follows:

Improved nutrient management:

  • Nutrient management planning:
    • Efficient slurry spreading techniques: Low emission slurry spreading (LESS);
    • Timing of fertiliser and slurry applications: Spring.
  • Use stabilised fertilisers e.g. protected urea;
  • Nitrogen fixation by clover/sward.

Land management

  • Soil management:
    • Maintain good soil structure – avoid compaction;
    • Optimal soil pH;
    • Soil organic matter;
    • Drainage of mineral soils.
  • Longer grazing season;
  • Woodland / agroforestry creation;
  • Hedgerow management and creation;
  • Protecting carbon stores in peatland.

Livestock management

  • Animal health plan;
  • Optimise animal performance – fertility rates, age at first calving;
  • Improved genetic selection;
  • Targeted feeding – dietary protein.

Energy management

  • Insulate hot water systems;
  • Use of plate coolers;
  • Increase energy efficiency e.g. LED lights, VSD;
  • Clean sky lights to increase natural light;
  • Renewable energy.

The results of each producers benchmarking are confidential and will not be shared with anyone without the express permission of the participating farmer.