High-tech drones are being deployed across Scotland as part of an innovative project to estimate the carbon stored on the country’s farms.

Environmental specialists at SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), are using drone-mounted LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors to estimate above-ground carbon storage in hedges and trees.

Combined with laboratory soil analysis, the project will deliver an estimate of farm carbon stocks as part of the drive towards ‘net zero’.

The sites comprising Scotland’s first Farm Carbon Storage Network represent five of the country’s main farming systems: Upland beef and sheep; sheep; dairy; arable; and crofting, which together account for nearly 90% of agricultural land use.

It is hoped data from the project, which has received money from the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF), could support future projects where carbon sequestration from different management practices can be estimated, including rotational grazing, cover cropping, integration of livestock, hedge planting and minimum tillage.

Seamus Murphy from SAC Consulting said: “While we all understand that trees, hedges, and soils on farms make a positive contribution to climate change mitigation, this project will give us a greater understanding of the scale of this contribution.

“By improving estimates of carbon stored on farm and improving our understanding of base carbon storage, it will help to support work to quantify the impacts of certain agricultural management practices.”

Northern Ireland carbon project

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, the ARCZero project continues to build momentum. The initiative has been developed to actively address the challenge of delivering a ‘carbon net zero’ future for the various farming sectors.

ARCZero is independently led by Prof. John Gilliland. He said that the journey towards carbon net zero is now a very real one, adding:

“A net zero position is entirely different to that of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions entirely within a farming business.

“In calculating a carbon footprint, full account is taken of the emissions produced but also of the carbon that is actively carbon sequestered from the atmosphere within a farming business.”

According to Gilliland, the work undertaken courtesy of the ARCZero project will be used to frame the actual strategies that will be used to secure the targets laid down within the climate change legislation agreed by Stormont earlier this year.

But he also had a very clear message for politicians and food retailers.

“Securing improved efficiencies at farm level will only get agriculture in Northern Ireland so far down the road towards net zero,” he stressed.

“At some stage, government and food retailers will have to actively pay for the carbon that farmers actively manage.

“This principle has already been endorsed for the energy sector, in terms of how that industry uses fossil fuels. The reality is that farmers manage the largest carbon store in the country – it’s in our soils, woodlands, hedgerows and individual trees.”