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Carbon calculators compared: A snapshot from the Farm of the Future webinar

Date Published: 27/11/2023

The first RASE Farm of the Future webinar, ‘Carbon calculators: Assessing the tools in the box’ brought together representatives from Agrecalc, Cool Farm Tool, Farm Carbon Calculator and Sandy.

After sharing a brief overview of their tools’ capabilities, Julian Bell from Agrecalc, Richard Profit from Cool Farm Alliance, Liz Bowles from Farm Carbon Toolkit and Emily Pope from Trinity AgTech answered a series of questions relating to the tools and the future of their use in agriculture.

Read on for a snapshot of what was covered in the webinar.

Question: Each tool tends to calculate a different overall result for the same farm. Why is this the case and how it can be navigated by farmers, growers and managers?

Liz Bowles answered: “I appreciate the frustration. Each of the calculators are seeking to answer slightly different questions, which is why sometimes the numbers and results come out differently. They are sometimes using slightly different assumptions, because at the moment there is no one agreed way of doing it, and each of the calculators has evolved differently, with different baseline assumptions in terms of what we’re trying to find out for farmers.

“Having said that, all the calculators are starting to work more closely together to align where we can those assumptions and methodologies. We are all governed by the IPCC requirements, and increasingly now aligning with things like the FLAG guidance and SBTi. I see more and more that the results coming out of the calculators are becoming more aligned.”

Question: Calculating the carbon footprint of a farm takes time and effort, in the long term how will this financially benefit farmers and do these calculations fit in with the supply chain requirements?

Emily Pope answered: “Thinking about mitigation options you might want to apply on your farm- such as alternative fertilisers, different cropping or rotation, or different tillage - there’s been a strong body of evidence for a number of years now that these measures that make you more efficient from a carbon perspective will also make you more financially efficient and resilient as well. So, the two go hand in hand. There’s not a perfect linear response to any of these mitigation options, but in the long run there’s this pattern in the data of reducing carbon footprint, being more efficient and there being cost savings associated with that.

“Supply chains are moving in this space as well, which is why Sandy aligns with all the standards. Large organisations will need to align with the standards for much of their supply chain, so that’s why the ISO standards and SBTi FLAG guidance are becoming really important.”

Julian Bell added: “We find that once farmers understand the drivers of the carbon emissions, they come up with new options themselves. It’s a case of the tool supporting the farmer to find solutions that work for the farm business.”

Question: What are the future requirements and developments of carbon assessments and will they change with time?

Richard Profit answered: “Currently there is collaboration between the main tools, so we’ll certainly see greater alignment between the tools. There are lots of tools and there’s been a huge amount of new entrants into the market recently.

“The attention will continue with carbon, but will also expand beyond carbon. I think we’ll see water becoming a topic, and biodiversity will almost certainly become more important in terms of peoples’ requests and requirements that they’re asking for from farmers.

“The other thing we’ll probably see is the emergence of centralised repositories. Most of us have got API interoperability and the expectation within the industry is that the data will start feeding through to central repositories. So ultimately what that means is it doesn’t matter which tool you use, it will still end up in a central repository and therefore the people pulling off the data - with the farmers permission - can then access it from there.

“That’ll be particularly useful for compliance reporting and also if you’re supplying international supply chains. A lot of tools are country specific, and what you don’t want is a different retailer asking you to use a different tool and you end up using four or five different tools. It’s much better to use one tool and feed it into a repository and the retailers can pull it off if they need to. I think that will be a market evolution. That is probably in the next few years, the biggest challenge with that is the whole data ethics piece that goes with it.”

Julian Bell added: “Farmers are increasingly wanting to take more control and decide what happens to data. We’re also seeing more people using carbon accounting alongside their budgeting process. They’re saying, ‘What’s our plan for the year ahead? Where are we today? What are we expecting to achieve this year?’ And reviewing as they go. It’s just getting built into the fabric of farm management.”

To hear about each of the tools in more depth, as well as the full answers to the above questions and more, watch the webinar here.