Members of the farming community have long considered themselves to be good stewards of the land. But environmentalists haven’t always held the industry in the highest regard when it comes to issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and the overall carbon footprint left by production agriculture.
Regardless of which side of the fence one resides, ag’s carbon footprint and ways to reduce it were topics discussed at one of the many symposiums held during the recent Alltech “REBELation” Conference.
Andrew Wynne is the business general manager at Alltech E-CO2, a newly acquired division of the company that looks specifically at data related to carbon footprint scores and what it takes to make reductions in carbon emissions.
He said agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and when talking about reducing that number, he said agriculture has to do its part in accomplishing that goal.
“Where the buy-in from the farm level comes is by being more efficient and by utilizing resources more effectively – using less feed, more efficient ration programs – you can actually reduce your carbon footprint,” Wynne said. “It’s about improving efficiency and reducing the environmental impact, while at the same time you can improve your profitability. So it’s really about economics as well as environmental gains.”
Wynne said because there is so much negativity connected to agriculture under the topic of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important to have a measurement of just how much farming produces to stop that negative opinion.
“When you measure it, you can monitor it and improve the performance of it,” he said. “Without knowing where you are, there’s no way to counteract those stories and negative messages that people are throwing at agriculture. It is a fantastic industry, and we should be able to defend it with robust data.”
Because measuring a farm’s carbon footprint may seem a little strange to owners, Wynne said there are occasions when he encounters a bit of pushback from those farmers.
“Once you begin to talk with the farmers and increase their understanding so they know it’s about good business, I think we get much more engagement,” he said. “When you say ‘carbon footprint,’ it’s not sexy to farmers, and people take two steps back.”
What is sexy to farmers, however, is the talk of profitability and making a farm more efficient and increasing the sustainability of the operation, said Wynne.
And part of that sustainability measure is the ability to pass the farm on to the next generation.
Wynne said farmers should view measuring their carbon footprint as an opportunity, not as a threat, and work toward improving their output of emissions by setting goals and doing things differently to improve the bottom line.
He also noted that most of the emissions on a dairy or beef farm come from the animal or the feed purchased or grown on that farm.
“It’s around 60 to 65 percent, so there’s a big potential to reduce that footprint because these are areas we can control through good nutrition and good solution programs,” he said.
Wynne noted that the more efficient these animals are, the better the footprint will be.
“The two key messages are, embrace this, it’s about economics and opportunity, and also have a look at feed and nutritional programs you have in place,” he said.
A farm’s output is achieved through visits to the farm to look at specific metrics associated with the operation and the use of special software designed to capture the data and give measurements.
“The crucial thing is our people are well trained to interpret the data, and they understand what farm data looks like to be able to do the process efficiently. So it doesn’t take a lot of time, and farmers gain an awfully lot from it,” Wynne said. “It’s not as daunting as people might think.”
Having worked with approximately 5,000 farms in Europe, Wynne said he hopes to expand this work into more parts of the world. PD
Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer based in Frankfort, Kentucky.