Practical on-farm changes that can cut a sheep farm's carbon footprint and improve returns can be tested with a new online tool.
The Sheep Carbon Footprint Tool has been developed by the English Beef & Lamb Executive and the E-CO2 Project to see where the most efficient gains can be made in cutting the environmental impact of a sheep enterprise.
A significant amount of data has been fed into the programme, which can be accessed from the Eblex website, showing how different inputs ultimately affect carbon output for rearer or finisher enterprises, those rearing store lambs and those finishing store lambs. Producers can then enter values relevant to their business, including fertiliser use, feed per lamb and daily liveweight gain to see where their carbon footprint stands.
They are then able to manipulate the values to see, for instance, how their footprint would be affected if they managed to get a greater daily liveweight gain or reduced the use of fertiliser inputs.
"Research by Eblex and the E-CO2 Project shows that the sheep production sector in the UK has been steadily reducing its carbon footprint over the last few decades, but there is still a long way to go to meet Government targets and changes made take time to show results," said Chris Lloyd, industry development manager for Eblex.
"Our own research, published in our Testing the Water and Down to Earth roadmap chapters, confirmed that the livestock farmers who are producing food with the lowest carbon cost per unit are generally those who are making the best gross margins. Making changes, therefore, to reduce carbon footprint can also lead to better returns.
"This new tool allows sheep producers to simply see where just small tweaks in their business practices can increase profit while protecting the environment."
In the decade to 2010, the sheep industry in England has delivered a credible reduction of 9.3% in greenhouse gas emissions through greater output per ewe and reduced reliance on artificial fertiliser.
The beef sector has reduced its Greenhouse Gas output by an equivalent of 9.4% every decade since 1970. A beef carbon footprint tool is currently being worked on.
The UK Climate Change Act 2008 requires a reduction in agriculture's GHGs of 11% by 2020 from 1990 levels. Looking further ahead it currently sets a target overall reduction of 80% in GHGs by 2050 across the UK economy.
The online carbon calculator tool is free to use, but a log-in identity does need to be created by each user the first time they access it.