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Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) Conference Tackles Ways to Decarbonise UK Agriculture

24 October 2017   (0 Comments)
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News Release | IAgrE

This year’s annual IAgrE conference held at Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise, Harpenden, took on the challenge of where will tomorrow’s innovative solutions come from to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint?

Speakers from the National Farmers Union, New Holland Agriculture, Cranfield University and Rothamsted explored a broad spectrum of ideas with the intention of assisting policy makers to choose the right approaches to develop the technologies and practices needed if the UK’s reliance on carbon is to reduce.

“Agriculture is the largest source of nitrous oxide emissions in the UK, contributing around 84% of the total emissions and nitrous oxide is about 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, so emissions have a powerful impact,” said Alastair Taylor CEO of IAgrE.

Professor Jane Rickson CEnv of Cranfield University said, “The importance of soil has moved up the agri-environment agenda with increasing recognition that this vital natural asset underpins the sustainability of most agribusinesses.  If we increased by 4% (0.4%) a year the quantity of carbon contained in soils, we can halt the annual increase of CO2 in the atmosphere - a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and climate change.”

Domestic agricultural policy must support innovation to drive productivity and competitiveness, advised Dr Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser, renewable energy and climate change at the National Farmers’ Union.

“More than 1 in 3 farmers are already diversifying into renewables in the UK, they own or host -70% of UK solar power, half of the AD capacity and the majority of wind power.  The future is diesel-electric hybrid tractors, forklifts and telehandlers participating in a ‘vehicle to grid’ network of balancing services but there will need to be a supporting infrastructure.  What is needed is more flexible electricity and gas networks, heat networks, improved rural internet connections, more water reservoirs and ‘smart’ farm buildings.”

Founder of City Farm Systems, Jonathan Lodge, talked about how urban farming could be made sustainable, environmentally friendly and economically more viable.  “We must think about different ways of producing food closer to its market.  Up on the roof, down underground and harvesting crops just before the point of sale with no transport.”  Branding this technology ‘CloudGro’ it could be the pathway to a new way of farming with the potential of reducing the carbon footprint.

Dr Ian Shield, of hosts Rothamsted Research talked about the production of energy crops and how they demonstrated many positive outcomes of which substitution of fossil fuels and diversification of farming systems are most prominent.  

Growing energy crops such as willow and miscanthus could help the UK reduce carbon emissions and benefit wildlife.  The greatest financial expense and potential for energy and greenhouse gas losses is the harvesting and immediate post-harvest management of the crops.  

Summing up Alastair said, “This is such a broad subject. We chose five compelling topics but we could easily have chosen five different interpretations of the carbon challenge. More than anything, this demonstrates the multi-disciplinary nature of Agricultural Engineering”.

The Society for the Environment's Phil Underwood and Dr Tatum Matharu attended the annual conference to swat up on environmental practices within agriculture, and to meet current and aspiring Chartered Environmentalists. The current innovations in tractor engines and ways to keep carbon locked in soil were of particular interest. We look forward to next year's event. 


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