Environment & ecology
SRUC has developed an integrated programme of research teaching and consultancy activities addressing the issue of measurement and mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHDs) and environmental impact. The UK and Scottish Governments have set legally binding targets to reduce GHG emissions by at least 80% (against a 1990 baseline) by 2050.
A lack of progress in meeting emissions reductions from the agriculture sector while other sectors have achieved significant mitigation has meant that the proportional emissions that agriculture is responsible for has increased. It is likely that agriculture will be the largest source of GHG emissions in the Scottish economy within the next 5-10 years. This policy background has been instrumental in promoting research funding.
The importance of climate change mitigation and adaptation remains a strong focus for research funding and this interest is likely to increase as a consequence of policy targets. There is also an indication that research funding will seek to link wider impacts of mitigation and adaptation to environmental management and food production.
Evidence for this is provided by DEFRA’s 25 year environment plan and discussions currently taking place on the new EU Framework research programme. This is likely to see a merger between work on climate change and food security, and is likely to receive an increased level of funding given the perceived importance of these topics.
Scotland provides a leading role in developing new approaches to measurement and mitigation of GHG emissions from agriculture. In this context there is a large and increasing opportunity to extend our research in this area on an international basis. We already have very strong links across Europe, and have developed collaborations in China, SSA and South America.
Research, consultancy, education
Work on climate change mitigation and adaptation, provides major opportunities in teaching and consultancy. Within education SRUC has a strong track record in work on climate change and agriculture at the masters level. Some teaching in this area is also embedded across the undergraduate programmes, although there is more that we can do.
In consultancy, SRUC has an extensive programme of work supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is reflected in the Farming for a Better Climate programme and is also supported by the development of the carbon foot printing software 'Agrecalc'. There are further opportunities to develop this work.
Scottish government policies support the roll out of carbon audits on farms and measures to improve resource use efficiency. As discussion on realignment of farm subsidies develop, it is likely that further opportunities will emerge to support delivery of public goods.
Role of genetics in dairy system methane emissions
Effective measures to reduce methane emissions from the dairy industry can only be taken after the environmental impacts of the different current production systems have been quantified. The aim of this project is to examine the role that the dairy cow plays in system methane emissions, examining the genetic and nutritional effects. The work considers methods of predicting energy wastage (methane emissions) from individual animals and express energy wasted from the system as a function of energy output/kg milk/cow.
This builds on the detailed analysis of information available from the long-running genotype*environment Langhill/Crichton experiment. Information from these analyses will be used in a whole-farm model to examine the role the animal genetic and nutrition plays in the overall system efficiency. A whole-farm model will be used to help develop methods of incorporating environmental components (i.e., methane emissions) in dairy breeding programme design.
Why do we need to manage carbon emissions?
Agriculture is a significant contributor to global climate change through the net release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous dioxide. 'Carbon emissions' is the collective term for the release of these gases. At the farm level, these emissions arise from the use of fossil fuels and manufactured inputs, the by-products of animal digestion, the cultivation of soils and the loss of natural vegetation and forests as carbon sinks.
Carbon footprinting involves measuring the overall amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases associated with an activity or a product throughout its life cycle. The boundaries of this measurement must be defined, e.g. to the farm gate or to the final customer. Lowering carbon emissions can benefit business by reducing costs and, in some cases, improving marketing and increasing sales.
SRUC can help farmers, companies or whole supply chains in the food and land-based industries to assess the carbon footprint of their products or services.
Marginal abatement cost curves
The UK Government is committed to ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and all significant sources including agriculture are coming under increasing scrutiny.
The Government recognises the need to achieve emissions reductions in an economically efficient manner. In theory this means that some attempt should be made to equalise marginal abatement costs across different sectors.
In other words, the cheapest units of greenhouse gas should be abated first. This suggests a requirement for information on abatement schedules or marginal abatement cost curves (MACC’s), which show the relative cost of greenhouse gas mitigation by alternative mitigation methods and technologies. This work has identified abatement potential for agriculture and land use in Scotland and the UK. In particular, the work is currently improving MACC estimates and incorporating other co-benefits into the analysis.
NitroEurope is a recently completed large European Integrated Project that aimed to improve our understanding of the contribution that nitrogen makes to the net greenhouse gas budgets of Europe. The project involved 60 partner organisations from across Europe, and over 160 scientists. SRUC was a core partner within the project and is using aligned Scottish Government funding.
The project had a number of objectives: which are being continued in our current research programme and include quantification of the net greenhouse gas emissions from grazed and cut grasslands in the SW of Scotland. Work is being undertaken at a number of sites on SRUC's Crichton farm to measure greenhouse gases over a period of 2 years under typical management scenarios for the SW of Scotland. Outputs from NitroEurope include the European Nitrogen Assessment.
The following projects and reports are examples of work that has been undertaken in SRUC on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture:
- Science report highlighting challenge in meeting UK net zero carbon goals for livestock
- Improved estimation and mitigation of nitrous oxide emissions and soil carbon storage from crop residues
- Climate Care Cattle Farming Systems
- Researchers tackle nitrogen pollution in Asia
Find out more about greenhouse gas emissions on the Scottish Government website.
Global climate emergency
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