The Carbon Farmer of the year competition, launched at the annual Low Carbon Agriculture show in February earlier this year, was set up by Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT) to recognise and champion farmers, sector organisations and businesses who are leading the way in adopting farming practices and developing new technologies to reduce farm emissions whilst optimising output and adaption to climate change.
The team of judges, comprising of Adam Twine, FCT founder and mixed farmer, David Cope, the Duchy of Cornwall’s head of sustainability, and Emily Norton, chair of the Soil Association Exchange Advisory Group, selected four finalists – Anthony Ellis from Pensipple Farm, Cornwall, Craig Livingstone from Lockerley Estates, Hampshire, Doug Christie from Durie Farms, Fife and Thomas Gent from Oakley Farm, Cambridgeshire.
The winner was Doug Christie of Durie Farms, who runs a mixed farm with beef cattle and arable cropping and is organic for the grassland and livestock.
Doug has been incorporating conservation agriculture practices increasingly since 1999 and was very much a pioneer of and advocate for climate friendly farming when it was far from fashionable. He initially focused on soil health and by doing this soon realised that it also provided a platform by which emission heavy inputs were reduced with a corresponding reduction in his carbon footprint while also enhancing natural capital services such as biodiversity, water quality, reduced diffuse pollution, water infiltration as well as overall farm resilience – a tall order while attempting to optimise sustainable output. Testament to this focus on biodiversity is that Doug ceased using insecticides over 20 years ago.
As a mixed farm, the largest source of emissions is the beef cattle on the farm, despite all the very positive practices in place. However, looking more holistically, the benefits of the cattle in providing manures and extensive use of legumes to replace chemical fertilisers and supporting enhanced biodiversity contributes to effective ecosystem services which in turn supports a pesticide free system, encouraging a more circular farming system.
Key measures to reduce the use of fuel and energy at Durie Farms primarily focus on reducing the need for power, through activities such as reduced on farm feed mill and mixing as feed use has declined, reduced lighting for housed livestock, use of a stripper header, keeping tyre pressures optimum; reducing total tractor hours/year, low tractor HP/axle weights as well as changing overall farm systems to reduce the need for the use of machinery and equipment. Data on fuel usage going back to 2018 indicates that fuel usage for the cattle enterprise has reduced by 24% during this period with the arable enterprise fuel use, stubble to stubble and including cover crops averaging 12.21 litres/tonne or 53 litres/ha, before fuel for drying crops which have fluctuated from 5 – 20 litres/tonne (including fuel for generator to power the drier) fluctuations mainly due to moisture of crops at harvest.
Going forward there is a list of things Doug is reportedly exploring; reducing emissions further and storing more carbon on the farm, via activities such as developing agroforestry on the permanent grassland to provide benefits for livestock, introducing diverse leys into the arable rotation to enable further reductions in fossil fuel fertiliser usage whilst enhancing soil carbon levels, which will in turn reduce reliance on chemical N Fertilisers (50% reduction on current levels). For this change, Doug will need to balance available forage with cattle requirements.
FCT’s long term ambition for the Carbon Farmer of the Year is to create a network of alumni who are changing their management practices to better manage emissions and carbon storage on farmland and who will inspire others through activity, practical demonstrations, and advocacy for changing management practices.
FCT will be holding a farm walk at Doug’s farm on the 21st November as part of Countryside COP week, click here for more details.