A couple of weeks ago, Duncan Farrington was honoured to be included in the panel for the annual LEAF Conference. This is a showcase event normally held in the heart of the financial centre of London,  bringing together LEAF members with their customers, journalists, international scientists and policy makers, to hear from speakers on the latest global sustainable issues of the day. This year was different as the conference had to take place online, yet it still was incredibly inspiring and allowed the panellists to share their sustainability goals for the future.

 

The conference was chaired by Tom Heap, BBC broadcaster with many years’ experience in agricultural journalism, and Duncan was joined by Minette Batters, chair of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Jonathan Wadsworth, lead climate change specialist at The World Bank and Chris Buss, deputy director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Forest and Climate Change Programme.

 

Each of the panellists shared their sustainability stories, goals and wishes for the future. Here is what each one said, which you can watch via video if you prefer.

 

Duncan Farrington:

I am very proud that Farrington’s Mellow Yellow is the first food brand in the world to be certified as both carbon and plastic neutral. Having been a LEAF Marque farmer for many years, we are used to collecting data on such things as energy use, which is very helpful as a management tool, but I felt we could use this information as the basis of something bigger and importantly commercially rewarding which led to us becoming carbon neutral.

Through small changes, we have made big differences to our carbon emissions. By reducing the intensity of cultivation on the farm, our fuel usage has reduced 60% to 75%, a broader crop rotation has reduced nitrogen fertiliser usage by 13% and solar panels on our barn roofs generate 50% of our electricity. But the biggest gain has been in soil health from the sustainable techniques I have been practising for the last 22 plus years. I have shown through ongoing soil analysis how a particular field’s general soil health has improved, including soil organic matter which has increased by 75%. The net result has been the absorption of an estimated 300 tons of CO2 by one field alone every year. To put this into context, the total net CO2 removal on our farm is enough to off-set the emissions from around 2,400 Mellow Yellow Minis from UK roads each year. So sustainable agricultural soil management has a huge potential positive influence on climate change.

LEAF already do fantastic work as the trusted go-to organisation supporting sustainable food production and there is now an increasing commercial appetite for climate friendly food that LEAF can lead as a consumer facing organisation. This will drive the commercial success of LEAF farmers and growers, which in turn will deliver the step change in innovation and ambition required. Imagine the kudos and effect if LEAF was successful in winning an award from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Earthshot prize for championing a carbon friendly food system. That would drive real ambition!

My one climate change wish in the near future is to get an internationally accepted certification for soil organic matter. I am involved in an EU consortium hoping to look at how soils can be accurately evaluated on mass scale using satellite data for their soil carbon content. The ambition is to create a trusted certification, to help land managers explore how their actions can affect soil health, creating the financial and moral incentive to manage land in ways to drive the huge potential of carbon sequestration.

 

Minette Batters:

The game changer for government and political thinking around climate change is COP26. Farming has seen huge impact from ever more severe weather and farmers are already experiencing the impact of climate change. The NFU has set an ambitious target of net zero by 2040 because we really believe farmers can achieve this with the right incentives. We need to focus on more efficient and sustainable farming, and nobody has shown more leadership in this area than LEAF.

We also need to focus on more carbon storage. There is research into beetle banks that is interesting for example. There is a huge amount that can be done by farmers in carbon storage and this is key. Renewable energy is another big area of opportunity. It is incredibly important for a farm’s diversification to look into renewable energy.

There are a lot of challenges around diet. We need to engage with whole foods and nutrition, cooking from scratch and realising that health is dependent on our diet. We need to look at what we aren’t consuming that we can export too. We also need to revolutionise how we think about water. We need to move water around the country rather than letting diffuse water run into the sea. This needs a strong and ambitious working relationship with government.

My one climate change wish is that COP26 is a game changer, that agriculture rises to the fore across the world and we work together to ensure we are deemed an important part of the solution. Climate change is the challenge of our time and I passionately believe our farmers are the solution.

 

Jonathan Wadsworth:

The World Bank is an international development organisation with a role to reduce poverty and inequality by lending money to governments of poor countries to improve their economy and standard of living. Over the next 5 years, it will invest $200 billion in climate adaption and mitigation projects.

Progress has been uneven across regions and countries. Millions of people are being left behind, climate change exacerbates these inequalities. The poorest and most vulnerable are hardest hit. To have any hope of achieving sustainable development goals by 2030 we must adapt quickly to climate change and reduce emissions, with urgency. The greatest climate challenge at the moment is how to take action now.

The world food system does an amazing job. For the past 50 years, food production has outpaced population growth, adding $8 trillion a year to global GDP. If the food system was a country, it would have the third largest GDP in the world, behind China and the USA. But this performance comes at a high cost to people and the planet.

Our food system is both a victim and a culprit of climate change, but with the right incentives, approaches and innovations, we know it can be a big part of the solution. The good news is that more and more people are becoming more aware and starting to take action.

LEAF is an excellent example of farmers and researchers working together to find and promote climate-smart solutions. This approach merits being massively scaled up to become a real movement of change and the UK could play a major role.

Agriculture is the only sector able to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it naturally in vast amounts. We must exploit that advantage fully.

The global food and agriculture system needs to deliver three main things:

– To reduce emissions that contribute at least 30% of the mitigation needed set out by the Paris Agreement.

– Widespread adoption of the planetary human health diet.

– More inclusive development

LEAF can play a key role in continuing to demonstrate what can be achieved and influence governments and investors to find the financial and the political will to support and facilitate a great agriculture and food system transformation.

If I had one climate change wish it would be that COP26 is a success and world governments would recognise that food and agriculture is indispensable for addressing the climate emergency.

 

Chris Buss:

I work around nature-based solutions and land use and protection of nature, restoration of nature and land production systems. Trees are key for farming systems; they bring nutrients into farming systems, regulate water, provide building materials and firewood. It is a win-win system so makes sense to bring trees into farming.

A great example of the role of nature is pollination. The loss of pollinators is estimated to have a net value of $150 billion to $160 billion. There is a loss to consumers by increased prices, but also a loss of profit to farmers too as they have to replace natural systems.

Success for nature would be farmers helping to make and shape policy. As they manage the land, they are closest to nature and are the key partners globally to help integrate nature into our agricultural systems and shape policies to make sure nature is included in their farming strategies.

One successful strategy that we are building with farmers globally, is working to restore land on-farm and off-farm, bringing trees back into the farming systems. This is critical as it provides farmers with more resilient land use systems, secures supply, sequesters carbon and is socially just.

Moving forward, technical support can be provided to farmers, support can be provided to decision makers going into climate change negotiations and we can build land restoration strategies.

 

LEAF’s 10 Year Strategy

After a lively Q&A session with Tom Heap, LEAF Chairman Philip Wynn and LEAF Chief Executive Caroline Drummond shared the new LEAF 10 Year Strategy. This is a continuation of their work in developing and promoting more sustainable agriculture through Integrated Farm Management. They are going to support the delivery of positive action for climate, nature, economy and society based on their core work and the principles of circular agriculture.

 

Their vision:

A global farming and food system that delivers climate positive action, builds resilience and supports the health, diversity and enrichment of food, farms, the environment and society.

 

The mission:

To inspire and enable more circular approaches to farming and food systems through integrated, regenerative and vibrant nature-based solutions, that deliver productivity and prosperity among farmers, enriches the environment and positively engages young people and wider society.

 

Their 2031 ambition:

LEAF’s ambition is to play a demonstrable part in transforming farming and food systems. Building on their work since LEAF was established in 1991, this will be through the agro-ecological and regenerative benefits of the whole farm, site specific focus of Integrated Farm Management to drive positive action for climate, nature, economy and society. Embracing circular agriculture with health, diversity and enrichment at the centre of all they do. Through the use of management tools, the harmonisation of metrics, technology, innovations, data and Artificial Intelligence, training, research, demonstration, market opportunity, education and engagement, they will support and contribute to the practical delivery of national and global commitment. This will include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement and the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.

 

You can read the full plan here or watch this short video:

The environment has always been at the heart of everything we do and we are so proud to be officially certified by the United Nations as carbon neutral, highlighting our commitment to sustainability.

 

What is carbon neutral?

Carbon neutral means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal (often through carbon offsets).

Many large companies and even governments have set carbon neutral goals, typically to achieve carbon neutrality within 10, 20 or even 30 years. Amazon have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, the UK government has said they aim to reach this milestone by 2050 and Delta, an American company, have pledged to become the first carbon neutral airline in the next 10 years.

All of these companies have given themselves plenty of time, which can be needed for big corporations. However, we knew that something needed to be done sooner than this. Thanks to our LEAF Marque audits, we have been monitoring our emissions for many years so were in a great position to become carbon neutral a lot sooner. Read on to find out how we became carbon neutral…

 

How did we become carbon neutral?

The first step was measure. This involved us looking at every part of our business, from each employee’s commute to work, to the amount of electricity used in our office and factory, to the fertiliser used on our fields. We calculated the greenhouse gas emissions from each and this gave us our carbon footprint.

We then signed up to the United Nations Climate Neutral Now Initiative Pledge. This pledge showed our commitment to measure, reduce and offset our carbon emissions. This pledge has been signed by many other companies and governments that are prioritising our environment and making a meaningful difference.

 

carbon neutral now logo

 

After measure, the next step was reduce. We are constantly working to reduce our emissions and through our LEAF farming practises, we are able to accurately measure this and continue to reduce them. Some of the ways we have reduced our emissions are:

 

– The installation of solar panels on our barn roofs in 2018 which now produce 50% of our total yearly electricity. In the summer months, we are producing a huge 80% of our electricity from the solar panels!

– We have dramatically reduced our fuel usage on the farm by stopping ploughing in 1998 and since then, have continued to reduce this further by using less fertiliser on our fields as the soil health increases and provides more nutrients to the crops. As well as reducing fuel usage, by stopping ploughing, we are actually locking in huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the soil, you can read more about this here.

– We use GPS systems on all our tractors to make them as efficient as possible, lowering our fuel usage and keeping emissions to a minimum.

– We use LED energy saving bulbs and timers on our lights to keep our electricity usage as low as possible too.

 

thumbnail solar power

 

As we are a LEAF farm, we have a yearly audit to ensure we are doing the best to farm in harmony with nature, and we are always working to find new ways to reduce our emissions and our impact on nature!

The next step in our carbon neutral journey was to offset our remaining emissions. We used United Nations approved offsets and have been able to support a reforestation initiative in Uruguay and a United Nations clean energy project.

With this last step completed, we became certified as carbon neutral in January 2020 and received the Carbon Neutral Gold Standard from the United Nations!

carbon neutral

 

What’s next?

Becoming carbon neutral is a fantastic achievement, but we aren’t going to stop there. We aim to be carbon negative, that means we will be absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than we put into it, so we would be removing carbon rather than adding it.

In order to become officially certified as carbon neutral, we had to use the United Nation’s way of calculating net carbon emissions. this unfortunately meant we could not take into account all the incredible work we do with our soils as the carbon stored in soils is not yet officially recognised as a carbon store. From our own calculations, if this was taken into account, we would already be carbon negative!

Duncan is now involved in European project to find an internationally accepted, verifiable and certifiable method of measuring soil organic content on a continental scale, encouraging farmers and land managers to adopt carbon capturing methods improve their soil carbon content. The project aims to empower farmers to become agents of climate mitigation, where soil carbon and health will become a financial asset for the farmer and provide natural capital for the wider society by reducing global carbon emissions.

 

sustainable farming featured

 

Every year at the start of August, farmers are encouraged to share their day online as part of 24 Hours in Farming #Farm24. We took part again this year and shared all the goings on from Bottom Farm.

 

First, we headed out to find Marvin cultivating. This field was growing wheat this year which has now been harvested, we leave the wheat stubble in the field to biodegrade and nourish the soil. We are planning on planting beans in this field in October and beans need to be planted quite deep into the ground. Marvin has to cultivate the soil to loosen the top layer to make it possible for us to plant the beans. This is a big field and the cultivator needs to be driven quite slowly so this will take the majority of the day!

 

We then headed back to the farm yard, passing the combine harvester which is having a rest until the spring barley is ready to be harvested.

Here are the wild flowers we have growing around our spring barley. These flowers provide habitats for insects and is great for pollinators.

We even have these beautiful daisies in the wildflower meadow margins, and Duncan explained these are actually chamomile for making into tea!

The last stop on our way back to the farmyard was these trees. Duncan planted them back in 1989 and they are just a few of the 8000 trees he has planted on the farm over the years.

Heading into our rapeseed oil production area, we watched the team pressing and bottling our Mellow Yellow Rapeseed Oil. We cold press our rapeseed on our farm. Our presses run 24/7 to produce Mellow Yellow Rapeseed Oil for kitchens up and down the country! We call it the process of no process. Simply sow, grow, press and bottle!

 

We harvested our rapeseed a few weeks ago and this what the little seeds look like. They’re bright yellow inside and packed full of delicious and nutritious oil!

After lunch, Duncan headed out to do some mowing. Tidying up the edges of fields already combined and making sure the various public footpaths we have going through the farm are clear and accessible for people on their daily walks!

Before we harvest the wheat, we need to check the moisture content, still a few more days of sunshine needed for this field! Duncan is winnowing here – blowing air through the wheat to remove the chaff!

We then left Marvin finishing off the cultivating and that was our day!

 

We had a great time sharing our day on the farm and we hope you enjoyed getting an insight into British farming! See you next year!

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly and we thought it was the perfect opportunity to share our plastic neutral story…

The environment has always been at the heart of everything we do and earlier this year we took the next step in our sustainability journey and became plastic neutral! Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what this means, read on and we’ll explain. 

Becoming plastic neutral is a lot like becoming carbon neutral which is more commonly understood (and something we have also achieved, read more here) but the general idea is that we now fund the removal of the same amount of plastic from the environment as we use in our packaging, meaning Farrington’s Mellow Yellow is certified as plastic neutral.

MEASURE

The first step in becoming plastic neutral was to measure our plastic footprint. We looked at our products and how they are sent out and started listing all the plastic used at each stage. As our bottles are glass with a metal cap, there isn’t a huge amount of plastic on the product itself, but, for example, the label is plastic, as is the little pourer inside our cap. We also had to look at the way we send out our products. When sending large quantities of our glass bottles to supermarkets, we have to wrap each pallet in plastic wrap to stop breakages which would lead to food waste, so this plastic had to be counted.

Once we had a list of all the plastic used, we worked out how much each item weighed and how much of it we use in a year, and this created our yearly plastic footprint. With this figure, we had a really accurate representation of the amount of plastic that we, as a company, are putting into the environment each year. This is our plastic footprint.

OFFSET

Once we had our plastic footprint, we got in touch with rePurpose Global. rePurpose Global are a global community of conscious consumers and business that are committed to taking action against climate change.

rePurpose partnered us with a recycling project in India so that we could directly fund the removal of the equivalent weight of plastic as our plastic footprint. 

 

plastic neutral india

 

rePurpose work with vetted recycling projects tackling the waste crisis in India. A lot of the plastic they are removing from the environment is typically low-value plastic, which recyclers don’t often want to collect as it doesn’t bring them as much money. However, this plastic (such as crisps and chocolate wrappers) is incredibly polluting, especially when it reaches our oceans. rePurpose enables the ethical collection and recycling of this plastic, paying the waste workers a fair wage and giving them proper employment opportunities.

We are tackling a global issue, a lot of the UK’s waste is unfortunately exported to developing countries where it is sent to landfill or ends up in our oceans, so working with rePurpose is helping to finance crucial recycling infrastructure and improving wages and working conditions of waste pickers in India. 

 

plastic neutral waste ventures india

 

REDUCE

The next step is to gradually reduce our plastic footprint year on year. We are deeply committed to sustainability, so are searching for the most environmentally friendly options for our packaging. We know that sometimes removing plastic and replacing it with other materials isn’t always ultimately the best option for the planet. For example, plastic bags have the lowest carbon footprint of shopping bags, as long as they are reused many times, whereas a paper bag requires more energy to produce and isn’t as reusable. So when we look at reducing our plastic footprint, it is incredibly important to us that all environmental aspects are considered and the best option is chosen. We are working hard to find the best solutions, so make sure to keep reading our blog posts for more updates! 

 

If you would like to work out your own plastic footprint, rePurpose have a simple calculator for you here and even have options for individuals to offset their personal footprints and become plastic neutral. 

Here at Farrington Oils, we were incredibly proud to become the world’s first company to be certified as both carbon and plastic neutral earlier this year. As a small company, we were over the moon to have achieved a world-first! Especially as this ground-breaking achievement acknowledged our environmental credentials, something we all are very passionate about. As a business, Farrington Oils is now carbon and plastic neutral, so as employees we all felt that we could and should be measuring our personal carbon & plastic footprints and working to reduce our environmental impact.

Here we have a look at various members of the Farrington’s teams personal carbon and plastic footprints and hear how they have been working to reduce their environmental impact…

 

Rachel, Sales

Carbon: 5.04tonnes

Plastic: 69.59kg

I like to think I am a fairly careful person and try to avoid waste where I can, I like to cook from scratch, keep an eye on the heating and hot water and switch off lights that aren’t being used. With so much information in the media and with Duncan talking more about it at work, I have realised there is a lot that me and my family can do, small changes will add up to make a significant difference. 

I’m a big tea drinker and at home fill the kettle and then work my way through the water in the kettle during the day, I was shocked when I realised how wasteful I was being with this and now only heat the water I need each time. I am gradually changing my family meals, we are already quite healthy but I want to move to a more sustainable diet, so we are eating more meat free meals, buying British meat from the local butcher whenever we can, and eating more fish from a sustainable source. 

My plastic footprint was a big surprise – I eat a lot of fruit, salad and vegetables from the supermarket which are packed in plastic. I’ve found a link on my local council’s website to the company they use for our recycling and very detailed information on what can and can’t be recycled so I’m going to use this to improve the amount of packaging I recycle and to help make decisions when buying items based on their packaging. My local school has a recycling collection point for toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and crisp packets too which I have started to use.

I’ve learnt recently that plastic bags can be reused until they wear out and use 3 time less energy than paper bags and 113 times less energy than cotton bags to make, they were invented for reuse but as a society we have decided to treat them like single use items rather than seeing the value in them, so I am also trying to focus more on the ‘reuse’ part of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.

 

Emily, Sales

Carbon: 8.21tonnes

Plastic: 64.28kg

I was really surprised that both my carbon and plastic footprint were so high. I no longer use single use plastic drinks and use refillable cups and water bottles. I buy food in larger packs, batch cook and freeze to reduce waste. I could go to a butcher that supplies meat in brown wrapping paper, but my local butcher uses plastic bags, which aren’t recyclable. I think producers, shops and supermarkets need to continue to work on giving consumers more sustainable options. I also ensure that all my electric appliances are A grade and all my light bulbs are low energy.

 

Becs, Technical

Carbon: 9.23tonnes

Plastic: 58.63kg

I have a lifelong interest in sport and health and in recent years the natural progression from this has been to extend into a consideration for the environment and sustainability through an appreciation for energy expenditure and time spent enjoying the outdoors on my feet or bike. Though I have also recently come to realise that I have a genetic trait to see the value in all things and materials based on an unwanted tendency to hoard!

 

Sustainability was a factor in my decision to become vegetarian 10 years ago and also attracted me to working at Farrington Oils. At times my other interests such as seeing more of the world conflict with sustainability – international travel is definitely the largest of my footprints. I will make a conscious effort look at options to reduce this / offset in the future. On a smaller scale I am lucky that I enjoy cycling will continue to commute to work by bike (a 25 mile round trip) when I can –  aiming for an average of twice per week over the year.

 

My next effort will be to reduce my consumption of convenience drinks whether hot or cold. With good planning I should be able to reduce this, though I will struggle to not see a convenience drink as a treat and will need to be creative to find ways to achieve this sustainably.

 

Gina, Marketing

Carbon: 5.91tonnes

Plastic: 44.73kg

My house is the highest part of my carbon footprint. Being a very old house with a fairly old boiler, it probably isn’t the most energy efficient. But I have had a smart meter and smart thermostat installed so I can keep a track of energy usage and ensure the heating is not on when it isn’t needed.

I’ve been trying to reduce the plastic footprint of my food shops by making much more from scratch. During the colder months, I make soup each week for my lunches (storing it in reusable containers), I’ve been making my own sourdough bread (with flour bought from a refill shop near to my house) and generally trying to make as much from scratch as I possibly can so I only need to buy fresh ingredients which helps reduce packaging (especially when buying loose fruit and veg). I have also swapped my shampoo in plastic bottles for plastic-free, vegan shampoo bars from Lush.

I now take a reusable water bottle and reusable coffee cup out with me so I never need to buy drinks in disposable packaging. Once you get into the habit of doing things like this, it’s actually super easy, plus, many coffee shops offer discounts when you use your own cup!

 

 

 

Living sustainably is important to all members of our team, we even have Steve and Kevin lift sharing every day to halve the carbon footprint of their commute and Jo drives an electric vehicle to work a few days a week and has purchased an electric bike to cycle to work in the warmer months. Of course, Duncan’s commute is the most environmentally friendly, as he walks 5 minutes from his front door to the office, truly net-zero! 

 

As we all work to continue to reduce our carbon and plastic footprints, plus produce our award-winning carbon & plastic neutral cold pressed rapeseed oil and dressings, we hope to see more companies taking these steps to look after our environment! If you would like to work out your own environmental impact, the carbon footprint calculator is here and the plastic footprint calculator is here. Let us know your sustainable tips by getting in touch on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or email.

Soil health is a big part of sustainable farming and I have been measuring this on one of my fields since 2002. Among the great soil nutrition and health improvements seen in this field due to my sustainable farming practices, I have farmed in a way that has increased soil organic matter (SOM) which has a direct impact on reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Between 2002 and 2020 I have seen my SOM increase from 3.8% to 6.7% which is a significant amount when talking about soil!

 

What is Soil Organic Matter?

Soil organic matter is the organic part of soils consisting of plant and animal detritus at various stages of decomposition. Think of dead leaves off trees, straw left behind after crops have been harvested, decaying soil microbes and insects, or old plant roots in the soil.

The organic matter is made up of cells and molecules containing lots of carbon and it can be lost from soils over the years through natural processes, which is sped up if soils are moved intensively, mixing with oxygen in the atmosphere and released as carbon dioxide (CO2). Commonly this occurs when a field is ploughed.

We no longer plough our fields and have worked hard on our sustainable farming methods to keep the carbon in the soil. In the right conditions SOM can be increased over the years, as plants grow, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to create plant material through the natural process of photosynthesis. The process of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing in the soil is called carbon sequestration and the soil becomes a carbon sink as it reduces the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Soils have the ability to be fantastic carbon sinks when looked after. In fact, coal and mineral oils that are mined from the ground (fossil fuels) are carbon that has been stored from hundreds of millions of years ago, formed from decayed plants and animals that once grew and roamed the earth.

 

sustainable farming soil test

 

How does this relate to our farm?

On my field called ‘Below the Black Barn’ the increase in soil organic matter has removed CO2 from the atmosphere, locking it in the ground which is great for reducing global warming as well as making the soil more nutritious for the plants to grow in. The figures are very impressive. We know that for every 0.1% increase in SOM, around 8.9 tonnes of CO2 are sequestered on every hectare of land.

 

But what does this actually mean?

If my field has increased the total SOM by 2.9% over 18 years, it has absorbed around 258 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (ha), or 14.34 tonnes per ha per year on average. One hectare is around the same size as one and a quarter football pitches.

To put this into context, driving a 1.5lt petrol Mini (our Mellow Yellow Mini) car produces 117g of CO2 per Km. So, for every hectare of our field we are absorbing enough CO2 to off-set nearly 122,554km of motoring, which is equivalent to over 10 years driving for the average motorist!

 

Let’s look at the whole farm…

This is just off one hectare, but Below the Black Barn Field has a cropped area of around 20ha and our whole farm cropped area is around 272ha. Therefore, from the way we farm our soils, we are sequestering an impressive 3900 tonnes of CO2 per year, off-setting enough CO2 to fly one person 500 times around the world in economy class! (or take 2,778 cars off the road) each year.

 

trees blog mini

 

The story does not end with the cropped area

We have a medium sized family farm, which not only includes the cropped area, but all the other bits we do around the edges of our fields as part of our LEAF farming and sustainable farming practises. These include areas of woodland and hedges, a grass meadow, areas of native wild-flowers and grass margins. Over the years we have planted well over 8,000 metres of new hedges and over 8,000 native trees on the farm to add to the existing trees and hedges. All these conservation areas can be calculated to sequester a further 240 tonnes of CO2 per year, as well as being areas for wildlife to thrive and prosper.

In summary on our medium sized family farm in Northamptonshire, following our LEAF and sustainable farming principles of a common-sense approach to sustainable agriculture and soil management, we are absorbing over 4,100 tonnes of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to an awful lot of car journeys or air miles.  If all farmers around the world were to farm in a similar manner, there is the potential to offset all the global carbon emissions created by global transport, which is about 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted. Or another way of looking at it, by increasing soil organic matter content from 1.7% to 5.2% on agricultural land globally, would take 1 trillion tons (0.9 trillion tonnes) of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, bringing it down to pre-industrial levels.

The good news is that we are not the only people practicing some fantastic sustainable farming techniques growing quality crops, livestock and wildlife habitats on our farm. As well as pressing rapeseed grown on our farm, we buy seed off four other LEAF Marque farmers who are just as passionate as we are in the way they farm. So, between us we are all doing our bit to preserve and protect the planet for future generations.

 

Further reading, in no particular order:

Montgomery. D.A, 2017. Growing a Revolution, Bringing our soil back to life. (Available from Amazon here.)

www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk

www.indigoag.com/the-terraton-challenge

www.co2.myclimate.org/en/flight_calculators/new

www.soilquality.org.au/factsheets/organic-carbon

www.cereals.ahdb.org.uk/media/176733/g57_understanding_carbon_footprinting_for_cereals_and_oilseeds.pdf

www.theguardian.com/money/2019/jan/14/average-uk-car-mileage-falls-again-on-back-of-higher-petrol-prices

www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change?language=en

The environment has always been at the heart of everything we do, which is why LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) is so important to us. As a LEAF Demonstration farm and LEAF Marque producer, we are so proud of the work the LEAF team do to encourage other farmers to take a more sustainable approach to their farms.

 

Here, Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) talks about early beginnings, driving forward more sustainable farming and connecting communities…

 

Our Roots

 

LEAF celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. We began life in 1991 with a tiny office at the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire and one very ancient computer! Initially set up as a three-year project, with seed funding for only three years, we had to become self-financing. And we did just that! The focus in those early days was to set up a national network of LEAF Demonstration Farms – to showcase sustainable farming in action. We launched five farms in that first year and created a membership offer that farmers could sign up to.

 

LEAF walk

 

LEAF was set up to do two things: to promote sustainable farming through Integrated Crop Management (ICM) which, as more livestock farmers came on board, later became Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and secondly, to raise public awareness of what farmers were doing to farm with environmental care. LEAF has grown to become a global leader in delivering more sustainable farming and those two objectives remain as true today as they did then.

 

Sustainable Farming Through IFM

 

Consumers increasingly want to know more about what they feed their families; they want to eat healthily; they want to know where their food has come from and how it was produced; they want assurance of its sustainable credentials. As people started to visit our growing network of Demonstration Farms, they were asking where they could buy food they were seeing bring grown. This heralded the beginnings of LEAF Marque – our environmental assurance system.

 

Today we work in 27 countries with over 900 LEAF Marque certified businesses worldwide and over 40% of UK grown fruit and vegetables is grown on LEAF Marque farms. Farrington’s Mellow Yellow were one of the early trailblazers as both a LEAF Demonstration Farm and one of the earliest adopters of LEAF Marque – the first rapeseed oil to be LEAF Marque certified!

 

LEAF global

 

We are hugely proud to have worked with the Farrington’s team over so many years. Their commitment to LEAF and all we stand for, has recently been demonstrated with them becoming the world’s first carbon and plastic neutral food brand.

 

Building Connections

 

People have always been at the heart of LEAF’s vision of a world that is farming, eating and living sustainably. Building knowledge and understanding of sustainable farming helps highlight the connections between all living things – soil, plants, animals and people. This understanding gives rise to an attitude of responsibility and care. As a LEAF Demonstration Farm and LEAF Open Farm Sunday host farmer, Farrington’s Mellow Yellow welcomes people from all walks of life to experience farming first hand. Bringing people closer to farming and how their food is produced is opening people’s eyes to the importance of sustainable farming and, in turn, encouraging them to make more sustainable food choices.

 

LEAF talk

 

The way forward

 

Reflecting over nearly three decades, LEAF has come a long way! We haven’t achieved this growth alone. There is no magic bullet to optimising sustainable food production. It requires collective efforts of farmers, governments, retailers, NGO’s, scientists and individuals. All of us working together to achieve shared outcomes – more productive soils, cleaner water and air, greater biodiversity, efficient energy use and improved connections with people, farming and the natural world.

The partnerships LEAF has built over its nearly 30-year history will be key as we navigate the next critical few years.

www.leafuk.org

 

LEAF flowers

On a very wet Sunday in February, with Storm Dennis doing his best to ruin the weekend, we were joined by 30 local volunteers in waterproofs and wellies to tackle climate change head on for our tree planting day.

Trees are the lungs of our planet, they absorb carbon, fight flooding, reduce pollution, nurture wildlife and enhance the beautiful English countryside. Since 1987, we have planted over 8,000 trees on the farm and this time, we thought we would ask the local community for their help with our next tree planting effort.

 

 

With the support of The Woodland Trust, we were advised to choose trees that suited the wet conditions of the area the trees would be planted in. They suggested hawthorn, crab apple, hazel, goat willow and holly, which will grow to create a wild wood area. We bought the trees from The Woodland Trust, they sell small saplings that are UK sourced and grown to help prevent the spread of trees diseases and pests. By buying trees from The Woodland Trust, it helps support the fantastic work they do in protecting, restoring and creating the UK’s woodlands. To buy your own trees from The Woodland Trust, visit their shop here

 

 

To start the day off, all our volunteers gathered in our grain store and were served delicious tea and coffee from local coffee roastery, No. 13 Coffee. They roast their own beans in nearby Kettering and then serve their coffee from a converted horse box, which is solar powered! Eli Farrington made a wonderful selection of cakes, all using Mellow Yellow Rapeseed Oil. With everyone settled with a hot drink and slice of cake, Duncan explained why planting trees is so important and the correct tree planting technique. Then it was time to head out into the rain. Armed with spades and umbrellas, we handed out the saplings and our trusty volunteers got digging!

By the time all the trees were in the ground, everyone was pretty wet and cold, so we went straight back to the grain store to enjoy another hot drink from No. 13 Coffee and another slice of cake, after all, we had earned it!

 

 

The weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits and we hope all our volunteers had a nice time. Trees absorb carbon dioxide all their life, but are most efficient during their teenage to middle age years. So for the next few years, these trees will focus on growing and then in about 10 years, will start really making a difference to global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Planting trees is a true investment for the future of our planet, so we are incredibly grateful for all our volunteers and the help they provided! If you want to learn more about why planting trees is so important, have a read of this blog post.

If you want to plant your own trees or attend a tree planting day, visit The Woodland Trust’s website.

What is carbon sequestration?

“Carbon sequestration is the long-term removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be stored in plants, soils, geologic formations or oceans.”

 

This sentence very simply defines what carbon sequestration is, but I will explain a bit more about what it actually means and how soils and sustainable farming practices can have a major impact on reducing global warming by reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere.

 

Soil carbon sequestration is a natural process powered by growing plants, through the process of photosynthesis. Plants photosynthesise with the energy from sunlight, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and converting this into new plant material, both above and below the soil surface, locking up the carbon and releasing the oxygen back to the atmosphere. The process works in symbiosis with the minerals, water, bacteria, fungi and other organisms in the soil. Plants grow, die and decay, feeding the soil and the life within it. Over the long term, CO2 is removed from the atmosphere, locked into the soil and, stored in the plants. This is carbon sequestration and the soil is known as a carbon sink.

 

What is soil?

Soils are naturally made up of four different components, a typical soil consists of:

50% Mineral

20-25% Water

20-25% Air

1 to 12% Organic matter

 

Obviously, the specific percentages will vary from one soil to another and whether or not it is in wet or dry conditions for example. In winter soils will contain more water than in the summer. The organic matter is made up from all the living and dead material: bacteria, plant roots, dead leaf litter and animal manure for example. This organic matter is full of carbon that is locked in the soil. Different soils will have different soil organic matter (SOM) contents and therefore different carbon contents. For example, a sandy soil will have a low SOM of around 1%, where as a peat-based soil will be at the top end, with clay soils somewhere in between.

 

A bit of soil history

Around 10,000 years ago man evolved from being a hunter gatherer to a farmer as they started growing crops and grazing animals. They managed the soils, changing the natural habitat to one more favourable to their needs. Right from the first farmers, man has not been very successful at looking after our soils. In fact, every empire in human history has eventually failed due to starvation, mainly bought about by soil degradation. From the Roman Empire, to the more recent collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

President Franklin Roosevelt once stated, “A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” Wise words indeed, based on thousands of years of proof. However, when Roosevelt made this statement, he was probably thinking of the dust bowls in the mid-west of the American prairies and the loss of the natural habitat caused by farmers ploughing up their land to grow crops. He was very aware of the nutritious soil literally being blown away and was no doubt aware that unless farming practices changed, in time this land would not be able to produce food. But he was probably not aware that the general degradation of the soil was also releasing many thousands of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to what we know today as Global Warming.

 

Traditionally farmers plough the land, a process to turn the soil over to create good conditions in which to plant the following crop or pasture. However, when the soil is moved intensely as it is in ploughing, the carbon that is locked into that soil is suddenly exposed to our oxygen-rich atmosphere, resulting in the carbon combining with the oxygen to make carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere. At this point the soil changes from being a carbon sink (removing CO2 from the atmosphere) to become a carbon source (releasing CO2 into the atmosphere). Over a few short decades, soils will lose their carbon content and thus reduce the soil organic matter, not only releasing global warming CO2, but also making the soil less nutritious and resilient to extreme weather conditions, which is not good for the farmer.

 

How are we improving our soils on Bottom Farm?

There is a better way we can grow our crops and graze our animals, using sustainable practises carried out by the likes of LEAF farmers (Linking Environment And Farming). These sustainable farming practises have three crucial but simple requirements to make soils healthy:

– Reduce soil disturbance from intensive cultivation and ploughing

– Keep something growing in the soil all year

– Vary the crops and livestock grown on the soil

 

By reducing cultivation, and especially ploughing of the soil, the loss of CO2 is greatly reduced. By keeping something growing in the soil as long as possible, not only are the plants utilising the power of the sun, photosynthesising and actively absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, but the roots are feeding all the microbes in the soil to keep a healthy biodiversity. Finally, by varying the crops and livestock grown on the soil, the farmer better mimics what would happen in nature keeping the soil in good health.

 

If farmers follow these simple principles, they can again turn the soil back into a carbon sink, sequestering carbon in the soil and increasing the soil organic matter. I have done this on our farm over the last two decades and on one field which I have been monitoring, I have increased the soil organic matter from 3.8% to 6.3% between 2002 and 2016. To put this into context, if every farmer around the world practiced sustainable soil principles, our soils have the ability to remove 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, taking us back to pre-industrial levels. So, the prize is extremely big and very worthwhile aiming for.

I think I might be a Tree Hugger.

 

I have always appreciated the beauty of and adaptability of trees, whether this be an individual tree impressively showing its unique beauty in the open countryside or adding a warmth of texture to the architectural lines of an urban setting. Together trees make the copses and woodlands that characterise our British landscape, creating our ‘green and pleasant land’. 13% of Britain is covered in woodland, up from just 5% at the beginning of the last century when the Forestry Commission was established. Britain also has an exceptional number of ancient trees compared to the rest of Europe, these trees are a living history, wrapped up with mythology and traditions stretching back thousands of years. Trees provide a home for other forms of wildlife from lichens and fungi, to insects, birds and small mammals. They are also a valuable source of food for wildlife and humans alike, as well as timber having many uses; from being a fuel or an important raw material to build everything from ships and buildings, to fine furniture to the more mundane but essential: paper for toilet rolls.

 

bird in tree

 

As a young boy I can just about remember the grand knarled Elm trees around the farm, most of which succumbed to the devastating Dutch Elm Disease which just about wiped this species out. Luckily, a few Elms survived which are resistant to the disease, but this is now a rare sight. From the 1980s, farmers started to be encouraged by government policy to plant trees on their farms to replace the former trees that had been lost over the years from Dutch Elm disease and from those pulled out following the second World War, where government policy had encouraged farmers to grow more food ensuring Britain was never held hostage to food shortages again.

 

tree saplings

 

Over the years, my father and I have planted well over 8,000 trees on our farm. Father started this in 1987, establishing two small copses of native deciduous hardwoods and fruiting trees in awkward field corners. Now some thirty years later, these trees have added real beauty to the landscape, as well as providing habitat and food for wildlife. From autumn 1989, as soon as I left school, I planted my first trees on the farm and spent many subsequent winters with a spade and flask of tea planting trees and hedges around the farm. Over the years, these have needed weeding, tending and replacing ones that either died in summer droughts, or were eaten by Muntjac and hares. But now as they grow and mature, I find real pleasure in seeing them evolve, becoming part of the landscape.

 

spinney trees

 

When I first started planting trees and hedges on the farm, my motivation was to improve the visual character of the farm, by creating a network of small copses linked by hedgerows next to water courses or across fields. For example, I created a beetle bank across our largest field and planted it with a mixture of tree and hedge plants. This created a wildlife corridor from an old hedge at one end to a small copse at the other. Over the years it has provided habitat for Grey Partridge and other farmland birds, as well as small mammals and insects, including of course beetles. It is visible from a nearby bridleway, providing an interesting focal point on the horizon.

 

In addition to the visual and wildlife benefits, many of the trees we have planted such as English Oak, will in time be a source of quality timber, however this will be long after I have gone. But I have also planted a couple of areas of Poplar trees purely for their timber around twenty years ago. This is a quick growing hardwood which takes around twenty five years to mature. So these will soon be ready to cut down to make pallets or furniture frames, following which we will replant the areas with more trees in their place to start the cycle over again.

 

Since I started planting trees on our farm as a way of improving our own little part of the countryside, the appreciation of trees in the wider world to reduce flooding and soil erosion has become more apparent. However, the biggest change over the last decade has been the wider realisation of the ability of trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the sense of despair at the continued global deforestation, especially in the Amazon basin, often thought of as the planet’s lungs. Admittedly the 8,000 trees we have planted is not going to make up for vast tracts of lost rainforest, but every little bit genuinely helps.

 

tree and beehive

 

Trees absorb carbon dioxide all their lives, but are most efficient during their teenage to middle age years. Therefore, the trees we planted between 1987 to around 2005 are currently doing a very good job for us. According to the Farm Carbon Toolkit every hectare of broadleaved deciduous trees will absorb around 4,761Kg of carbon dioxide per year. In addition, for every 1,000m of managed hedgerow, a further 1,175 Kg of CO2 is absorbed every year. On our farm we have doubled the area of woodland over the last thirty years to over 9 hectares and increased the length of hedgerows to over 14,000m, so our woodland and hedgerows are absorbing over 59 tonnes of CO2 every year.

(To learn more about how plants store CO2 in the soil, have a read of our blog post about why we no longer plough our fields.)

 

To put this into perspective, an average family car such as our ‘Mellow Yellow Mini’ produces around 117g of CO2 for every kilometre driven, therefore our trees and hedges are removing enough CO2 out of the atmosphere every year to offset over half a million kilometres of driving, which is enough to remove over 40 ‘Mellow Yellow Minis’ off UK roads each year (for the average car use of 11,900 km per year).

 

trees blog mini

 

With all these great benefits that trees bring to our lives and the world around us, we are certainly going to continue planting trees on our farm. Starting this February, working with the Woodland Trust, we are going to plant up a small area next to a pond with 100 trees, that until recently had scrub and dead elms. This time though, rather than doing all the work ourselves, we are going to invite local people to help us. We will provide the young trees and in return for everyone’s hard work, we will lay on some refreshments to create a real good community spirit. If you would like to join us and plant a tree on Bottom Farm on Sunday 16th February, register for your ticket here.

 

So yes, I am definitely a Tree Hugger and proud to be called one! Any other prospective tree huggers out there, feel free to sign up to come along in February and plant your very own bit of history in the English countryside.

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