WILL carbon calculators end up being a carrot or a stick for farmers?

The UK Government is currently consulting on the new UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), seeking feedback on the role of farm carbon calculators and how a nationwide tool could be implemented, writes FUW president Glyn Roberts 

The consultation will be discussed in our county executive meetings before the June 17 deadline.

FUW has consistently called for carbon calculators to be standardised, both to create a level playing field within the industry, and to reduce the variability in results which arise from having different calculators. 

So, how could they be used as a ‘carrot’ to benefit farmers?

Firstly, through public funding.

We expect to see the first draft of the new Welsh Government ‘Sustainable Farming Scheme’ this June.

The funding available will be linked to actions on farms to decarbonise, increase carbon sequestration and for providing farm-data from carbon calculators.

Secondly, the supply chain is seeking low carbon producers which could give farms a competitive advantage.

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Thirdly, the data from carbon calculators also gives us the opportunity to show off our credentials, giving us a positive narrative about farming-whether through removing CO2 from the atmosphere through soils and woodlands, or showing how we have reduced emissions. 

Fourthly, farm input efficiency and carbon efficiency go hand-in-hand, meaning calculators could help us identify cost savings and improve productive efficiency.

‘Feed, fuel and fertiliser’ are key components of a calculator, and with the prices we are experiencing most farmers will be looking to improve the efficiency of those inputs.

Finally, whilst needing to be approached with caution, calculators could also identify areas for potential income from carbon sequestration, such as selling carbon credits through the Woodland Carbon Code, or through soil carbon schemes. 

But let's not forget that the Welsh Government is already collecting a vast amount of information from farmers that can be used to give proxies for many measurements of farm carbon emissions and sequestration.

As this is already done through a single portal - RPW online - we have the scope to enhance this in a way that maximises uniformity or standardisation, and rewards farmers for this provision of data - as the Welsh farming unions have consistently argued for.

So what happens if agriculture ends up being incorporated into the ETS in the future, alongside industries such as aviation and power?


Denbighshire Free Press: What happens if agriculture ends up being incorporated into the ETS in the future, alongside industries such as aviation? Picture: PAWhat happens if agriculture ends up being incorporated into the ETS in the future, alongside industries such as aviation? Picture: PA


An ETS essentially puts a limit and a price on emissions, or a ‘carbon tax’ if legally binding targets are not met - representing a very definite stick, as opposed to the carrot.

We can also expect downward pressure from the supply chain as they will need to report to the Government on their suppliers’ carbon footprints.

These audits often do not include sequestration figures.

Free trade deals could also allow imported produce with far lower standards and far higher carbon emissions into the UK, whilst expecting Welsh producers to compete against said produce.

There are also concerns that the UK ETS has the ability to increase offsetting by encouraging other industries to invest in carbon removals through woodland or peatland.

FUW has maintained that Welsh farmland must not become a dumping ground for other industries seeking to offset their emissions - lowering emissions must be the priority.

Not many other industries are embracing carbon auditing like farming, nor managing such enormous existing carbon stores such as soils under permanent pasture.

However we mustn't allow a tunnel vision view of carbon eclipse the other roles farming has in managing the countryside, enhancing biodiversity, contributing to the rural economy and our cherished rural communities.

Oh and feeding everyone of course. That little job.