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Sustainability and heritage 49

carbon Improving farming’s footprint

How can farmers and growers in Europe remain commercially competitive, while doing more to protect the environment and mitigate climate change? A new computer model, developed by a team at our Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU), is actively helping farmers and policy-makers to evaluate the options, and make effective decisions about modifying practices.

Agriculture and climate change are intrinsically linked. Each has the power to influence the other. With almost half of the European Union’s land area given over to agriculture and nine per cent of European greenhouse gas emissions arising from agricultural sources, farmers and growers have enormous potential to mitigate climate change.

Traditionally, it has been difficult for farmers on the ground to accurately assess their options and decide on the best course of action. One of the biggest challenges facing policy-makers in encouraging farms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or increase carbon sequestration is the huge diversity of farms. Every farm is different in terms of its core business, size and local environment. With large regional variations in climate mitigation potential, ‘one size fits all’ guidelines and policies are

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both unrealistic and unproductive. The IMPACCT (Integrated Management oPtions for Agricultural Climate Change miTigation) model is a prototype software package, developed by AERU researchers, that addresses these challenges in a unique way.

Unlike other carbon calculation tools, IMPACCT analyses individual farm activities in detail and provides a holistic perspective, ie not just calculating greenhouse gas emissions, but also assessing impacts on other environmental objectives, such as water quality and biodiversity, and the economics of the farm. This takes into account a comprehensive range of farm and environmental issues to identify specific, sustainable and cost- effective mitigation options. Most importantly, this integrated ‘whole- farm’ approach enables farmers

to identify the broader impacts – both positive and negative – of implementing particular changes.

‘Our methodology ensures farmers have all the information they need to make financially-sound and well- balanced environmental decisions. The software enables them to play a more active role in influencing climate change, and to improve their performance in environmentally- sensitive farming,’ explains Dr Kathy Lewis, Head of AERU.

To refine and validate the model, the team conducted trials on over twenty farms in seven countries via collaboration with researchers from across Europe to ensure credibility of the emission and sequestration assessments.

In a short time IMPACCT has attracted interest from several

policy groups within the European Commission and is expected to inform public debate in this vital area of climate change. The software’s dedicated policy tool allows policy- makers and advisors to explore what-if scenarios with respect to baseline and future scenarios. They can assess the impact of proposed agricultural and environmental policy measures. For example, the model can help to identify the potential benefits of encouraging better management of fertilisers or regulations on livestock diets.

The IMPACCT project was commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment, as part of a Europe- wide research and development programme to promote and support more climate-friendly farming.

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