Making significant changes in the English beef and sheep production cycle to bring about significant reductions in emissions is a long-term project. The simple lifecycle of cattle, for instance, means that improvements we make through better breeding are likely to take several generations to make an impact.
In the shorter term, improved grassland management and feeding regimes can help steer the industry in the right direction towards making 11 per cent reductions in agricultural emissions by 2020, which are part of the wider plans set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.
EBLEX, the beef and sheep division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), has led work to benchmark emissions in the sector and look at practical ways individual farmers can reduce their carbon footprint. The work has been feeding into the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP), which sets out how the agriculture industry in England is responding to this challenge. It shows a commitment to playing our part in tackling climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by three million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year from 2018 to 2022.
As part of this ongoing work, EBLEX has just published the third chapter of its beef and sheep roadmap, Down to Earth, which identifies four key areas which are vital to a low carbon footprint on beef and sheep farms. This allows farmers to compare their own performance and look at ways they can improve their carbon footprint. The good news is that these simple steps are linked with greater efficiency, which can also help improve their financial margins, being based on good farm management.
The findings will now be fed into ongoing knowledge transfer work to encourage producers to look at their own business practices and make on-farm changes, in line with the aims of the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.
Commenting on the launch of the roadmap, agriculture minister Jim Paice said: "The updated roadmap continues to support the message that enhancing on-farm efficiency can also help to improve the environment. The leadership that EBLEX is demonstrating is important in ensuring that beef and sheep farmers continue to be aware of, and act on, this."
It is heartening to receive support on this work at the highest level, and I believe it is an endorsement of the work the industry is voluntarily doing to improve its carbon footprint.
As well as emissions on-farm, Down to Earth looks at the important part soil sequestration can play in mitigating emissions from grazing cattle, and sheep grassland managed by the animals acts as an effective carbon sink, locking away harmful carbon. Beyond the farm gate, the report also explores the carbon footprint of other parts of the English beef and lamb supply chain, looking at waste, packaging and involving retailers for the first time. Six of the country's biggest major multiple retailers have contributed sections on their own work.
Down to Earth, along with the previous two chapters of the beef and sheep meat roadmap, Change in the Air and Testing the Water, which together form the beef and sheep environmental roadmap, are all available on the EBLEX website.
We are continuing to lead the way in this work, giving England a world-class reputation in this field, in showing where we are with emissions and what can be done to improve the situation.
The lifecycle for beef and sheep production is relatively long and we will start to see the results of the work we have been doing to date filter through over the next few years. We are committed to supporting English producers with good advice which will drive greater efficiency in their enterprises and ultimately improve their emissions.