Richard Byass, Field Operations Manager
Farming has an important role to play in tackling climate change. So far, however, a lot has been said about the bad stuff: CO2 emissions in agriculture. Less has been said about the positive contribution the industry can make with carbon sequestration and biodiversity.
A change in farming practices will be required to fulfil the ambitious objectives set out by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to cut land-use emissions by 35 – 80% by 2050. However, with the CCC requiring the farming industry to achieve this without compromising the current per-capita food production levels, growing crops will need to continue to be central to land-use.
Vining peas as a crop has an important role to play in helping the industry to achieve Net Zero and sustainable farming objectives.
1. Cover crop
There is an increase in interest in over-wintered cover crops which sequester CO2. Trial results from the PGRO have shown that growing a mix of black oat and phacelia prior to vining peas not only captures CO2 (by creating an actively growing crop over winter as opposed to leaving the soil bare and prone to nutrient leaching) but also reduces the risk of footrot.
Soil health and structure can also be improved. Vining peas themselves could therefore really be classed as a cover crop. Biodiversity is also improved although there is no data to quantify this at the moment.
2. ‘Going full circle’
There is also a lot of interest in ‘regenerative farming’ at the moment with several articles recently appearing in the farming press. Essentially this is what our grandfathers were doing many years ago.
It is all about focusing on improving soil health (microbial activity) which in turn reduces the requirement for manufactured fertilisers and plant protection products.
It is also about a move to a more sustainable system which uses fewer inputs. Cost savings are high although output will be reduced (initially). The margin is, however, acceptable in many cases as the risk of producing crops is lower.
Vining peas fit well into the ‘regenerative farming’ model with benefits including improved soil structure, natural nitrogen fixing and pollination. This is addition to the value of the crop itself.
3. Urea production
Recently, there have been reports which suggest Urea production may be restricted or taxed. The reason is that during the industrial production process, Nitrous Oxide is produced which is the most potent greenhouse gas. Also, Urea is relatively volatile releasing greenhouse gases if applied to crops above 18oC. So, it looks like it is going to be high on the ‘hit list’ when looking at the move to Net Zero.
Again, this supports the argument for legume crops as part of the rotation with vining peas having a high value in terms of N fixing for following crops.
At SBP, we are taking a proactive approach and, in working with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) as part of a whole industry project for co-operatives within SAOS, we are helping to gather some meaningful data to quantify carbon sequestration and biodiversity objectives.