Calculating on-farm carbon emissions is often perceived as a complicated process but it can be done simply and effectively to improve levels of efficiency while also providing much needed data demanded by government for future payment schemes.

That was the good news story from SAC Consulting, part of the Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), at a recent online conference, on the launch of its Agrecalc tool which is free to farmers.

Accurate carbon accounting is already required by supply chains, governments, and financial institutions to explain and improve, the carbon footprints of land and food, which in turn are used by a host of retailers and their supply chains.

Several farm businesses are already using the tool along with governments to track payments schemes, such as the Scottish Government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme.

“Future direct payments both north and south of the Border are going to be linked with lowering emissions,” said Andrew Lacey, head of SAC Consulting.

“That means we need an accurate assessment and we think Agrecalc is part of the solution as it provides evidence that shows as an industry, we are improving our environment and reducing emissions.”

As it is, more than 2500 businesses and institutions use the system to explain and improve the carbon footprints of land and food and Agrecalc’s latest addition includes a soil sequestration module.

Julian Bell, economist and business head at Agrecalc said: “We’ve always viewed carbon as part of accounting and of farm efficiency calculations, and it’s increasingly being seen as a good discipline for business.”

The mission of the tool is to assess what is technically feasible to get a farm, or supply chain, to lower carbon emissions, and the ultimate goal of net zero, where viable.

“Agrecalc takes farmers beyond a simple tick box tool, to one that assesses all the farm practices and looks at layers of change – from the simple to the more complex – to improve efficiencies.

“We have a model farm that allows us to examine how management practices contribute to carbon reduction, importantly this now considers the role of soils and their management,” Mr Bell explains.

He added that most farms can attain the first 10-15% of carbon reduction with changes in practices, such as growing more legumes, sampling manures and soils to reduce fertiliser use, or implementing paddock grazing.

The next 10-15% improvement can be achieved with new machinery or systems’ changes, whilst achieving 30-40% reduction is likely to require more drastic measures such as afforestation.

“It’s free for farmers to use as a single licence and it is very easy, taking around 1-2 hours to input the information. It’s also another way for farmers to look at their business, and a great way to feed their competitive nature when examining the nitty gritty to deliver more profit,” said Mr Bell.

Companies pay for the service via a user licence-model, and all profits are invested back into the system to further develop the capabilities and to keep it scientifically up to date.

One example of the improved efficiency possible, is Cheshire-based Grosvenor Farms, which used the SAC system to reduce their carbon emissions by 16% per litre of milk produced through improved genetics, sexed semen to produce more beef cross calves, along with improvements to housing and nutrition to reduce levels of lameness and mastitis.

The 2330ha commercial farm which is home to 2500 high performing dairy cows producing more than 70,000 litres of fresh milk daily also improved the quality of home-grown forages, and replacing soya with low carbon feed by-products.

Other improvements were made through better use of slurry by sampling and precision application which resulted in reduced fertiliser use, with solar PV minimising the use of electricity from the grid.

Agrecalc has also been employed to understand and demonstrate the carbon and efficiency benefits of effective disease control through vaccination.

“As farm businesses across the country face an uncertain future given changes to payments, as well as pressure on profitability, the aspects we are very clear on are that emissions reduction and improved environmental standards will be at the heart of what farms need to address to secure their future income; both from the market and, likely, from government too,” concluded Mr Bell.

The tool can be found online at