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Increasingly, consumers are placing greater importance upon the carbon footprint of the foods they eat. To help farmers reduce carbon-intensive outputs and tackle sustainability issues, Virgin Money (formerly Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank) has conducted first of many on-farm carbon audits, in partnership with Carbon Metrics. With agriculture representing the largest specialised business sector for Virgin Money, these audits are set to become a significant next step in fulfilling the Bank’s ambition to help farmers focus on their green credentials.

For many farming enterprises, the prospect of conducting a carbon audit may initially seem daunting. However, by highlighting innovative ways to improve practices and combat carbon-intensive outputs, these assessments provide powerful opportunities to enable a more sustainable future.

Brian Richardson, Head of Agriculture at Virgin Money, discusses their importance today: “In recent years we have seen more and more discussion in farming about carbon reduction and meeting the challenge of achieving Net Zero by 2040.

“This year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow will further focus actions on climate change. With UK agriculture currently accounting for 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions, it is a sector which will certainly be under the spotlight and high on the agenda.

“It is encouraging to see the industry mobilising to meet the new challenge of Net Zero. It is important to follow through now so that farming can adapt and change its practices, using both science-led changes in management, as well as new technologies. Formulating plans at farm level is critically important and undertaking a carbon audit can be an essential first step of the journey to Net Zero.”

These audits are not merely an online box ticking exercise. Carbon Metrics assist by analysing and interpreting the farm’s existing data to generate a targeted management plan, to show how Net Zero strategies can be achieved on-farm. During the assessment process, the primary aim is to get to know and really understand the individual farming business enterprise.

The intention is to build productive relationships, gather as much information as possible, and direct environmental practices moving forward. The more information provided and the more up to date this is, the better the audit will be. Generally, Carbon Metrics use around twelve months data, looking at the latest sets of accounts and datasets to ensure that their recommendations are tailored specifically to the individual farm, and are not just generic mitigation actions.

The process always includes a face-to-face farm visit to understand the history of the enterprise, as well as data gathering of costings, fertiliser records and nutrient management plans. The team identify recent and potential short and long-term issues, deciphering information to produce a strategy.

Areas covered might include acreages, land usages, enterprise land uses, stocking numbers, specialist crops, energy and fuel use, electricity, water and any renewables on the farm (solar, wind, ground source). For some larger enterprises and arable farmers, machinery management will also form part of the audit, as moves towards hybrids and electric vehicles and machineries are being made.

The Miller family of High Aketon Farm near Wigton, Cumbria, recently undertook a carbon audit as part of Virgin Money’s commitment to enhance its farming clients’ environmental credentials. This is a crucial step in supporting the Millers as they drive their 380-acre traditional beef finisher, sheep and arable farm towards a carbon free future. Carbon Metrics identified mitigation opportunities and areas for consideration for the family, including conducting a soil carbon test, monitoring fuel use, and considering moving their vehicles and feeding systems to electric.

Providing feedback on their experience, William Miller said: “Overall, I know that our recent carbon audit will prove invaluable in terms of directing us into the future. Carbon Metrics identified the key business strengths of our farm and also benefits we can expect to see after implementing the new changes and recommendations. These benefits included an improved return on investment on both our crop costs and fuel usage, and, importantly, a reduction in the amount of CO2 High Aketon emits to help us achieve Net Zero.

“As an industry, agriculture has to become more carbon neutral. Embarking on this journey now can be hugely beneficial to both your farm and to the environment. Our recent audit has really motived and encouraged us to continue striving to improve the sustainability of our farm, and has provided us with important resources and recommendations in which to do so.”

These carbon audits help support Virgin Money’s strategy to at least halve the carbon emissions across everything the bank finances by 2030.