Thursday 15 July 2021Opting out of zero carbon is not an option

Published by the Farmers Guardian 


Carefully choosing animal feeds can have a massive impact on a farm’s carbon footprint, according to co-product specialist, Duynie Feed. This will benefit farm finances as well as the environment.

As farmers take stock at the end of another lockdown, a sea-change in attitudes seems to have gripped the industry, just as it has the wider UK population. The drive towards net zero carbon has become less of a distant ambition and more of an urgent goal, as buyers and processors of milk and meat, as well as the Government, build new and very real targets into their everyday demands.

Reflecting on the climate crisis, farmers increasingly realise that opting out is not an option. On the contrary, the notion of opting in – of striving for carbon neutrality – should now be hardwired into the policy of every UK farm.

For this, there is not only the global imperative of playing a part in averting a climate catastrophe, but there are immediate economic and moral considerations.

Every farmer with an eye on the future is building this understanding into everyday life, from their sources of energy and water to their methods of manure disposal and soil cultivation, and every process in between.

The choice of animal feed is critical in this drive and has the potential to make a massive impact. Soya bean meal for instance is associated with relatively high carbon use, while in contrast, brewers’ grains, offering 24 per cent crude protein on a dry matter basis, contribute about half the carbon of soya.

It is co-products such as this which are at the heart of Duynie Feed’s strategy. A specialist in sustainable feed solutions, the company passionately believes that such feedstuffs are integral to building a circular farming economy, based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution. With this belief, it is helping to build sustainable business solutions across UK farms.

Martin Barker, the company’s UK sustainability manager, is categoric about the part feed has to play. He says: “We will not get to net zero carbon unless we do something about animal feed.”

Whether it’s draff from the distilling industry or potato peelings from the manufacture of French fries, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with these products have already been assigned to these products’ primary use, usually for human food, leaving little or no greenhouse gas emissions to be assigned to the co-product when used as animal feed.

With only transport to the farm gate then to be considered – something which Duynie endeavours to keep close to the source by developing local networks for specific feedstuffs – the carbon footprint for co-products is remarkably low.

“For instance, the average distance travelled for steamed potato peelings is just 41 miles in the UK,” says Mr Barker.

To put the carbon savings into perspective, he cites a 500-sow pig unit producing 15,000 slaughter pigs per year, each with a deadweight of 90kg.

“The carbon footprint of 1kg of pigmeat is 2.6kg when feeding grain and soya-based diets,” he says. “We know 60 per cent of that carbon relates to the animals’ feed, so if we switch 50 per cent of the feed to low carbon co-products, the carbon footprint could be reduced to 1.82kg/ kg pigmeat – that is more than one million kilograms of carbon saved on one farm each year.”

Sustainability and Finance

Despite the massive potential savings in greenhouse gas emissions, sustainability is not simply an environmental issue but must bring benefits which support a farm’s financial performance.

“Cost is a driving force for every farmer and those who switch to co-products find financial savings will almost certainly be made,” says Mr Barker.

However, the financial benefits come from far more than just price per tonne of feed. Further gains can also be made from factors such as improved palatability from many moist feeds, which drives dry matter intakes and performance, or the supply of a specialist liquid feed silo, free of charge, to Duynie liquid co-product users.

Nutritional and performance benefits can also be made with the help of Duynie nutritionists who can work directly with the farmer, and collaborate with the farmer’s own independent nutritionist, when required.

“We are always looking at how we can optimise a ration with co-products,” he says. This could, for instance, include wheat syrups which can be used to coat straw for transition cows, improving palatability, increasing dry matter intakes and ensuring they receive their full fibre requirement, which is so important for health at this critical stage.

But the picture is much bigger, according to Mr Barker, who says: “The potential is great because low carbon meat and dairy products could be traded at a premium. “People are already selling premium products, such a free-range, organic or pasture-fed, and the next phase will be a premium for low carbon. Duynie wants to help farmers tap into those income streams for their customers’ long-term sustainability.”

Support for Lower Carbon

Further benefits are also likely to come from changes in Government support which will more accurately reflect a farm’s carbon credentials.

“The proposed Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme will offer public funds for public goods and we can be confident this will include carbon,” he says.

“The biogas industry already receives a premium for energy generated by low carbon feedstock and the Government wants to encourage the redirection of this feedstock to livestock.

“This will require a level playing field and a premium for low carbon meat and milk, similar to that paid for green energy,” he says.

“The Government wants farmers to do this and I am confident they will encourage and support the transition.”

Whether farmers are feeding co-products to dairy, beef, sheep, pigs or goats, he says Duynie wants them to be sustainable.

“We offer the full service approach and if we have done our job well, we will uplift dry matter intake, reduce costs of production and can potentially even improve animal health.

“The need for sustainability is only going to increase and farmers making sustainable decisions now, before the floodgates are open, will have a competitive advantage,” he says.

“It is certainly in Duynie’s interest to make sure its farms are sustainable and with existing systems, I think utilising locally produced, co-product feeds within the ration are the key to achieving this.” 

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