Including perennial crops in the Cool Farm Tool

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Inst of Biological and Environmental Sci

Abstract

Business and agricultural drivers focussing on sustainability, coupled with UK policy focus in these areas have led to the increasing demand for the food and drink sector to manage its own environmental impacts. Industry-led methods such as ISO standards and PAS2050 have been available for some time to assess supply chains and products, but frequently lack the precision regarding the sensitivity to local variables and farm management practices to yield reliable information about how such impacts can be managed on the farm. Recently, the Cool Farm Alliance (a UK based CIC) has been formed as a cross-sector organisation to develop and manage a "farmer friendly" GHG calculator called the Cool Farm Tool. It has benefitted from significant NERC funding in the past and as a result of this is recognised as the de facto practical tool for farm gate GHG assessments. Examples of its application to drive changes in the supply chains of global businesses include PepsiCo (https://www.2degreesnetwork.com/groups/2degrees-community/resources/cutting-carbon-farm/) or more generally at www.coolfarmtool.org. The Cool Farm Tool won the 2015 Oxford Farming Conference "Practice with Science" award and has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards in two categories.
The above demonstrate the applicability of the Cool Farm Tool to annual field crop and livestock systems. However, key processes relating to perennial production systems in the Cool Farm Tool are somewhat lacking, in particular in biomass carbon storage, soil carbon storage in perennials, and post-harvest processing. In the scientific studies to date, these components have been identified as being critical in deciding the GHG balance of crop production. Representation of perennial cropping systems will provide the necessary framework to integrate bioenergy crops in the Cool Farm Tool. Renewable energy, and bioenergy as part of this, is topical and of increasing importance to policy and industry because of its potential to support UK and global needs for low carbon and secure energy. As such, adding capability for such systems in the CFT will open new markets for the CFA and enable the addition of significant NERC research. There have been many research activities in recent years to conduct such assessments with several key studies funded by NERC, and in which the University of Aberdeen has participated. In addition, there are also several businesses in the energy sector specifically focussed on bioenergy (e.g. Terravesta, Rokwood) and it is part of the energy portfolio of major energy companies such as BP and Shell, and electricity generators such as EDF, E-ON, Drax, and Vattenfall (via ETI; Milner et al., 2015).
In this project we will work closely with the Cool Farm Alliance and food and drink and bioenergy industries to add these necessary functionalities to the Cool Farm Tool. The inclusion of the above will ensure that the assessment of agricultural raw materials destined for food, feed, and energy markets can be performed in a consistent manner to enable fair cross-comparison and benchmarking. It will have the additional benefit of serving farmers and different industry sectors in assessing the relative benefits of crops and co-products which serve both end-markets (such as wheat, straw, and oilseed rape for bioethanol and bioenergy as alternatives to food or feed) and for agricultural waste, such as manure. This tool will aid farmers and land-owners to improve energy and input use efficiency and thus improve profitability.
From the start of the project, we will establish a cross-sector working group to:
1. determine the key needs of end-users in the bioenergy domain
2. to identify the key science algorithms and methods to be employed
3. make the proposed developments "Cool Farm Tool ready".
This will ensure that the project translates NERC-funded research into an industry endorsed product for immediate use by the relevant end-users.

Planned Impact

This project will deliver a GHG accounting tool to numerous end-users which covers all the major production systems. This tool will allow harmonised accounting for energy and food production systems which will allow for benchmarking and informed decision making on the part of businesses and farmers alike. The end-users will be embedded in the process of delivering the tool module through regular communications and scheduled consultations between the academics and the end-user working group. The end-users will provide input to inform the tool's scope, to set the specifications for the tool functionality, and to review and approve delivery of the perennial module upon completion.

The working group will primarily consist of three groups of end-users. 1) Those current Cool Farm Alliance corporate members with an interest in specific perennial cropping systems, 2) Terravesta Ltd - representing the UK bioenergy industries, and 3) members of the SAI Platform (www.saiplatform.org) (with whom the Cool Farm Alliance has a strategic alliance). SAI membership consists of around 80 major food and drink companies and strong interest in perennial cropping systems.

The Cool Farm tool is already hardwired into the agricultural sustainability assessments of several CFA members. The development of a perennial crop module was identified as a key priority in a recent Cool Farm Alliance board meeting. The Cool Farm Alliance will use the module to add functionality with the target of dramatically increasing its membership from the current 20 companies toward 40 by the end of this project. The module will provide a concrete example for the strategic alignment with SAI Platform and reinforce this alignment. Richard Heathcote's role in this project will be to build on his previous experience with industry, the Cool Farm Alliance, and in orchard crops to ensure the needs of these end-users are met and to disseminate the project outputs. The perennial crop module to be developed in this project will build on recent NERC-funded research and knowledge exchange activities in bioenergy, horticulture, and agroforestry. The development of this module will embed cutting edge NERC-funded research in the Cool Farm Tool to meet these clearly articulated end-user needs.
For bioenergy the added relevance of the Cool Farm Tool to be derived in this project will allow unbiased side-by-side evaluation of food, feed, and energy crops. For bioenergy, the GHG impact is of critical importance and this module will allow a platform for the industry to communicate, evaluate, and benchmark across geographies and products. This can immediately be used to inform policy - allowing makers at UK and EU to determine the optimum use of land and to satisfy both food and energy security and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Terravesta Ltd, Astley Hastings, and Cool Farm Alliance members will use existing links with policy makers at UK and EU level to raise awareness of this science-based, industry supported development. Outcome-based, rather than "one-size-fits-all" practice-based policies are highly desirable for agriculture in which best practice is clearly a function of local exogenous variables. This development will provide functionality as above to assess practices in their local context and in combination with high quality user data will allow the establishment of such policies.
 
Description We have observed through working on a range of crops that carbon stored in perennial crops can be substantial and if properly managed at the end of life of the plantation/orchard can offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with crop cultivation.
Exploitation Route The module we developed for the Cool Farm Tool is now intended for adoption in 2018. A user group has been established from Cool Farm Alliance members with interests in perennial crops and will involved in the implementation and testing.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy

 
Description The project has initiated several follow on activities. The Cool Farm Alliance is now engaged on three projects to take the model developed in this project to full software implementation. One project with the Cyprus University of Technology as described on Cypriot vineyards and the other is pilot studies with Cool Farm Alliance members who are engaged in interface design. The Cool Farm Alliance is also in discussions with a number of commercial partners (currently confidential) for implementation of perennials module on a range of crops.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Retail
 
Title Database of soil carbon stock change under perennial crops 
Description Global database of soil carbon stock change under perennial crops based on literature review 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Publication in progress 
URL https://www.nature.com/articles/s41597-019-0062-1
 
Title Perennial GHGs 
Description Perennial crop module for the Cool Farm Tool The Perennial GHGs code is open access (CC BY 4.0) on figshare : doi. 10.6084/m9.figshare.5712109 The data used for parameterisation: doi. 10.6084/m9.figshare.5712127 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact N/A 
URL http://www.coolfarm.tool.org
 
Description Development of the perennials module of the Cool Farm Tool for vineyards in Cyprus 
Organisation Cool Farm Alliance
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Drafting the proposal. (Approximately £20,000 euros from the Research Promotion Foundation (https://www.msp-platform.eu/fundings/cyprus-research-promotion-foundation)
Collaborator Contribution The Cool Farm Alliance is currently collaborating on this project with the Technical University of Cyprus and the University of Aberdeen.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Development of the perennials module of the Cool Farm Tool for vineyards in Cyprus 
Organisation Cyprus University of Technology
Country Cyprus 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Drafting the proposal. (Approximately £20,000 euros from the Research Promotion Foundation (https://www.msp-platform.eu/fundings/cyprus-research-promotion-foundation)
Collaborator Contribution The Cool Farm Alliance is currently collaborating on this project with the Technical University of Cyprus and the University of Aberdeen.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Farm visit to cider apple orchard in Worcestershire 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Research team members (Jon Hillier, Alicia Ledo, Richard Heathcote) were provided a tour of a perennial crop farm (Stocks Farm, Suckley, Worcestershire) to gain first hand understanding of temperate perennial cropping systems and to formulate data input questions for the perennial crop module into language which is convenient for farmers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Webinar to present perennials module and recruit expert and user groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We have developed a pilot perennial crop module for the Cool Farm Tool. This module was presented to interested parties throughout the Cool Farm Alliance community and other interested third sector parties. We recruited to advisory groups from this webinar. The first is a user group interested in testing of the module and integration into the online Cool Farm Tool, and the second is a technical advisory group to advise on aligning the methods in the module with existing industry protocols and standards
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://coolfarmtool.org/2017/01/webinar-new-ghg-model-for-perennial-crops/