Audit shows Welsh sheep farm to be carbon negative

A Welsh sheep farmer says achieving carbon efficiencies in agriculture must be balanced against the need for farm businesses to be productive and profitable.

Rhys Edwards, who runs a flock of 530 ewes and 180 ewe lambs with his parents, Russell and Eira, at Hendre Ifan Goch near Bridgend, completed a carbon audit of the farm in its role as a Farming Connect demonstration site. The audit showed the balance to be carbon-negative (at -197.01), because the farm has high levels of soil organic matter.

The sheep flock is responsible for 49% of emissions, so the focus going forward will be on ewe efficiency and lamb growth rates. Mr Edwards told a recent Farming Connect ‘Demo Farm Live’ webinar that he had opted for the Farm Carbon Toolkit carbon footprinting tool because it is the only one that recognises carbon sequestration in its calculations.

Rhys said he was taking steps – including setting a target to wean lambs at 65% of ewe weight – to reduce emissions from the flock. The ewes weigh 65kg, so if 1.65 lambs per ewe tupped are reared, and the lambs average 26kg at weaning, the target of 65% of mature weight will be achieved.

“I don’t think we can physically do anything more to be carbon-friendly, and reducing emissions has got to work hand-in-hand with running a profitable food-producing business,’’ said Rhys.

Improvements will be sought in post-weaning growth rates, as performance can be a challenge in the autumn due to grass availability and trace element deficiencies.

Independent sheep consultant Dr Liz Genever, who has been working with the farm on this project, said the more days lambs are on-farm, the more they eat, and the more methane they produce.

This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.