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Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Inventory Research Platform

26 November 2010

As the UK moves towards tackling climate change, increasing our understanding of how agriculture contributes to this area is becoming increasingly important. Current estimates are that agriculture is responsible for about eight per cent of all UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, however the way agricultural emissions are calculated fails to take into account the differences between farming practices or the effects of innovative approaches and policies. The Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Platform seeks to improve the accuracy and resolution of our reporting system by providing the necessary evidence.

Rothamsted Research, an Institute of BBSRC, is involved in all three projects funded by Defra under this new research platform, providing experimental sites for quantifying nitrous oxide from different nitrogen sources applied to soil, methane emissions from manure management, and modelling of emissions and uncertainties. Key staff includes Dr Dave Chadwick (leader of the nitrous oxide project), Prof Andy Whitmore, Dr Tom Misselbrook, Dr Phil Hobbs and Dr Laura Cardenas, with support from field, lab and modelling researchers. These projects build upon the institute's previous research in understanding the processes and controls of greenhouse gas emissions and more strategic and applied research quantifying emissions from the range of agricultural sources, testing mitigation methods and delivering greenhouse gas and ammonia inventories.

Dave Chadwick of North Wyke, part of Rothamsted Research, said, "This investment will allow the key GHG R&D groups in the UK, including Rothamsted Research, to work together to deliver a much needed improvement to the way in which we quantify nitrous oxide and methane emissions from agriculture. There is an urgent need to better understand emissions from the range of agricultural systems throughout the UK (including different soils, climates, crops, manure and fertiliser types and application strategies, livestock diets and breeds) and account for management strategies capable of reducing GHG emissions from farms. This is an exciting opportunity, as these new projects address this challenge."

Director and CEO of Rothamsted Research, Professor Maurice Moloney added, "We are delighted with Defra's decision to fund this important program in such austere financial times. This work will allow Rothamsted Research to create innovative mitigation strategies and is synergistic with the development of a world-class farm platform facility at North Wyke, which will position us to create complete life cycle models of the environmental impact of different farming systems"

ENDS

Notes to editors

Project details

The projects will focus on emissions in the form of nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4), these are 25 and 298 times stronger greenhouse gases than CO2. UK agriculture is a major contributor for both of these gases, but current measurements and reporting are based largely on generic assumptions about farm practice ('Tier 1') and default emission factors, taken from guidelines provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This level of reporting had been acceptable until the Climate Change Act (2008) introduced carbon budgets for all Government departments and sectors. A more detailed methodology (IPCC 'Tier 2' or 'Tier 3') is now required to track progress towards meeting the targets set in the Low Carbon Transition Plan. This requires an approach that better reflects the range in livestock systems (livestock breed etc), crops, soils and climate throughout the UK and reflects measures such as increased fertiliser efficiency and improvements in livestock feeding to reduce emissions.

The agricultural greenhouse gas research platform will therefore aim to improve the accuracy and temporal and spatial resolution of data through three closely linked projects:

  1. Data management and modelling: project AC0114 - bringing existing data together to create a new inventory model and a set of revised emission factors with an assessment of uncertainty
  2. Methane (CH4) emissions: project AC0115 - discrimination between CH4 emissions from different livestock species and breeds/genotypes under different farming systems and representative farm business structures
  3. Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions: project AC0116 - understanding N2O emissions as a function of nitrogen inputs through time, influence of climate, crop, soil types and conditions, and land management under different farming systems and representative farm business structures

The results will be a revised set of UK specific inventory emission factors for N2O and CH4 derived from a synthesis of literature and experimental work across the UK. These emission factors will be supported by model-based interpolation of measured data to representative geo-climate zones and verification at a range of scales. The benefit will be a set of country specific emission factors approved for use in reporting and an improved understanding of which mitigation measures can realistically achieve the biggest reductions.

The involvement of and contributions from the agricultural Industry is an essential part of this project. This will help to make reporting of emissions match end-user requirements and make sure that farming systems and mitigation measures are well represented. Outputs from the three projects will also be closely coordinated with concurrent Defra project AC0112 (Inventories of ammonia and greenhouse gases from UK agriculture), which delivers an annual UK GHG reporting mechanism fit for submissions to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The research programme will be undertaken by a consortium of the UK's leading research groups, giving access to organisations and facilities that cover the range of skills and expertise required to fulfil the projects. Members of the consortium include key research institutions based within all of the devolved authorities in the UK, and which have unparalleled experience of relevant regional considerations.

Projects consortia include the following:

  • Aberdeen University
  • Aberystwyth University - Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) (leading the methane project)
  • ADAS (leading the data management / modelling project)
  • Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Northern Ireland
  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
  • Cranfield University
  • Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (MLURI)
  • National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
  • Prof Keith Smith (The University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research (leading the nitrous oxide project)
  • Scottish Agricultural College (SAC)
  • The Centre for Environmental Data Archival (CEDA)
  • The Met Office (Exeter)
  • The Organic Research Centre (ORC)
  • University of East Anglia
  • The University of Nottingham
  • University of Reading

The £12.6M funding for this new project has come from Defra's existing budget on Farming and Food Science, and includes contributions from the Devolved Administrations.

From 1990 - 2008, the agriculture sector accounted for:

  • 76% of UK's nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, mainly from the use of nitrogen fertilisers
  • 38% of the UK's methane (CH4) emissions, mainly from the digestive systems of livestock and from manure
  • 1% of the UK's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions

(from 2010 DECC publication of GHG emissions)

The English agriculture industry published its GHG Action Plan in February 2010, making a firm commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The industry will shortly publish a delivery plan, outlining the activities that will translate into practical actions.

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is based in Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country. The mission of Rothamsted Research is to be recognised internationally as a primary source of first-class scientific research and new knowledge that addresses stakeholder requirements for innovative policies, products and practices to enhance the economic, environmental and societal value of agricultural land. The Applied Crop Science department is based at Broom's Barn, Higham, Bury St. Edmunds. North Wyke Research is located near Okehampton in Devon. Rothamsted Research is an institute supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

For further information, please contact the Rothamsted Research Press Office (see external contacts below).

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Dr Sharon Hall, Rothamsted Research Press Office

tel: 01582 763133 ext 2757

Dr Adélia de Paula, Rothamsted Research Press Office

tel: 01582 763133 ext 2260