NSA Breakfast Club webinar - It's more than just carbon: a morning review of sustainability assessments

Date: 2nd June 2021

Location: Online - zoom webinar

NSA Breakfast Club: It’s more than just carbon – a morning review of sustainability assessments.

Wednesday 2nd June

Often and incorrectly criticised in the media for being key contributors to climate change, today’s sheep farmers want to demonstrate the good being done every day to protect nature, the environment and the climate, while providing healthy food for the nation and supporting rural communities and economies. To promote the public goods being delivered, evidence is needed along with a continuous means of measurement and analysis to support the positive trends to enhance the reputation of the sheep industry and help protect and grow market opportunities.  

The NSA Breakfast Club webinar on the 2nd of June welcomed attendees to a discussion of the tools and methods available to assess sustainability and to look forward beyond carbon alone to a wider approach to inclusive sustainability. Chaired by NSA Chief Executive, Phil Stocker, the speaker line-up included Jonathan Foot from AHDB who set the scene and gave a “big-picture” overview, followed by Adele Jones of the Sustainable Food Trust, who focused on measuring whole farm sustainability and finished with Prysor Williams from Bangor University talking about the Carbon foot-printing work they have been doing. Panellists Kevin Harrison, NSA English Committee Chair, and Greg Dalton, NSA member from the uplands of the Pennines, added their thoughts from a practical farming perspective.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker, in his introduction, reminded that on a global scale, in terms of sustainability, climate change with carbon is high on the agenda and carbon footprinting tools have been available for close to 15 years, however they were not complete in terms what was being measured which led to an unfavourable picture for the sheep sector. Phil went on to say: “As the development of sustainability assessments have progressed, it has become more evident, that actually it is much wider than just carbon, with other measures having significant importance, and so how critical it has become to move to broader and holistic sustainability assessments.”

Jonathan Foot, described how farming practices to reduce emissions need to demonstrate the approach to deliver the changes required, his key take-home message urging farmers to “Start using a carbon foot printing tool to build a baseline for the future, it may come in handy. Use a tool that works for you. Then create an action plan with the one or two things you can do that will save/make you money and do these well. Repeat the process using the same tool, and keep improving, don’t stand still!”

Adele Jones, further stressed the importance, saying “Measuring the carbon footprint on farms to better understand our impact is becoming more and more important. However, carbon is one piece of a complex puzzle, and must be measured alongside whole farm sustainability, including biodiversity, soil health, water quality, and community impact if we are to gain a complete picture of the actions required to ensure all farms are part of the climate, nature and public health solution.”

Prysor Williams in his talk focusing on measuring sustainability of sheep systems, pointed out that there is not a “one size fits all” approach adding that “Every farm can do something (probably many things) to try and reduce their environmental impacts, but it will be different answers for different systems.” 

Kevin Harrison pointed out some of the difficulties facing farmers today, “There are a lot of questions, which creates some confusion, but while much work is being done by scientists to simplify the approach, farmers are doing the best to produce food and protect the environment and want to know they are doing the right thing.”

Greg Dalton commented on how the farm business has to be viable “It’s really about tying it all in, the input costs, the actions to produce lamb, maintaining profitability while balancing carbon emissions and GHGs to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible.”

A debate followed touching on a comparison of the tools currently available, an acknowledgement of the likely direction of travel to come from government policy, through to thoughts on the balance of grassland versus arable land and a possible evolution in the stratification in the UK sheep industry.

Watch the recording here NSA Breakfast Club - It's more than just carbon: a morning review of sustainability assessments | Webinars | National Sheep Association