Make an appointment to measure your potato-specific greenhouse gas emissions on the Potato Council stand at BP2011 and enter our special prize draw to win free entry to World Potato Congress!
‘Greener’ potatoes are on the cards thanks to a new farmer-friendly greenhouse gas calculator undergoing on-farm trials that will be showcased at BP2011.
The Cool Farm Tool, a piece of software originally developed by Aberdeen University and Unilever to measure the carbon footprint of any crop grown anywhere in the world, is now being tailored for potato crops grown in the UK through collaboration with PepsiCo and McCain Foods.
The aim is to help growers measure greenhouse gas emissions throughout a crop cycle, from the first cultivations to the time it leaves the farm, so they can take action to meet standards that processors are either planning or are likely to introduce.
It does this by highlighting key areas, including nitrous oxide from applied manure and fertilisers and carbon dioxide from disturbed soils. However, high energy use is also an important area which, if tackled, will help growers not only to produce a greener product but also save money.
Growers have to be able to measure their baseline emissions before they can take action to reduce them, says Dr Jon Hillier of Aberdeen University, who led the Cool Farm Tool project.
“Farmers had no real practical tools they could use to give robust, site-specific CO2 emission figures. This simple-to-use software package will give them a good picture of energy inputs and therefore CO2 emissions from when they start cultivating the crop right up to when it leaves the store.”
The tool covers all cultivations as well as spraying and fertiliser operations and associated inputs, irrigation, harvesting and transport to store. Other key areas include loading and unloading the store, washing, grading and sprout suppressant use, as well as store operations like cooling and ventilation.
“Results are easy to interpret and will allow growers and their customers to target emission hotspots and run what-if scenarios to see what results potential actions will have,” says Jon.
Mark Pettigrew, PepsiCo’s agricultural development manager, trialled the tool with 24 growers last season. He is tasked with delivering PepsiCo’s “50 in 5” initiative, which aims to halve the carbon footprint of agricultural production within five years, including potatoes for Walkers Crisps.
The company reckons over a third of the snack’s total carbon footprint comes from farming – 17% from potato production and the same again from growing sunflowers that provide the frying oil.
“The first step on the road to reducing your carbon footprint is to measure what you are doing,” says Mark. Initial results from the trials show emissions varied widely between farms, but averaged 111kg CO2/t of potatoes.
“These are only indications, though are not likely to be too far out. We have a lot more data now and we are in the process of validating this on farm with ADAS which will help us to identify why there is such variation, with a view to producing a full dataset by late autumn.”
ADAS will then work with growers to use this information to create a farm carbon management plan, which will be a contract requirement from next season onwards, says Mark.
Likely hotspots that will be key targets for growers are already being identified. “Yield is going to be a big driver,” he says. “Increasing saleable yield of tubers through good agronomic practice and attention to detail is an effective way of cutting emissions per tonne.” PepsiCo is working on varieties that should produce a 10% lift in yield within five years, he adds.
Storage is another key area. For some growers, simple measures as outlined in the Potato Council’s store managers’ guide, such as checking ducts for leaks and keeping fans clean, will produce significant savings. “In some cases significant investment such as re-insulation may be required.”
A large part of a potato’s carbon footprint comes from fertiliser manufacture, he adds. “We are trialling a low carbon fertiliser from Yara and results look promising.”
This season almost 50 UK growers are taking part in Cool Farm Tool trials, and the project has been rolled out in several European countries too, says Mark. “There’s a lot more work to do, but so far it’s looking very promising.”
McCain Foods is assessing the Cool Farm Tool for the first time this season for ease of use and practicality. “We are still at an early stage, undertaking some calculations with farmers to establish where we are currently with potato crops and to identify how effective the tool is likely to be in practice,” says agronomy manager Andy Goodwin.
“The Cool Farm Tool can be very useful for growers who want to establish their own carbon footprint and how it is being generated.
“You need to work on measuring and recording the relevant data and for some farmers this may mean recording more information, but with a bit of practice using the tool is pretty straightforward.”
The tool not only calculates emissions, but it produces charts enabling growers to see instantly where peak emissions are occurring. Given that carbon footprinting is largely about measuring energy use, growers who act on its recommendations should also save money, he notes.
“It also has an extremely useful what-if scenario, allowing you to see what happens if, for example you reduce inputs or use a smaller tractor to pull the harvester.” This uses lots of simple drop-down menus, allowing people to explore scenarios instantly and modify their management quite easily.
Want to find out more? Come to the Potato Council stand at BP2011 and try-out the new, potato-specific Cool Farm Tool. Your data will be used to refine the model, but you'll also get some valuable insight into how to reduce your carbon footprint and save money. You need to bring along the following:
- Cropped area and yield
- Chemical and organic Fertilisers - type and application rates
- Agro-chemicals for crop protection
Additional data (if not available estimates will be provided)
- Annual fuel consumption for cultivation, crop management and harvesting
- Transport costs (fuel consumption)
- Energy use for storage (kW or litres)
To make an appointment and enter the free prize draw to win entry to the World Potato Congress, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
. Terms and conditions are available on request. The Cool Farm Tool is available free at