Blog post: CCC farm tour

By Indra Thillainathan, Senior Analyst at the CCC

On a cold but sunny day a week before Christmas, the CCC took an early morning train from London to visit three farms in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. With the agriculture sector central to the work of the CCC*, we were keen to understand the challenges facing the sector, and for this particular visit how energy use and costs differ across farm types. Our day-long farm tour therefore took in three different farm types; an arable, a poultry and a dairy farm.

First stop was an arable farm near Ware in Hertfordshire. In common with farms growing crops such as wheat and barley, fertiliser use and gas oil to power its field machinery represents their largest costs, while electricity for the storing and drying of crops are less significant. Once harvested crops are immediately dried to reduce the moisture content and as this particular farm has storage capacity of several months, ventilation is also required to keep the temperature to below 7-10oC in order to maintain the quality of the grains. Despite the additional electricity costs of having such long storage, this gave the farm flexibility to provide just-in time delivery to animal feed compounders and flour mills that lack storage facilities of their own. The farm however has taken steps to minimise electricity costs by installing a solar pv unit.

14 day old broilers

14 day old broilers

We then moved onto a poultry farm, where encased in fetching blue overalls, we entered a large unit that housed thousands of 14 day old broilers (poultry for meat). We were immediately struck by the very warm conditions inside, a consequence of the significant heat requirements of poultry which reaches 32oC for a one week old chick. The farmer told us that while LPG provides the heat, electricity power’s the shed’s ventilation system which is needed to remove pollutants in the air and for maintaining body temperature. Ventilation costs tend to be highest in the summer months when cooling is required to minimise potential heat stress. Along with in-door pigs and protected horticulture, the poultry sector is the most intensive energy users in agriculture. However, for pigs and poultry farmers, these costs are dwarfed by animal feed, the price of which has more than doubled in the last seven years. For this particular farm, energy costs represent just over 4% of the output price, while feed accounts for around 60%. While the lack of alternative feed types to compound feed makes it extremely difficult to decrease feed costs without reducing flock size, the farm has been able to reduce their electricity bill with the installation of a 50KW solar pv unit.

Dairy herd

Dairy herd

Our last visit of the day was to neighbouring Bedfordshire to see a dairy farm with around 300 cows. Unlike the first two farms, little action had been undertaken to reduce its electricity use, which is largely focused on running the dairy parlour. More pressing matters elsewhere meant that the limited funds available had been used to buy a new tractor to replace a 40 year old one. In order to keep feed costs down, the farm produces its own silage using grass and maize grown on its own land.

From an adaptation perspective, we discussed the merits of some sustainable land management practices such as crop diversification and changes to soil management. The arable farmer we talked to also uses financial instruments to hedge their risks from weather volatility. These are some of the measures which should help them to prepare to a changing climate.

We would like to thank the NFU who arranged the visits.

* The CCC mitigation team will be publishing a report in April 2013 that will assess the impact of Climate Change policies on the competitiveness of the UK industrial and agricultural sectors. The CCC Adaptation team will be publishing its annual progress report in July 2013, which will focus on preparedness for climate change in natural resource management, including agriculture.

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