Category Archives: My Projects

Project AC0114 – Data synthesis, modelling and management

WP 3 Farm Practice Synthesis

This work package will develop an archive of farm practice or activity data for representative farm systems in the UK, including information on fertiliser inputs; fertiliser and manure management; livestock feeding and breeding practices; and industry trends on the adoption of key mitigation practices such as anaerobic digestion and increased efficiency of nitrogen use.  These data will be key to representing the impact of changes in farm practice on methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Whilst the work package intends to make best use of existing national surveys and industry monitoring data, it is recognised that not all aspects of UK are adequately surveyed. Therefore, we will also scope a UK wide systematic survey of farm practices targeted at meeting the future needs of an improved gaseous emissions calculation methodology.

The first stakeholder workshop was held in March 2011 in Birmingham, with the aim of gathering feedback on the farm systems proposed for inclusion within the inventory and to gather recommendations on the mitigation methods that will need to be captured through the reporting:

Project AC0114 is managed as a collaborative project through an Expert Steering Group made up of the following principal investigators from the project partners:

Dr Steven Anthony (ADAS UK Ltd – Project Manager) Dr Tom Misselbrook (North Wyke Research – WP 1 Lead) Dr Kairsty Topp (Scottish College – WP 2 Lead) Dr Adrian Williams (Cranfield – Science Director and WP 3 Lead) Dr Ulli Dragosits (CEH Edinburgh – WP 4 Lead) Professor Andy Whitmore (Rothamsted Research – WP 5 Lead) Mr Laurence Smith (Organic Research Centre – WP 6 KE Lead) Dr Eileen Wall (Scottish Agricultural College – WP 7 Lead) Professor Pete Smith (Aberdeen University) Dr Catherine Watson (AFBI-NI) Dr Les Crompton (Reading University) The AC0114 project will span January 2011 to June 2015 and is composed of 7 separate work packages:

 

 

EU Impressions

The end of June was an eventful time for the IMPRESSIONS project when we hosted two important meetings: (i) a stakeholder workshop for our Iberian case study; and (ii) our 4th project steering committee meeting combined with our international advisory board. The first IMPRESSIONS Ib…

 

The first IMPRESSIONS Hungarian Case Study workshop took place on 13 &14 July 2015, in Szekszárd, Hungary. The event brought together key stakeholders from public institutions, civil society and companies. During the 2-day workshop, participants discussed and determined future driving …

 

Despite the increasing plausibility of these high-end scenarios, there are few studies that assess their potential impacts and the options available for reducing the risks. Existing modelling tools and methods fail to account for potential tipping points, the need to cope with radical rather than gradual change, the complex interactions between sectors and the synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation actions. It is vital that decision-makers have access to reliable scientific information on these uncertain, but potentially high-risk, scenarios of the future, so that they can make effective adaptation and mitigation plans.

 

There is widespread acceptance that the climate is changing. Although the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change warns that the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C to avoid severe impacts, projections based on current emission trends point to much more substantial warming, with possible increases of 4°C or more in the long-term unless there is radical action to cut emissions.

 

IMPRESSIONS aims to advance understanding of the implications of high-end climate change, involving temperature increases above 2°C, and to help decision-makers apply such knowledge within integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies.

 

 

CLIMSAVE

CLIMSAVE outputs will inform many policy processes ensuring that decisions on how best to adapt to climate change are based on solid scientific analysis. This includes the EC White Paper on Adapting to Climate Change and national adaptation strategies which have been adopted, or are under preparation, in many European countries. CLIMSAVE’s integrated assessment approach will enable stakeholders to explore and understand the interactions between different sectors, rather than viewing their own area in isolation. This contributes to the development of a well adapted Europe by building the capacity of decision-makers to understand cross-sectoral vulnerability to climate change and how it might be reduced by various adaptation options.

CLIMSAVE is a pan-European project that is developing a user-friendly, interactive web-based tool that will allow stakeholders to assess climate change impacts and vulnerabilities for a range of sectors, including , forests, biodiversity, coasts, water resources and urban development. The linking of models for the different sectors will enable stakeholders to see how their interactions could affect European landscape changes. The tool will also enable stakeholders to explore adaptation strategies for reducing climate change vulnerability, discovering where, when and under what circumstances such actions may help. It will highlight the cost-effectiveness and cross-sectoral benefits and conflicts of different adaptation options and enable uncertainties to be investigated to better inform the development of robust policy responses.

There is widespread acceptance that the climate is changing due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. Such changes in climate will affect all sectors of society and the environment at all scales, ranging from the continental to the national and local. Decision-makers and other interested citizens need to be able to access reliable science-based information to help them respond to the risks of climate change impacts and assess opportunities for adaptation.

CLIMSAVE is a pan-European project that is developing a user-friendly, interactive web-based tool that will allow stakeholders to assess climate change impacts and vulnerabilities for a range of sectors, including agriculture, forests, biodiversity, coasts, water resources and urban development.

Curated from

http://www.climsave.eu/climsave/index.html

Citation Alert: GHG emissions from the ornamental plant nursery industry: a LCA approach in a nursery district in central Italy

I shall obtain this article and give it a good read. This citation is probably of the defra contract report:


 

Conducting the Life Cycle Assessment of Tomato production in England and Wales was a challenge.  Many areas of horticulture are very heterogeneous and it is often hard to interpret the few national statistics in terms of definable representative production systems.

The full citation and abstract are below

Highlights

•The production method used has great importance in defining the total level of GHG.

•The most emitting inputs in the nurseries are plastics and peat.

•“surface unit” was used as functional unit to compare different kind of nurseries.

•The plants grown in a nursery can be considered as carbon sinks.

•Other impact categories can be useful to evaluate the environmental impact of nurseries.

Citation Alert: Sustainability assessment of food supply chains: an application to local and global bread in Italy

They cite this work that I was involved in:

This citation, welcome though it is will probably not count in my Web of Science or Scopus metrics because the ‘journal’ “Agricultural and Food Economics” may be too new.

Agricultural and Food Economics (AFE) is an international peer-reviewed and open access journal published on behalf of the Italian Association of Agricultural Economics. AFE welcomes research articles from economists, scholars and researchers from all over the world to publish problem-oriented and high quality articles. AFE publishes only original articles from a wide variety of economic perspectives that address current and relevant issues related to the agricultural and food system. AFE publishes articles focused on applied analysis, the discussion of innovative results, and relevant policy and managerial implications. AFE seeks clearly written articles from experts in the field, to promote insightful understanding of the current trends in the agri-food system.

Topics of specific interest to AFE include agricultural and food market analysis, agri-food firm management and marketing, organization of the agri-food chains, consumer behavior, food quality and safety issues, economics of nutrition and food security, food and health economics, agri-food policy and trade, sustainable rural development, natural and marine resource economics, land economics.

All articles published by Agricultural and Food Economics are made freely and permanently accessible online immediately upon publication, without subscription charges or registration barriers. Further information about open access can be found here.

The full abstract of the citing article is here. I hope to find time soon to read their work carefully.  Watch this space

This paper has been selected as a best paper of the 51th SIDEA Conference in Benevento (18-20 September 2014). It has been accepted for publication in this journal following the usual revision process.

Abstract

Over the 2000s’, consumers’ food purchases have been increasingly informed by supply chain-related issues, with growing concerns about the sustainability of chains differing for their geographical scope. As a result, short food supply chains and local food systems have risen to policymakers and food chain stakeholders’ attention as more sustainable alternatives to mainstream food networks. However, associating food chain’s geographical scope and sustainability performance may not be straightforward. This paper aims at shedding lights on the connection between geographical scope and sustainability by comparing and discussing 19 attributes owing to different sustainability dimensions. The analysis anchors on the wheat-to-bread chain, due to its global relevance. Bread is a worldwide staple food and wheat is (generally) a commodity traded globally. However, wheat processing often occurs locally and baking is influenced by local heritage and consumption patterns, particularly in the EU and in Italy, where gastronomy is culturally embedded. The paper identifies critical aspects and provides a qualitative assessment of the performances of local vs global wheat-to-bread chains. The assessment is carried out on Italian case studies.

JEL: Q18 Agricultural Policy, Food Policy, Q10 General.

Keywords: Sustainability assessment; Food supply chain; Local; Global; Bread

Citation Alert: The pyrolysis and gasification of digestate from agricultural biogas plant

Google told me about this new citation to my work. It is a short Polish paper that refers to work I did using environmental () on the manures and slurries produced by pig and dairy farm and various technologies for handling, storing and using them.

This new work builds on from results where  I show that following anaerobic digestion (AD) the resulting is far more potent as a , but is also far more likely to lose ammonia by volatilisation if not managed better. The added potency is due to the digestion fermentation step breaking down complex organic structures and releasing nutrients into the liquor whilst releasing the carbon (drymatter) as methane gas.

The high moisture content of digestate is also a transport burden. One way the my Polish friends look at to manage it better is to dry the digestate 10% moisture content and subject it to pyrolysis and gasification. This has the advantage of getting more and producing biochar or ash as a readily transport fertiliser.

What I really like about this work was that they are looking at an important questions and that they are publishing hard analytical data on digestate and its performance in these processes.

To elaborate on the importance of the question. Improvements on environmental performance in systems such as is akin to chasing bubbles in a carpet. As soon as you introduce one technology, such as an you soon or alter have to think out how you are going to mange the digestate with its increased potency, These still in not one right idea about that and an open question on at least one project I am currently involved with. Intervening into agricultural systems (or any system) has to be done systematically at multiple points to avoid environmental burdens moving to another part of the system or one burden swapping for another.  The environmental Life Cycle Assessment method is tool to use in these cases

Life Cycle Assessment

If you want a tip about win wins with an intervention into a complex system then think along the lines of productive efficiency where you are trying to either  a) obtain the same from fewer inputs, or b) obtain more from the same inputs.

Whilst I am glad this paper is published there is an opportunity to set it within the context of systems thinking and LCA. A couple of things make me think so:

  • The author’s mention that the proliferation of large scale plants in areas where there are restricted opportunities to apply digestate leads to active consideration of drying digestate to ease the transport burdens of shipping it.  I suspect that recycling disposal problem already existed in those area as ADs don’t create mass that was not already there. The problem maybe that now that it is being processed in an AD it is officially visible as a ‘waste’ and of course more potent.
  • An important gap in the life cycle thinking is the drying step of the digestate. In this case a thermal step is used, but not detailed. The question is what happens to the ammoniacal nitrogen during thermal drying? They authour’s correctly identify the risk of losing 70 or so percent of the nitrogen following land spreading, but don’t say what happens under thermal drying.
  • If one was to further apply life cycle thinking we would be thinking of the net energy balance with the thermal drying and pyrolysis and gasification steps. We would also want to be sure flue gases and evaporative gases didn’t carry additional environmental burdens. Finally, we would want to know the agricultural fertility value of biochar (carbonizate) or ash especially if there are heavy metals or persistent organic contaminants.

Overall I enjoyed giving this paper a good read. It tackles an important areas, but I suspect we are still chasing bubbles in the carpet.

It went down very well aided by a bottle of real ale from a recently discovered micro brewery called Hornes located about 10 miles from where I sit. 

Hornes Real Ale, From Bow Brick-hill, Milton Keynes

CitationAlert: Environmental sustainability issues in the food water energy nexus: breakfast cereals and snacks

This accepted yet to be published cited the work that I help do on agricultural commodities in England and Wales.

I really like how thoroughly the authors have modelled what is a global supply chain into European cereal products. The Irish are very big breakfast cereal eaters (>8kg/ head/ year) and Italian’s the least (<1 kg/head/year). It does give good systematic insights and indicates leverage points for improvements.

The bits that made me think:

  • Rice paddy fields consume a lot of water, but most of it flows into the next paddy field -which is not a net consumption, unlike drainage and evapo-transpiration losses. I am never sure that is is properly considered in many estimates of water use in agriculture.
  • When is a waste a by product? When you can find someone who will buy it! In Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that transition means that you go from  waste disposal burdens charged to the primary product to an allocation of the primary product’s burdens onto the by-product. A green circular economy means we should be doing more of this and I don’t think that should make a difference to the burdens of the primary product and certainly not mask the independent potential for improvement in the primary product. The assumptions behind allocation decisions such as this are known to dramatically alter LCA results.

The biggest environmental impact of agriculture is the decision to farm.

  • That is a mantra that I picked up from Seale-Hayne Agricultural college in the 1980. So to is it here if the impact of Cocoa production and possible deforestation re included in the analysis. One of the challenges with Land Use Change and soil carbon  is to justify the time horizon over-which your work applies. All farm land was once something else and moving to tillage crops does shed soil carbon over hundreds of years. If it reasonable to have a 20 year cut-off, as commonly adopted, and ignore Land Use Change before that? I’d argue that impact of Land Use Change should be averaged out and accounted for against all future cropping. I’d go further and suggest that unless the previous land use was a carbon accumulating peat bog then the long-term cycle of carbon is at equilibrium with no net loss or gain for all land uses. For similar reasons I’ve always been sceptical of land use change as carbon sequestration option. Yes you can sequester carbon to move to a new high soil carbon state, but unless you can hold that there for geological time scales then you are not countering the anthropogenic carbon cycle
  • Another interesting area was the conclusion that a big burden hotspot of cereal manufacture is the agricultural phase. It does create big burdens. However, agriculture’s case is not helped by food waste down stream in storage, transport, procession, retail, storage, consumption. Accidents do happen and all those little percentages lost soon back multiply to expand the size of the agricultural industry to deliver a set amount of nutrition to a consumer. I’ve never been happy with the way that that shifts, in conventional LCA, the hotspots in the direction of the primary industries whilst partly masking those that wasted it.
  • A final remark is that the authours compare a kg of cereal a dispatched from the manufacturer with a kg of cereal consumed with milk in a bowl that has to be washed up. To be fair they are honest that that does not give the consumer two identical nutritional experiences and thus is not a like for like comparison. However, due to the heavy burdens of milk production a superficially comparative evaluation lures the reader into the impression that processing is quite well run, but it is a shame about the farmers (point above) and the consumers!

    On the lighter side in a period of farmers heavily suppressed prices
  • One little additional thought with their improvement scenarios would have been to have tried Monte-Carlo simulation across the ranges of feasible improvement. It would have given an idea of what combinations of improvements lead to significant change and how significant that would be on average. This would help justify and prioritize investments in improvements.
  • My little quibble is that ‘corn’ is ambiguous each side of the Atlantic and explicitly stating maize or is better.

Citation Alert


Laurence cites the work that I was involved in at Silsoe Research Institute (SRI) and the early days of Cranfield University. Looking at the environmental burdens of producing 10 food commodities in England and Wales. The paper cited looks at the main arable crops wheat, oilseed-rape, and potatoes . Read more about his project here Environmental Burdens of Agricultural and Horticultural Commodity Production – LCA (IS0205)

Citation Alert


This paper refers to work that I published at Silsoe Research Institute looking at the environmental benefits of livestock manure management technologies especially the impact of uncertainty in their claims of performance. They are looking at livestock production Qatar and the impact Solar Panels can have on improving sustainability

Citation Alert

This paper cites work that I did for the Climsave project on using the Silsoe Whole Farm Model linear programme to predict future landuse under climate change in the EU 27 see
for the background to the project