Calculating a carbon footprint

A carbon footprint could help you to identify the scope for previously hidden savings on routine activities on the farm.

There is increasing pressure for producers to increase the efficiency of their business whilst reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although this may appear challenging, making more efficient use of resources, i.e. inputs, strongly correlates with reduced production costs and emissions, providing the industry with many opportunities. Calculating a baseline carbon footprint will provide a snap-shot in time guide to the farm performance and can be used a reference point to monitor the efficiency of management changes.

There are numerous carbon calculators available for use.  Research by CXC (Scotland’s center or expertise connecting climate change research and policy), only the following three are suitable for use at farm level in Scotland*:

  • Agrecalc©
  • Cool Farm Tool
  • Sloagro (JRC) Carbon Calculator

*Comparative analysis of farm-based carbon audits, Feb 2019

Whichever tool you choose to use to calculate your farm carbon emissions, it is important that you continue to use this annually so that any results are comparable year -on-year. It is also preferable that the tool selected is PAS 2050 accredited.

What’s needed for a carbon footprint?

The information required for a carbon footprint usually includes, but not limited to:

  • Land and cropping details
    • Farmed areas, including woodlands, hedgerows and concacre
    • Crop types, yields and management details
    • Crop use/sales figures
    • Cropping/land inputs, e.g. fertiliser, organic manures, pesticides, lime
  • Livestock
    • Enterprise details
    • Livestock numbers and weights, including purchases, sales and deaths
    • Livestock performance data e.g. lambing and calving percentages, daily liveweight gains, milk yield including milk solids information, egg sales, kill out percentages etc.
    • Feed and nutritional information e.g. quantities of home grown and purchased feeds fed, grazing allocations, milk replacer, minerals, methane inhibitors,
    • Bedding materials, or housing systems for animals kept indoors for some or all of the year e.g. straw, wood shavings, liquid slurry storage system etc.
  • Manure and fertiliser management
    • Quantities of fertilisers and organic manures applied including organic manures brought onto the farm from other sources e.g. pig slurry, hen litter, digestate, biochar, farmyard manure, slurry etc.
    • Lime applications
  • Energy and fuel 
    • Electricity used for production purposes but not including energy used to run the farm house or non-farming activities
    • Fuel use e.g. red and white diesel, petrol, gas, kerosene, woodfuel etc. used on the farm for production purposes, including fuel used by contractors carrying out activities for the farm e.g. silage harvesting, slurry spreading, pesticide application etc.
    • Renewable energy from any sources and details of how much is used on farm for production e.g. water heating for parlour cleaning and how much is exported to the national grid or to other non-farming uses

The key to an accurate carbon footprint is using the most accurate data that you can.  When lots of estimated data is used e.g. tonnes of fertiliser, sale weights, purchased feeds etc. there is a greater risk of incremental errors in the reported carbon footprint.  All of the information required is usually available through financial or farm quality assurance data that is already regularly collected on the farm.  In order to get a meaningful report that can highlight realistic opportunities for efficiency savings and increased profit, it is worth taking the time to check farm records.

A Carbon footprint/audit is also available as part of an Integrated Land Management Plan (ILMP).  Currently there is funding available for a farm carbon footprint through the Farm Advisory Service.

Related resources



Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe and stay up to date with our latest news & resources.