Is Your Farm GHG-Plus Or GHG-Minus? – for Aug. 2, 2010

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af contributor |lethbridge

You know the size of you farm in acres, but how big is its carbon footprint – the amount of greenhouse gas it consumes to produce crops and livestock every year?

Scientists at Agriculture Canada’s research centre in Lethbridge and other stations across the country have developed a computer program which can answer the question. The program, available free online, models your whole farm to show its carbon footprint and how much difference changes in your farm management would make.

The Holos program is very user-friendly, even fun. You punch in your region and your acres of various crops and livestock numbers and it estimates greenhouse gas emissions from your farm.

The numbers are based on equations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but adapted for Canadian Prairie conditions and farming practices. You can put in more specific details about your operation, so you get a more precise estimate of your emissions.

Farm sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) make up about 10 per cent of Canada’s emissions. For most farms, nitrogen fertilizer is the biggest source of GHGs because it takes so much energy to produce it, and in wet conditions. denitrifying microbes can release nitrous oxide (NO2), a potent GHG with 300 times higher global warming potential than CO2.

Other farm operations can also produce significant emissions. Running machinery generates CO2 and NO2. Ruminants, members of the deer family as well as cattle and sheep, generate methane as their digestive systems process feed.

Jose Barbieri (right) chats with and Martin Blumethal a research manager with Australia’s Grains Research and Development

Corporation where efforts to reduce farm emissions of GHGs is on energy efficiency.Helen McMenamin

On the other hand, soil organic matter is stored carbon, so using more zerotill and perennial crops as well as shelterbelts can absorb CO2, cutting effective emissions.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are very complex, especially when you consider the whole life cycle of each farm input and the whole farm,” says José Barbieri, technical co-operator for the Holos team. Holos accounts for the many interactions among different processes on a farm. The development team has worked to incorporate all the things that can affect the emissions from an entire farm into their model.

Once Holos calculates the carbon footprint of your farm, in tonnes of CO2 equivalents, you can compare emissions from various ways of managing your farm. Fertilizer rates, machinery use, type, weights and growth rates of pastured animals and manure application all affect emissions. Holos can include each possible change in its calculations

This sample from the Holos program shows what happens if summerfallow is reduced and trees planted.

and show the emissions for any combination of management practices and type of operation.

The Holos team is also developing a more detailed version for researchers. Scientists can input detailed information on every ingredient in diets and other factors. This version is available to other scientists, but the development team is still working to improve it. Some of the developments in this research version may be incorporated into improved versions of Holos for farmers.

Along with its estimate of your carbon footprint, Holos offers suggestions on changes you could make to mitigate your farm emissions, such as planting a shelterbelt, switching to forage crops, reducing tillage, or changing livestock diets so their digestion more efficient.

Holos may suggest changes that are not economically sustainable, for example, adding supplements to cattle feed. “You have to figure out the economics,” says Barbieri. “This program only works out the emissions.”

To check out the Holos program, do an Internet search for Agriculture Canada Holos. The development team is hoping to make the model accessible on the web, so you don’t need the whole program if you can use high-speed Internet.

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Greenhousegas emissionsarevery

complex,especiallywhen youconsiderthewholelife cycleofeachfarminput andthewholefarm.”

José Barbieri

Lethbridge Research Centre

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