Audit shows Welsh sheep farming is carbon negative

A Welsh sheep farmer says carbon efficiency in farming needs to be balanced against the need for agricultural businesses to be productive and profitable.

Rhys Edwards, who runs a flock of 530 ewes and 180 lambs with his parents, Russell and Eira, at Hendre Ifan Goch near Bridgend, carried out a carbon audit of the farm in his role as the Farming Connect demonstration site. The audit showed the balance to be carbon negative (at -197.01) because the farm has high levels of soil organic matter.

The sheep flock is responsible for 49% of emissions, so the focus in the future will be on ewe efficiency and lamb growth rates. Mr Edwards said in a recent Farming Connect ‘Demo Farm Live’ webinar that he opted for Farm Carbon Toolkit’s carbon footprint tool because it is the only one that recognizes carbon sequestration in his calculations.

Rhys said he was taking steps — including setting a target weaning lambs at 65% of ewe weight — to reduce emissions from the flock. The ewes weigh 65kg, so if 1.65 lambs per tupped ewe are raised, and the lambs weigh an average of 26kg at weaning, the target of 65% mature weight will be achieved.

“I don’t think we can physically do anything more to be carbon friendly, and reducing emissions has to go hand-in-hand with running a profitable food production business,” Rhys said.

Improvements will be sought in post-weaning growth rates, as performance can be a challenge in the fall due to grass availability and micronutrient deficiencies.

Independent sheep consultant Dr Liz Genever, who worked with the farm on this project, said the more days the lambs spend on the farm, the more they eat and the more methane they produce.

Farming Connect is offered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales, and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.