Transition to net zero doesn’t need to leave farmers with ‘Diddly Squat’

George Webb - CEO, Liquid Gas UK

The Covid-19 pandemic and its disruption to supply chains and the food stocked on our supermarket shelves demonstrated the importance of British farming as we were suddenly less able to get our imported products from overseas.

It highlighted that British farming, often overlooked, is the bedrock of society, providing 64% of all the food we eat in the UK[1]. On a lighter note, you may have been one of the millions that tuned in to watch Clarkson’s Farm this year, with the programme giving the general public an insight into the world of agriculture.

The agricultural sector is key to the UK economy because it is the main supplier to the food and drinks industry, which is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK

While Jeremy Clarkson dedicated a whole episode to making his farm better for the environment, one area not covered is how he may dry his crops or provide heating for his lambs in a future net zero world.

The agricultural sector is key to the UK economy because it is the main supplier to the food and drinks industry, which is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. On top of this, farmers play a key role in rural land management with approximately 70% of UK land area being maintained by farmers.[2]

However, the industry faces a number of challenges in reducing their emissions, ranging from how they heat their off-grid buildings, warmth for crop production to how they continue with field operations that are inherently energy intensive.

With many farms often in rural areas, and not connected to the gas grid, alternative fuel solutions such as oil or diesel have been used in the past. As we move forward, fuels such as LPG and bioLPG will become incredibly important for the sector as it looks to decarbonise in a cost-effective manner.

The majority of energy consumption in agriculture is for heating and for field operations. The high level of energy used for heating can be partly attributed to the number of agricultural sites in the UK that are located off the gas grid and in rural locations.

On top of this, many farm buildings are old with little insulation and therefore, retain heat poorly. This has resulted in many farms relying on high-carbon fossil fuels to heat their buildings, with 16% of agricultural energy consumption being met by oil.

Being a farmer is incredibly tough and turning a profit is even harder, but the cost of achieving net zero shouldn’t leave farmers with “Diddly Squat.”

To reduce emissions, it has been suggested that farmers switch to electrification, in particular heat pumps for their buildings. However, this completely ignores the reality for many farmers and the financial burden they would face if they were forced to switch to heat pumps.

Many of these buildings are poor at retaining heat, so farmers would have to consider the cost of retrofitting renovations to reach the level of insulation required.

This would be in addition to the upfront cost of the heat pump itself. As we saw from Clarkson, being a farmer is incredibly tough and turning a profit is even harder, but the cost of achieving net zero shouldn’t leave farmers with “Diddly Squat.”

Key processes on farms, including water pumping, drying, heating and cooling, rely heavily on fuels as well. This is a result of these processes being energy intensive and thereby, tricky to decarbonise.

However, depending on the main activity of the farm, its highest energy consumption varies. For dairy farms, the machinery used to support milk cooling makes up its greatest use of energy, whereas for arable farms, its crop storage.

In general, the farming industry has seen its energy consumption increase as a result of using more automated machinery and operating for longer periods of time.

However, networked energy sources like hydrogen and electricity might be unsuitable to use if the agriculture sites are off-grid. In this case, LPG and BioLPG is the practical solution for many processes because it is easily stored, flexible and affordable to those making the switch.

[1] https://www.countrysideonline.co.uk/food-and-farming/contributing-to-the-economy/

[2] https://www.nfuonline.com/nfu-online/news/report-21117-contributions-of-uk-agriculture/

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