Cutting carbon emissions through better land management

Land management research helps farmers cut carbon emissions.

Farmers are helping UK and European governments meet greenhouse gas emission targets, thanks to extensive research by University of Hertfordshire’s Agriculture and Environment and Research Unit (AERU).

Since 2005, AERU has examined the effect of farmland management practices on climate change. While some practices can lead to more carbon being captured from the atmosphere through natural processes and stored in soil and vegetation, others can have a negative effect, with stored carbon released as soil is disturbed.

AERU’s research into the most effective practices has widely influenced high-profile agricultural guidance materials and policies. For example, it highlighted a number of practice alterations to the Environmental Stewardship scheme, which pays English farmers to protect and enhance biodiversity and the environment.

These included reducing soil cultivation depth to decrease fuel consumption, encouraging springtime manure application to improve crop nutrient availability, and increasing the width of non-cropped margins around woodland to eliminate soil disturbance.

AERU’s methodology has also been used by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Trust and the EU to improve a variety of farming practices.

It’s difficult to quantify the impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, in 2009 2.44 million hectares of farmland were managed under Environmental Stewardship agreements.

If improved management of just five per cent of this land shows a modest 0.5 per cent increase in soil organic carbon in the top 10 cm of soil, around an extra 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide would be captured and stored. That’s the equivalent of 500,000 passenger flights around the world.

University of Hertfordshire
University of Hertfordshire, 2023.