A new research project aims to help UK farmers and growers target net zero and build farming resilience through diversifying their arable and forage cropping.
Miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, is a partner in the project, which aims to develop a standardised approach to quantifying carbon capture in the soil and in plant-based products made from the crops grown.
The Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping (CHCx3) is a four-year, £5.9 million project, supported by a consortium of 22 industry and research partners and led by crop science organisation NIAB.
The research will focus on four cropping options: rotational cover crops; annual fibre crops (industrial hemp and flax); perennial food, forage and feed crops (including cereals and herbal leys); and perennial biomass crops (Miscanthus, willow and poplar).
Dr Michael Squance, science and technology director at Terravesta explains that while the firm already has independent peer-reviewed data on Miscanthus carbon capture, it’s about real measurements in the field.
“This project is ground-breaking in the sense it will come up with a new standard for on farm carbon management with hard physical field measurements.
“The carbon marketplace is in its infancy and the industry needs a standardised approach to understanding the carbon sequestered in the soil and to understand the additional value of other biomass uses,” he says.
“It will allow farmers to get the value they deserve for all their hard work,” says Mike.
“We will work with different partners on different collaborations within the study, for example, leaders in sustainable construction materials manufacture, Natural Building Systems, will develop and test Miscanthus-based composite materials,” adds Mike.
The project, which runs from spring 2023 to 2027, has been awarded funding by Defra under the Farming Futures R&D Fund: Climate Smart Farming. This forms part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.
The Centre’s ‘Knowledge Hub’ will provide resources to support the effective uptake and utilisation of crops with high carbon-capture potential, with practical outputs such as crop guides, web tools and apps available to landowners, farmers and agronomists. The project will offer a wealth of opportunities for its many stakeholders to engage with and participate in the ongoing research, including crop trials, field demonstrations, webinars, workshops and training.
Project Lead and Head of NIAB Innovation Farm Dr Lydia Smith explains that crop choice, management and utilisation all offer opportunities. “Farmers and associated industries can address climate change goals through input-efficient crops that are able to increase carbon capture, but they must have confidence in achieving profitable and sustainable outcomes,” says Dr Smith.
Project Knowledge Exchange Lead and NIAB Director of Agronomy Stuart Knight highlights that the Centre will build on NIAB’s extensive programme of crop diversity and improvement, farming systems and soils research. “The project will kick-start vital new collaborations between researchers, seed suppliers, growers and industries seeking to realise the full potential of crop-based products, establish new revenue opportunities within the carbon market, and give a major boost to our shared aim of achieving Net Zero,” concludes Mr Knight.
The full list of project partners:
NIAB, Biorenewables Development Centre, British Hemp Alliance, Cambond, Carbon Farm Hubs, Cotswold Seeds, Crops for Energy, Dark Green Carbon, Elsoms Seeds, Energy Crops Consultancy, English Fine Cottons, FarmED, F C Palmer & Sons, National Farmers Union of England & Wales (NFU), Natural Building Systems, Northern Ireland Hemp Association, Rothamsted Research, Scottish Hemp Association, Terravesta, UK Hempcrete, University of York, Unyte Hemp