National agronomy services business Hutchinsons has launched the UK’s first carbon mapping service – TerraMap Carbon. It says the tool will enable farmers and growers to measure the carbon in their soils to show they are meeting climate change mitigation targets.

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The industry is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprints to meet government targets for net zero carbon by 2050 and the NFU commitment for UK farming to achieve this by 2040. But Hutchinsons services manager Matt Ward notes that until now there has been no accurate means of measuring carbon in the soil – and carbon must be measured to be managed.

TerraMap Carbon builds on Hutchinsons’ existing TerraMap soil nutrient mapping service, providing the most accurate baseline measurement of both organic and active carbon in the soil, says Mr Ward.

The system uses gamma-ray detection technology, delivering resolutions of over 800 points/ha, to measures naturally emitted isotopes like caesium and potassium that are very stable due to their long half-lives.

Data is collected in the field through a scan by a lightweight all-terrain vehicle fitted with the sensor, followed by the taking of soil samples, which together allow for each scan to be used to create individual map layers.

Mr Ward says there are very few limitations to when TerraMap can be used, so it offers a much wider operating window compared to other soil scanning systems.

“TerraMap revolutionised the way in which soil nutrient mapping was undertaken in the UK and it is now doing the same for carbon mapping,” he continues. “The consistency and reliability of its results are proven and reflected in its uptake on over 35,000 hectares of UK farmland since launch in 2018,” he adds.

Data from TerraMap Carbon can now be used to create carbon maps within the Hutchinsons Omnia Carbon management system, aligning field carbon measurements against the carbon costs of different machinery operations. Detailed calculations for power, width, work rate and fuel usage can be generated through the expertise of specialists from the Farm Carbon Toolkit.

The carbon management tool can then create different rotation scenarios – from types of cropping and variety to stewardship and management practices – to predict CO2 impacts and financial performance for each scenario. “This can then influence forward planning – for instance, might it be more beneficial to put more land into Environmental Land Management Schemes to sequester more carbon, rather than replacing or changing machinery,” says Mr Ward.

“We wanted to move away from just presenting carbon figures on a spreadsheet into a visible and useable format that can be used for forward planning – much like we have done with the Cost of Production tool in Omnia.”

The pressure to manage carbon will only increase, warns Mr Ward. While agriculture can make positive changes to carbon, unlike most industries, the challenge comes at a time of industry change and disruption with the loss of EU level subsidies. Many growers may question the relevance of carbon management as margins are threatened.

Rather, “We need to move away from seeing carbon footprinting as a burden or tick-box exercise and view it as a beneficial move – a proxy measurement for farm efficiency and profitability of a farm as well as a measure of waste,” he says.

“There will be benefits such as lower input costs from a negative carbon balance before you even getting to the carbon bit. A reduced carbon footprint can only be achieved through a mix of more efficient fertilisers, different technologies, better soil carbon management and considering the energy used in storage – it is a win-win on all levels.”

Hutchinsons is making TerraMap Carbon available as a standard or premium service. The standard service maps a total of 17 micronutrients, soil type and pH layers plus total organic carbon in terms of percentage carbon and tonnes/ha. The premium service maps 27 layers with a wider range of micronutrients than the standard, plus cation exchange, total organic and active carbon percentage and tonnes/ha – the percentage of carbon that is active in the soil.