Leading food businesses and international organizations are teaming up to estimate the greenhouse gas footprint of specific farming systems and talk with farmers to figure out how to reduce that footprint as rapidly and efficiently as possible.
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Christof Walter from Unilever explains, “The Cool Farm Tool helps us understand what practices make the biggest difference in any particular farm situation, including the considerations that farmers are balancing in choosing between management decisions. Taking the circumstance on individual fields and farms into account is crucial because the effects of most GHG reduction practices vary strongly, depending on soil, climate, management system and input intensities. For instance, minimum tillage can lead to overall GHG saving under one set of circumstances, but actually increase net emission under other circumstances. This project will analyze the costs, trade-offs and possible barriers to implementing GHG reduction practices at farm and field level, and what options there are to overcome them. We’ll end up with practical advice in each circumstance.”
The Cool Farm Tool was commissioned from the University of Aberdeen by Unilever in 2009 as a user-focused decision-support tool. It was originally released in April 2010. The goal was to create a single tool to provide the best possible estimate of GHG emissions, whilst using only data which are available to (or easily obtainable by) the average farmer. The software integrates several established “off-the-shelf” empirical models for GHG emissions to give an overall emissions estimate as a function of current (and in some cases previous) farming practice. The Cool Farm Tool provides a tailored figure for GHG emissions based on specific management practices and enables the user to explore the most appropriate GHG mitigation options available to them with the management levers they have.
The Cool Farming Options initiative, formerly known as the Global Agriculture Climate Assessment, combines several aspects that set it apart from the many other initiatives in the area of carbon footprinting and stewardship:
- Farmer focused: The farmer is the focus of data gathering and information feedback, thus providing access to farmers’ knowledge on improvement measures, while at the same time providing farmers with the information to assess emissions implications of modifying management practices;
- Context sensitive: The project will gather specific data for farming systems of your choice and taylor recommendations accordingly, providing much better insight into your product life cycle than the use of calculator estimates based on generic assumptions or averages for entire regions;
- Global in scope: The scope is global, rather than local or national, and includes a range of systems (annual crops, perennial crops, livestock), thus allowing a uniform and consistent approach for all your supply chains. See the systems and geographies committed to thus far.
- Consistent approach: A calculation tool and data analysis system that carries the stamp of approval of a large consortium of industry and academic experts and has the potential to become an industry standard, thus providing you with well-founded data on your supply chain that may be used in carbon footprint calculations of your products or interactions with NGO’s and consumer groups;
- Action oriented: The initiative goes further than just measuring, by providing an action perspective for both farmers and you as a supply chain partner. It will also provide an assessment of barriers that farmers face and the training and incentives that will most efficiently overcome those barriers.