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Measuring Soil Health

Introduction

Soil underpins the entire farm system. Healthy, well-managed soils support productive and healthy crops and pasture, which in turn supports a profitable and resilient farming system. A soil that accumulates organic matter will be sequestering carbon, improved fertility and water holding capacity and increased productivity.

Soil analysis can be a useful tool for understanding overall soil health and identifying areas that may require management or action. Soil analysis doesn’t have to be limited to sending samples to the lab for analysis, it can be as simple as getting out your spade and digging deeper into soil structure.

This page provides an overview of the types of tests that you can do to understand overall soil health. You may also be interested in our free practical guide to Measuring Soil Carbon.

1. Soil Texture

Why is this important?

Soil texture refers to the relative properties of clay, silt and sand in a soil. Soil texture cannot be altered but is important to understand as it impacts on soil structure, aggregate stability, the amount of carbon present and the soil’s ability to sequester more carbon.  Soil texture will help to identify the risk factors that impact on your soil texture, and allow you to develop mitigation options to avoid adverse effects (like compaction, water logging and erosion).

How is it assessed?

To understand soil texture, rub some moist soil between finger and thumb. Sand is a larger particle size so tends to feel gritty, and doesn’t hold its shape when moulded into a ball. Silt feels smooth, silky or floury. Clay feels sticky when wet, looks shiny when smeared and holds together in a ball. This diagram in the RB209 explains how to hand texture your soil.

2. Soil Structure

Why is this important?

Good soil structure is vital for crop productivity and soil health. It supports and regulates biological activity, water movement and storage, soil temperature, gas exchanges and nutrient cycling. The structure of soil should allow for an even distribution of air, water, mineral particles and soil organic matter. 

How is it assessed?

A typical method of assessing soil structure is VESS (Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure). This is a scoring system which rates the soil in terms of its structural condition from 1 (friable and good structure) to 5 (very compact and impacting on plant root growth and function). The VESS test can be completed at the top of the soil profile pit (between 0-10cm) and then lower down (between 10-30cm) to assess condition throughout the soil profile. More detail on the VESS method can be found here.

3. Bulk Density

Why is this important?

Bulk density is the mass of soil in a given volume. Bulk density can be used as an indicator of pore space, soil compaction and will normally increase with soil depth.  Bulk density is also a critical part of being able to calculate the carbon stock within a field.

Bulk density is usually reported as g /cm3 of soil. It can range from between 0.8g/cm3 soil to 1.8g/cm3, and will vary depending on soil type. Lighter, sandier soils will have a higher bulk density than clay soils. If the soil’s bulk density is over 1.6g/cm3 it can  impact on root growth.

How is it measured?

We measure this at three different depths (O-10cm, 10-30cm and 30-50cm) that correspond to the depths that we measure organic matter and organic carbon at. It can be measured in various ways, however at FCT we use the undisturbed core method. This requires using an open ended steel cylinder to extract the known volume of soil from each of the depths down the soil profile. The soil is then removed, processed (stones and roots removed, stones weighed and assessed for volume), dried and weighed. Bulk density is measured in g/cm3.

By taking measurements at three depths, we can obtain a picture of the carbon yield across the soil profile. Carbon yield (reported as t/ha) provides a much more nuanced metric than a simple percentage of organic matter, and allows for a better understanding of where the carbon is held within the soil profile. 

4. Soil Organic Matter (SOM)

Why is this important?

SOM is the organic component of soil, made up of materials such as plant residues, living organisms and decomposing organic matter. Soil organic matter contributes to healthy soil function and crop productivity in many ways including enhancing soil aggregation and the soil’s water holding capacity, allowing optimal nutrient cycling and providing food for the living organisms which inhabit the soil.

Soil organic matter can be broken down into three distinct groups, this includes plant roots and the living microbial biomass; active soil organic matter and stable soil organic matter, often referred to as humus. The average amount of organic matter in UK agricultural soils can vary between 1 – 7%. The soil organic matter fraction also includes the soil organic carbon. Often the soil organic carbon is calculated as 58% of the soil organic matter, although this can vary depending on the soil type.

Analysing SOM at three different depths within the soil provides an understanding of how the carbon is dispersed throughout the soil profile. Generally carbon near the surface will fluctuate more than carbon held at depth due to carbon cycling.

How is it measured?

There are two main methods that are used to test for soil carbon / soil organic matter. It is important to be consistent in your testing approach:

  • Loss on Ignition: Most common test for SOM. Tends to be a cheaper test and the best for helping inform on-farm management decisions. This test is not standardised so can vary between labs, so is important to remain consistent with lab choice. The analysis measures soil organic matter content, which can then be converted using a calculation method to determine the relative carbon content. LOI provides a more rounded approach for assessing soil health.
  • Dumas: A more accurate and standardized test for analysing soil organic carbon, however it does not assess overall soil health. In alkaline soils, it’s important to ensure that the lab method accounts for inorganic carbon as well as providing the organic carbon content which is reported as a percentage. Both are important parts of the farm carbon cycle but react differently to management practices. The amount of soil which is analysed is very small (often 2g) as such, it is important to take good samples that are representative of the area being tested.

5. Soil Organic Carbon Yield

What is it?

The amount of carbon held within your fields (to the depths measured). It is reported in tonnes per ha, and can provide a more detailed result than just a soil organic carbon percentage.

How is it calculated?

We multiply 1 ha by the depth of soil (0-10cm, 10-30cm or 30-50cm), the bulk density and the soil organic carbon percentage. This gives the amount of carbon in tonnes/ha in your soil at each depth. Soil organic carbon yield can only be calculated when the bulk density is assessed.

6. Nutrient Analysis & pH

Why is nutrient testing important?

Testing soils for their nutrient status provides an indication of the nutrients available to the crop from the soil. Typically these are phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg) but more detailed nutrient analysis can be carried out by the lab on request which may include soil mineral nitrogen testing, or the availability of trace elements.

How is it measured?

We send soil samples to labs for analysis. Nutrients typically are measured in mg/l. The indices reported come from the Defra Index scale and depend on the concentration of nutrients within the soil sample. 

Why is understanding pH important?

Soil pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the soil. The natural soil pH is determined by the chemical composition but this can be altered through natural and agricultural processes. Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients within the soil and therefore crop productivity, and is therefore a key parameter to understand. 

pH can range from strongly acid (less than pH 5.5) to strongly alkaline (more than 8.5). The target pH for grassland is around 6 and for arable soils is 6.5. If the pH results are low, lime can be added. If the pH is low, then any applied nutrients will not be utilised effectively, as such, addressing pH issues will help with fertiliser use efficiency.

7. Aggregate Stability

Why is this important?

Soil aggregates are the building blocks that make up soil. How stable these aggregates are is an important factor in long term soil health and the development of a resilient soil ecosystem that will deliver on-farm benefits. Soil aggregation is also considered a good indicator of soil organic matter levels. 

How is it measured?

A handful of soil from each profile pit is taken away and air dried for 4 days. Once dry, three lumps of soil are submerged in water and assessed for how well they hold together after 5 minutes and then again after two hours. The lumps of soil are scored using a scale of 0-4 with 0 being good and the lump remaining intact and 4 the score when the lump breaks down.

8. Earthworm Counts

Why are earthworms important?

Earthworms are one of the indicators for soil biology and soil health. They are important soil engineers, redistributing and mobilising nutrients, cycling organic matter and carbon throughout the soil profile, and improving water infiltration.

Earthworms in agricultural soils can be grouped into three ecological types:

  • Epigeic – litter dwelling earthworms
  • Endogeic – topsoil earthworms
  • Anecic – deep burrowing earthworms

How are they counted?

To measure earthworm numbers, we dig a soil pit that is 20cm x 20cm x 30cm deep and hand sort the soil to count the number of earthworms present. This can then be broken down into types and numbers of adults and juveniles. The higher the value the more worms were present. More details can be found at GreatSoils.

9. Infiltration 

Why is this important?

Soil water infiltration is a good indicator of soil structure which can highlight areas of compaction. A short infiltration time can indicate that the soil is healthy due to the high number of pore spaces allowing the water to infiltrate. Pore spaces are important for root development, soil aeration and water retention. Where compaction is present, the soil pores are effectively squashed together leading to reduced infiltration and risk of runoff and erosion. 

How is it measured?

To measure soil infiltration a cylinder and a known volume of water is required. The cylinder is inserted into the soil a few inches and the water poured in. A stopwatch is required to measure the time it takes for the soil to infiltrate. A detailed guide on carrying out the infiltration test can be found here.

First Steps

1. Measure and record

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure!”

Before looking at possible changes in management, it helps to understand what your environmental impacts and emissions are and where they are coming from on your farm. Each farming system is different and so the best way to know where the emission “hot spots” are in your system is to use a carbon calculator.

FCT has developed a free, easy-to-use Farm Carbon Calculator and we recommend this tool to understand your farm carbon balance. The Calculator generates a report to show where the emissions and sequestration figures have come from.

As with all such exercises, the more accurate the data you put in, the more accurate the figure you get out. We would expect you to take around 1½ hours filling in the calculator, once you have assembled all the input data that you will need.

Once you’ve got your carbon balance figure, decide if your focus is towards actions in the short or long term. If you are planning strategic farm investment consider how you will incorporate emission reduction technology/processes into that investment. There will normally always be short term options to consider.

2. Improve the existing systems

Before making any changes, look at how your farm is currently performing and how you could improve it. Where improvements can be made, think about how they might be measured. Are there any existing discussion or technical groups nearby that you could join where other producers share information? We may be able to point you towards existing groups or opportunities.

Improving the efficiency of what you’re already doing will be the most straightforward action. It will also deliver immediate financial benefits to your business and a reduction in GHG emissions.

3. Making changes

Here are some priorities that are relevant and straightforward to implement. Pick out and use the sections that fit with your farming system:

Soil Management

  • Reduce cultivations
  • Repair / improve drainage
  • Build soil organic matter levels
  • Look at carbon sequestration potential

Cropping

  • Reduce cultivations
  • Target fertiliser applications to soil conditions, crop requirements and weather
  • Explore opportunities to bring in organic materials and use legumes to fix N
  • Introduce clover into grazing and cutting swards to save on N fertiliser

Livestock – Ruminants

  • Manure management and application: store in solid form if possible
  • Investigate Anaerobic Digestion for slurry
  • Diet – research suggests changes to diet can reduce emissions from enteric fermentation

Livestock – non ruminants

  • Sourcing of feeds – look for more sustainable options, avoiding South American soya-based feedstocks
  • Feed efficiency – correct protein balance, maximise feed conversion, minimise waste
  • Slurry handling and application

Energy efficiency

  • Identify draughts and check insulation
  • Commission Energy Performance Certificates for each building
  • Install energy efficient lighting
  • Consider motion sensors for outdoor areas

Energy Generation

  • What are your farm’s natural resources? Can you generate your own energy?
  • Are there electricity sub-stations or powerlines nearby
  • Consider local biomass supplies
  • Check your wind speed at the National Database and solar potential
  • Consider your waste streams
  • Contact a qualified consultant to take any plans further

Buildings and Operations

  • Consider vehicle usage – are you making any unnecessary journeys?
  • Are there electric vehicles available?
  • Send any on-farm drivers on fuel efficient driving courses
  • Do you need a new building? Could you adapt existing space, saving money and resources?

Key Resilience Planning Considerations

This work deals specifically with resilience planning for a key variable that we as farmers have to deal with every day – namely the weather.

The information on this page comes from some Defra funded work that is looking at resilience planning on -farm.

The weather is one aspect of future climate change predictions that will impact all farmers in one way or another. Whether its hotter, colder, wetter or drier, it will alter the way that we manage our land and cropping / livestock.

This report concludes that the key to farm resilience planning is to assess the impact that these trends in weather are expected to have on the farm enterprises in their current management, which will highlight the level of vulnerability for the farm.

The table below comes from the work done in the Cheviot Hills, which details what the potential impacts are in livestock and arable enterprises.

Source: Cheviot futures -farm resilience planning.

Resilience: People

People: a key agricultural resource

When we are looking at agricultural resilience, its not just a case of looking at the biophysical aspects of agriculture’s productive capacity, 

“Food production is ultimately dependent on farmers and their decision making” 

This quote comes from the write up of a conference that took place in 2013 looking at Global Agriculture, food and land use – how to create resilient, agricultural systems in a world of increasing resource scarcity and climate change.

Its all too easy to forget the crucial part that we as farmers play in creating a profitable industry that can be sustained long term and investing in skills and people development can help businesses to grow.

The recommendations that came out of this conference referring to people included:

The need to create a people based approach to improving agricultural production and systems.  This includes changing the behaviour and perception of farmers.

The need to recognise the importance of farmers as a fundamental part of the system.  Farmers are responsible for food production, managing ecosystems and biodiversity and preserving the cultural landscape of the surrounding area, a crucial role. 

The need to nourish skills and knowledge transfer and to have access to education and healthcare, is essential for building rural resilience.

A growing issue recently is also access to improved services to access knowledge, for example rural broadband and other rural services, which sustain rural communities.

Human resources

The lifeblood of any business is the workforce – finding skilled and committed workers can be a challenge for any business, but especially on farms. There is a shortage of younger entrants to the farming industry,

Recruitment is an issue for many farmers and growers already, for example practical training in organic crop production and horticulture is very limited, and existing growers struggle to find suitably skilled staff.

The UK as a whole is forecast to be short of 3 million skilled workers by 2050 if current trends continue. As of winter 2013, the lifting of restrictions on citizens from Romania and Bulgaria was set to create worker shortages for the fruit industry and 2008 saw major concerns across the fruit and vegetable industries regarding labour shortages.

Farms therefore need to think about managing this challenge as without doing so it will not matter how successful the business, if there is no one to operate it.

Response Strategies

You could consider starting an apprenticeship scheme if you don’t already have one, to train the workers of the future.

Involving young people in other ways, such as on work placements, could create interest in farming career paths and give people the break needed when starting out.

Another response is to create longer term interest in locally grown produce, perhaps by involving the whole community in growing vegetables, or supporting a community growing project – the interest in food provenance and growing should spark interest in working in the sector and create a greater awareness of the benefits of locally grown food.

See the Caplor Farm case study for more detail on one farm’s approach to encouraging local interest in food.

Why not check out our events page to see whether there are any events which interest you (and allow you to upskill yourself?!)

Thoughts on personal resilience 

Stress is an inhibitor to change

Develop a robust attitude towards adverse events

Look at your attitude to risk management and how to cope with change

Develop evaluation skills and weigh up risk

Update current knowledge by attending training

Sources:

Wilton Park, Conference Report – Global agriculture, food and land use. How to create resilient agricultural systems in a world of increasing resource scarcity and climate change, 15-17th April 2013

Natural England Commissioned Report NECR120, Climate change farm resilience planning.

On-Farm Resilience

What are the factors that will impact your business in the coming years and decades and can they be mitigated?

The climate is changing and with that will come changes to temperatures, sea levels and rainfall. This will impact everything from building materials to road design.

For example future new-build farm tracks may have to be raised higher from the ground than at present to counter increased rainfall and possible flash floods, with engineering improvements such as drainage channels alongside each track to accommodate storm run-off.

Greater consideration should be given to flooding and water management – for example willow coppices absorb large amounts of water and could be worth growing in wetter areas – they can use so much water that neighbouring fields also avoid reaching saturation.

We could see changes to our climate which mean both wetter winters and hotter summers, which will pose further problems for farmers meaning soil structure especially will need to be sufficiently robust to cope with climate fluctuations.

See the Soil section for more details and East Hendred case study for a practical approach to soil improvement.

Power supply problems and blackouts are forecast to become a real problem within the next 5 years in the UK. This creates considerations for businesses with machinery and processing operations.

To counter supply problems, does your farm have some form of on-site energy generation, such as solar panels, in the event of power cuts (which Ofgem predict under current scenarios by 2016-2017). Government incentives for electricity (FiTs) and heat (RHI) offer added bonuses to generate your own power.

See the Energy Generation section for more detail.

Key resilience planning considerations

The key to farm resilience planning is to assess the impact that the climate change predictions and extreme weather scenarios have on the farm enterprises in their current management, which will help to highlight the level of vulnerability for that farm.

What is Resource Resilience

What should agricultural production systems try to achieve? From the 2013 global conference on resilient agriculture.

This information comes from the global conference on resilient agriculture that was held in 2013 (see the full report here)

Agricultural production systems should achieve the following:

  • Provide adequate food and nutritional requirements
  • Provide sufficient income for farmers to sustain a comfortable standard of living
  • Protect ecosystems both not and for future generations including coping with changing weather patterns

There are many aspects to agricultural resilience.  The EC’s concept of resilience is defined as:

“the ability of an individual, a household, a community or a region to withstand, to adapt and to quickly recover from stresses and shocks”

When looking at how this applies to agriculture, it is a unique combination of the resilience of:

  • the individual farmer
  • the business (economics)
  • the natural environment
  • the on-farm enterprises
  • the on-farm resources
  • AND how they all interact with each other

Future proofing?

Resilience can be thought of as an incremental process, and as an overall outcome.

The future may involve changing ways of thinking of agriculture from one of relative stability to one that is resistant to fluctuations in weather patterns and input prices. 

Being resilient in the short term does not ensure there is resilience in the long run. 

You can think of resilience in this context as being about ‘future proofing’ – adopting an holistic approach and seeking to secure a business, community or individual, more resistant to outside pressures and changes.

The most obvious example is energy supplies; the over reliance on imported fuel from parts of the world which are unstable and pose risks to long term supplies, but the concept is much broader and applicable to almost every part of a typical farm’s daily routine. Put simply, do you have a strategy for dealing with foreseeable future shocks and changes which will insulate you against them?

Resilience in relation to climate change

The impacts of Climate change are already starting to be felt in relation to farming practices and the natural environment.  

It is necessary for farmers to understand the potential impact of climate change on their holdings so enabling them to plan for climate change and adapt appropriately with consideration for potential impacts on the natural environment and farming systems.

The future

Creating resilient agricultural systems is vital to feed a growing global population in a nutritionally sufficient way. Extreme weather conditions are likely to be the norm and weaken existing agricultural systems. Intensification is likely to be a common future for agriculture but it does not have to be done at the expense of ensuring sustained management of finite and vital natural resources (including soil and water).

Global agricultural systems will remain diverse and this diversity will ensure greater resilience. Sharing of best practice, technology and innovation will lead to building global resilience that can span nations and sustain farming businesses and natural resources for the future.

Energy Efficiency Advice for Horticulture

Hints and tips on saving energy in glasshouse production, focussing on heating and ventilation.

Horticulture and Field Grown Vegetables:

There is significant embodied energy in artificial fertilisers, as with glasshouse and polytunnel crop production. Research has shown that fuel use in the growth of glasshouse crops can be reduced by 10-30% by sealing any air leakages and draughts. For example ensure all openings are properly flush when closed and that there are no cracked or broken panes, with sealant still in place around all panes in glasshouses.

Thermal screens which retain heat can be installed to cut down on energy loss and this can be highly effective. For smaller operations, plastic sheeting can be used as a cheaper alternative, though less effective.

For larger greenhouses, low power fans can be installed which circulate air effectively, ensuring a better balanced temperature through the space, which will ensure your heating systems do not overheat the space and waste energy.

Energy Efficiency Advice for Poultry Farmers

Feeding machines, ventilation, and lighting comprise the largest elements of energy use in typical poultry production.

General principles:

Feeding machines, ventilation, and lighting comprise the largest elements of energy use in typical poultry production.

Consumption can be reduced by ensuring correctly sized ducts and fans for ventilation systems, buildings are sufficiently insulated and heating and ventilation controls linked. Replace old fans as new fans are far more energy efficient.

Temperature controls are important as temperature demands vary based on bird age and weather conditions, mature birds require much less heat than young birds (22°C compared to around 30°C). Thermostats need to be in the correct locations to avoid overheating, so away from draughts or doors.

Reducing lighting where possible under regulations and fitting new energy efficient fixtures and dimmers can reduce lighting costs considerably, one of the major costs for poultry farms.

Clean fans and air ducts – dirt can reduce fan efficiency by 60%.  

Draught proof doors, windows, and ventilation louvres to stop heat escaping.  Fit accurate heating and ventilation fans, use free heat from roof ridges which can be 10 degrees higher than at floor level.

Ensure that air ducts allow the smooth passage of air – battens and obstructions can decrease efficiency by 20%.

Specify as high performing ventilation equipment as possible.

All fans and ducts should be included in the end of batch clean and filters should be replaced.  Dirty ducts and fans can increase running costs by 60%.  

Ensure the minimum winter ventilation rate is controlled accurately where heating is used in a building.  If the level is too hight then heating costs will increase significantly, too low a level will produce foul air conditions.

Replace tungsten lights with energy efficient alternatives such as fluorescent or sodium lamps to save 70% of lighting costs.

Solutions for saving energy

Building energy management systems

Building energy management systems are also available, which provides options for analysis of energy use on a regular basis for monitoring boiler lighting or fan running times, for switching off equipment, for zone control of heating and numerous other applications.  Savings of between 10-30% of energy consumption are possible.  

Boiler and space heating systems

Efficiency of oil and gas-fired boilers is extremely important.  Regular servicing of boilers and cleaning of heat transfer surfaces is recommended potentially yielding savings of between 10-15%.

Insulation and air tighteners

The energy needed for heating and ventilation can be reduced by improving wall, roof and floor insulation.  This will help to keep buildings, warm in winter and cool in summer.  A balance needs to be struck between the levels of insulation and the density of birds otherwise overheating could occur in summer or excessive levels of ventilation will be required to maintain proper environmental conditions.

Temperature and ventilation controls

Multiple sensor controls for heating and ventilation provide greater accuracy and should be installed directly above the birds.  Excessive ventilation in heated poultry production facilities during cold weather can dramatically increase heating energy and will have a big impact on heating running costs, sometimes by as much as 300%.

Lighting

Older incandescent and tungsten halogen lighting can be replaced with high frequency dimmable fittings, yielding savings of over 40%.  

Variable speed drives on fans and pumps

Reducing the speed of a pump or fan by 20% using a variable speed drive could save 50% of the energy consumed.  Water pumping and conveying systems can benefit from technology, especially when speed is linked to the flow and pressure requirements of the system.

Brooding curtains

Allow chicks to stay warm while restricting them to a smaller area of the house without the expense of heating the entire house. To perform efficiently they should form a tight seal along the ceiling, walls and floor.

Air circulation

By circulating pre warmed air into the poultry house, less heat and consequently less energy is needed to keep the birds warm.  The effectiveness of ceiling inlets is linked to their placement the number of ventilation fans in use and the static pressure in the house.

Circulation fans

The hottest air in a poultry house is near the ceiling as air warmed by the birds rises upwards.  Slow moving circulating fans should be used to push hot air back down to the floor, the more uniform the house temperature, the lower the heating costs.

Reducing energy use makes good business sense, it saves money, provides a competitive advantage, enhances farm reputation and plays a part in reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Teagasc, Energy Use in Agriculture 

Energy Efficiency Advice for Pig Farmers

Heating followed by ventilation, feed production and slurry storage and lighting comprise the largest sources of energy use.

General pointers

Heating, followed by ventilation, feed production and slurry storage and lighting comprise the largest sources of energy use. Feed also contains a large amount of embodied energy as with fertiliser.

Adequate heating controls, the correct positioning of sensors and monitors and adequate maintenance and cleaning offer opportunities for energy saving and efficiencies in pig production. For example, outlet fans can be made up to 15% more efficient by adding cones.

Enclosing creeps will enable more accurate temperature control in each one, prevent heat loss and reduce heating demands.

Sufficient insulation and preventing draughts offer the potential to halve the energy consumed per pig during the production process. Newer materials offer greater energy savings as older insulation can wear out over time.

Fitting variable speed pumps to wet feed equipment which don’t undergo uniform use or demand can save at least 30% in costs.

Read more from BPEX

Energy use can be minimised and costs reduced through sensible selection of system components, wise use of insulation and attention to design and operation of control systems. If you are making any alterations to improve energy efficiency, it is worth making sure that full account is taken of environmental requirements and animal welfare.

Taking stock of the current situation

  • Compare your performance with industry benchmarks (or your own data from previous years)
  • Assess current energy use
  • Identify energy efficiency measures that will work with your business
  • Establish an “energy action plan”

High priority / low cost measures

Implement these first as they require little or no expenditure. These often give the best rewards as savings can be made quickly and for little expenditure or effort.

Monitor energy use

  • The basis of good energy management
  • Regular meter readings, don’t just rely on utility bills

Carry out maintenance and repairs

  • An essential part of reducing wasted energy

Check the accuracy of controls

  • Check temperature sensors

Use information from control systems

  • Link ventilation and temperature settings to energy data to see how the system is performing

Medium and long term actions

Improve building insulation

  • Current recommendations are for an insulation level of better than 0.4W/m²/˚C (60 mm of polyurethane)
  • Best results can be achieved using composite panels containing solid polyurethane insulation.

Use enclosed creeps

  • Boxed creeps will reduce heat losses and provide a controllable environment for piglets, and better regulation of the thermal environment.

Improve controls

  • Good controls are a pre-requisite for maintaining the right temperature in buildings and minimising the use of energy.
  • If heating is used in building, it is critical that minimum winter ventilation rate is controlled accurately.

Use efficient fans and ducts

  • Fans can vary significantly in efficiency
  • Consider the lifetime cost when buying fans
  • Fan efficiency generally increases with impeller diameter
  • Belt driven fans are generally more efficient than fans with direct drives
  • Fitting cones to outlets fans will increase efficiency by 10-15%

Efficient lighting

  • Prolonged periods of use mean that fluorescent lighting will be the most efficient solution in most cases.
  • High level lighting and strip fluorescent lamps with T8 tubes and electronic control gear will give the best energy efficiency
  • For low level lighting, a small number of compact fluorescent lamps are a good solution.

Use high efficiency motors and variable speed drives on feed and waste handling systems

  • High efficiency motors cost no more than standard motors and should be considered when upgrading motors.
  • With wet feeding and slurry pumping systems, choose pumps that give the best flow to energy characteristics.
  • Consider the use of variable speed drives where appropriate. Savings of between 30-50% can be expected in pump running costs when using VSDs.

Energy saving options for farrowing heating

  • Careful control of heater output
  • Clean heaters and ensure they fit well into creep lids
  • Seal boxed creeps and fit pophole curtains
  • Install boxed creeps
  • Install thermostatic controls ideally with temperature profiling
  • Choose higher efficiency heating type

Weaning accommodation ideas

  • Closer setting of controls
  • Seal buildings to stop draughts
  • Clean fans and ducting regularly
  • Install compact fluorescent lighting or high efficiency tubular fluorescent lighting
  • Reconfigure ventilation to give better control of minimum level
  • Update heating and ventilation controls
  • Re-insulate buildings

Finishing accommodation

  • Make sure controls are properly calibrated and set to the correct temperature
  • Clean fans and ducting regularly
  • Install compact fluorescent lighting or high efficiency tubular fluorescent lighting
  • Improve the design of inlets and outlets to provide smoother air passage and lower air speeds
  • Update ventilation controls
  • Update ventilation to high efficiency low loss system
  • Re-insulate buildings to reduce solar gain

Source: The Carbon Trust: Energy Use in Pig Farming

Energy Efficiency Advice for Livestock Farmers

Forage production and waste management comprise the greatest sources of energy use in livestock farming.

Feed utilisation and sourcing

Forage production and waste management comprise the greatest sources of energy use in livestock farming.

If you mill your feed on the farm, use a disc rather than roller mill as this is considerably more efficient. Disc mills are newer, more efficient technology now available in the UK. Also check that moisture levels are at the right level (17-18%) as this reduces unnecessary drying.

Forage ensiling waste can be as much as 10%, reduce this as much as possible by ensuring appropriate storage conditions.

Nutrient management planning

For intensive operations, dirty water can be applied using low rate irrigation rather tractor, to save 60% of the energy costs. Divert all clean water from the slurry store in order to minimise slurry volumes and therefore slurry handling involving energy intensive machinery.

Ensure that you take account of nutrients in farm yard manure before applying bagged fertiliser which will reduce the energy needed to apply fertiliser and reduce losses to the farm bottom line and the environment.

Machinery and fuel use

  • Ensure all vehicle tyres are kept at the correct pressure to save diesel
  • Shut off engines when not in use rather than idling.
  • Plan travel so as to combine jobs and minimise vehicle movements wherever possible.
  • Install a fuel meter on the farm diesel tank to monitor fuel usage
  • Service equipment regularly
  • Consider soft start technology for electric motors.

Lighting

Use low energy or sodium lighting, especially in flood lighting. Keep all lighting covers and fittings clean and well maintained. Install timer switches and daylight / occupancy sensors in key lighting circuits, and in non key circuits ensure that lights and other equipment is switched off when not in use.

Building maintenance

Improve building airflow to maximise natural ventilation and minimise drafts.

Why not read about what one upland sheep farmer has been up to?

New sheep housing has provided all-round benefits in efficiency, welfare and for the environment on a West Cumbrian upland unit.