Coolly cutting agriculture’s impact on the climate

Man and woman picking organically grown vegetables on a farm

Back in 2010, researchers at Aberdeen University worked together with the non-profit organisation Sustainable Food Lab in Vermont and the consumer giant Unilever to launch the Cool Farm Tool (CFT). This is an online greenhouse gas calculator that farmers can use to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint, while at the same time maintaining or even boosting yield and productivity.

Dr Jon Hillier, a NERC-funded scientist and lecturer in mathematical modelling at Edinburgh, who originally developed the tool at Aberdeen University, says:

Each farm is quite different, so for farmers to really understand what good practice was in terms of reducing carbon emissions, they needed something that take into account their unique climate and soil conditions, for example.

Since then, the project has grown and become more ambitious, as more organisations such as PepsiCo, Heineken, Danone, Tesco, Heinz, Mars and McCain have got involved. Now the tool, run by the not-for-profit Cool Farm Alliance, has helped tens of thousands of farmers in more than 118 countries around the world assess their carbon output and take steps to reduce it.

For example, WWF-India used CFT to show that cotton farmers in India using traditional cultivation methods apply almost twice as much fertiliser, and generate twice as much greenhouse gases, as those adopting better management practices (BMP) – with no effect on yield. The NGO has since worked with cotton farmers in the Warangal district of India to help them follow BMPs.

The Cool Farm Tool has benefited from significant NERC funding over the last 10 years, which, alongside membership contributions from the Cool Farm Alliance – composed of 80 members – has supported continuous development of the tool as new science emerges.

Last updated: 24 January 2022

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