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Nitrogen Efficient Plants for Climate Smart Arable Cropping Systems (NCS) is a four-year £5.9M ambitious research programme involving 200 UK farms and 18 partners.

The project is funded by the Defra Farming Innovation Programme, delivered by Innovate UK.

The consortium of UK companies, research institutes and farmer networks, led by PGRO, aims to bring about a reduction of 1.5Mt CO₂e per annum or 54% of the maximum potential for UK Agriculture.

This will be achieved by increasing pulse and legume cropping in arable rotations to 20% across the UK (currently 5%). In addition, 50% of imported soya meal used in livestock rations will be replaced with home-grown feeds. 

Both of these ambitious aims will be steered by science and proven by real farm enterprises, with significant benefits for both crop and livestock productivity, including cost savings of over £1bn/yr.

The NCS project will achieve a reduction in annual CO₂ equivalent emissions through:

  • Increasing pulse and legume cropping areas to the rotational optimum of 20% (1M ha) across UK farms. This would reduce nitrogen fertiliser use by 233,000t, resulting in 0.55M tonnes CO₂e reduction.
  • Using the subsequent produce in animal feed, replacing 50% of imported soya meal and delivering a further 0.7M tonnes CO₂e reduction.
  • The residual nitrogen benefit to following crops through soil enrichment, leading to an additional 0.25M tonnes CO₂e reduction.

These changes will deliver a national cost saving to UK Farming of £1032M per annum, by removing 20% of nitrogen fertiliser across UK growers and 1.8M tonnes of soya imports from the UK farming supply chain.

Part of the project will be to develop a policy tool for Government that helps the adoption by UK farm businesses of measures and cost-effective solutions for transitioning agriculture to a greener, more resilient future and accelerating the path to Net Zero.

The farmer-led trials, carried out by the Pulse Pioneers, will play an essential role throughout the four years of the project in informing the practices that will achieve this.

And it will be the farmers in the PulsePEP (Performance Enhancing Platform) who will benefit first from the environmental and financial gains of the research solutions developed.

The initial step will be to recruit farmers, scientists and tech innovators as active members of the PulsePEP community – a platform and knowledge exchange hub that will be developed by the consortium, led by ADAS.

Getting farmers involved and engaged will be led by BOFIN, with the help of LEAF, Agrii, PGRO, ADAS YEN and other consortium partners.

The aim is to establish a core group of 200 farmers, who will all receive tailored assistance from the Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT) to establish their true carbon baseline and whose GHG emissions will be tracked throughout the project.

This will provide the most comprehensive dataset of farm carbon emissions ever gathered which will drive the ground-breaking life cycle assessment of crop rotations – work led by the James Hutton Institute.

Crop GOBLIN is the powerhouse this vast array of data will feed, which will become the model for integrated cropping systems, underpinned by the latest research findings from JHI’s long-term project the Centre for Sustainable Cropping.

Bringing together pioneering work from Cranfield University, GWCT and others, experimental platforms will be set up to identify the mechanisms and resilience of soils for GHG-emission reduction.

This includes work at CHAP’s Plant Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility at Cranfield University, a huge glasshouse allowing precise and accurate measurements of the whole crop production cycle in large, custom-built soil containers.

Farmer-led trials will put the cutting-edge research into the field with the Pulse Pioneers, working closely with the scientists. Some will use new in-soil nutrient sensors, developed by PBL Technology. Wessex Water will be tracking nitrate leaching on a selection of farms.

Agrii will be closely monitoring the effect of legume crops across the rotation, with further monitoring conducted through satellite imagery via Rhiza’s digital agronomy platform Contour.

On the livestock side, end use of pulses and legumes in animal feeds will be developed in work led by McArthur Agriculture, with SRUC, Kelvin Cave, First Milk, LC Beef Nutrition, AB Agri and FCT.

Farm-based heat treatment and de-hulling of beans, whole crop forage optimisation and a score of other innovative techniques will be deployed in both scientific and commercial trials. These will be applied across a range of livestock sectors to assess how diets can be reformulated based around homegrown proteins.

Bringing all the data and outcomes together is led by The Andersons Centre, who will assess the carbon cost-benefits of this groundswell change in how the UK farms.

From collating the initial project data to understanding the feasibility of methods under test to reporting these to Government, this element will ensure the project has impact, delivers resilience to the whole of UK Farming and that it stays on track for its ambitious Net Zero goals.

“This will be the defining project of our time,” predicts Mr Vickers of PGRO.

“It’s not just the chance for UK Agriculture to make a seismic shift towards Net Zero, but it’ll also deliver a prosperous and resilient way of farming for communities worldwide.

“We want farmers to join us and be part of this exciting journey of discovery. You will shape it. Your knowledge and experience will enrich the science we’re bringing together.

“You will inspire others and accelerate the pace of change. And together we’ll achieve a farming future that is richly rewarding and immensely gratifying.”

The full list of project partners is described below

PGRO (Processors and Growers Research Organisation) leads the consortium that includes AB Agri, ADAS, Agrii, The Andersons Centre, BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network), Cranfield University, Farm Carbon Toolkit, Firstmilk, GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), The James Hutton Institute, Kelvin Cave, LC Beef Nutrition, LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), McArthur Agriculture, PBL Technology, SRUC and Wessex Water.

Sign up to PulsePEP by following this link.

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ADAS provides ideas, specialist knowledge and solutions to secure our food and enhance the environment. We understand food production and the challenges and opportunities faced by organisations operating in the natural environment

The Farm Carbon Toolkit was created by farmers for farmers. For over a decade, we’ve worked to further the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. We provide tools and services to measure impact and run projects with farmers that inspire action on the ground. Our vision is a farming sector that minimises its carbon emissions and maximises its carbon sequestration, whilst producing quality food and a wide range of public goods, all produced by resilient and profitable farm businesses. Some people call this vision a regenerative farming future.  

Agrii harnesses the power of skilled agronomists and the best intelligence to deliver unrivalled expertise and support for sustainable and profitable farming systems in the UK. 

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) was established in 2012 through the merger of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) with Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge Colleges. Through these institutions, we can trace our lineage back over 100 years.

As the UK's centre of excellence for peas and beans, the PGRO has a long and highly valued track record of providing authoritative, up to date information and project work based on solid, reliable research.

The British On-Farm Innovation Network   A network of farmers who carry out their own on-farm trials and share the results, seeking a scientifically robust way to progress farm practice.

As a specialist postgraduate university, Cranfield’s world-class expertise, large-scale facilities and unrivalled industry partnerships are creating leaders in technology and management globally

The James Hutton Institute combines strengths in crops, soils and land use and environmental research, and makes a major contribution to the understanding of key global issues, such as food, energy and environmental security, and developing and promoting effective technological and management solutions to these.

LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) is the leading charity organisation delivering more sustainable food and farming. They work with farmers, the food industry, scientists and consumers, to inspire and enable sustainable farming that is prosperous, enriches the environment and engages local communities.

The Allerton Project researches the effects of different farming methods on wildlife and the environment, sharing results of our research through advisory and educational activities. This is undertaken on our 320 hectare demonstration farm based in Leicestershire, United Kingdom.

The trial will evaluate the long-term effects of pulses in an arable rotation, particularly the effect on available N to following crops. Objectives are: To evaluate the effects of winter beans, winter bean/ winter wheat intercrop and spring beans on soil nitrogen supply annually over 5 years. To evaluate the effects of species and species mixtures on GHG emissions. To evaluate impacts on soil structure and health resulting from cropping differences.

This guide is designed to help Pulse Pioneers to upload their trials to PulsePEP as part of the NCS Project.

If you have signed up to PulsePEP, make sure to join the FREE @FarmCO2Toolkit online drop in sessions to help you to establish your carbon baseline. For more information on PulsePEP, follow this link. To sign up to PulsePEP, follow this link.