Prioritising agri-environment options for greenhouse gas mitigation
Purpose – This paper assesses agri-environment scheme options on cultivated agricultural land in England for their impact on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. It considers both absolute emissions reduction, and reduction including crop yield and potential production displacement. Similarities with Ecological Focus Areas introduced in 2015 as part of the post-2014 Common Agricultural Policy reform, and their potential impact are considered. Design/methodology/approach – A life-cycle analysis approach derives greenhouse gas emissions for 18 key representative options, accounting for spatial environmental variables (annual precipitation, soil type and erosion risk). Findings – Most options achieve an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to an existing arable crop baseline but at the expense of removing land from production, risking production displacement. Soil and water protection options designed to reduce soil erosion and nitrate leaching decrease greenhouse gas emissions without loss of crop yield. Undersown spring cereals support decreased inputs and emissions per unit of crop yield. The most valuable agri-environment options identified are included in the proposed Ecological Focus Areas, although lower priority is afforded to some. Originality/value – The importance of this research extends to land managers and policy makers. A dichotomous key has been developed to provide guidance for agri-environment option prioritisation and support greenhouse gas mitigation on cultivated land in England, although it is applicable to other European countries. Practical implications - Recommendations are made where applicable to modify option management prescriptions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions further.