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Reducing carbon footprint

2 August 2011

Radical changes to store design and a move to renewable energy are key areas to help growers cut carbon dioxide produced in potato enterprises.

Only by investing in “big ticket” moves can the industry hope to play a meaningful part in driving down greenhouse gas emissions by the government’s target of 80% by 2050, says Prof Gareth Edwards-Jones of Bangor University’s department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“There are many small steps we can take to help cut emissions, but together they might only account for a 10% reduction. These big ticket items, such as radical store design and a move to renewable energy can make a real difference,” he urges.

It takes about 1kg of CO2 to produce, transport and cook every kg of maincrop potatoes which have been stored long term, with over half of that amount coming from farm and storage emissions, he notes (see table).

Emissions from different stages of potato supply chain (kg CO2/kg of produce)

Farm and storage   Transport to retailer   Storage at retailer   Transport to home   In the home
 0.575                         0.017                         0.183                     0.038                 0.203

Source: Taylor & Edwards-Jones 2010

Switching to renewable energy could reduce that on-farm contribution by almost 60% at a stroke.

As well as being green, renewable sources like wind or solar power have also been made much more profitable by the introduction of the Feed In Tariff scheme, Prof Edwards-Jones explains. This guarantees a set fee for electricity generated and an additional rate for electricity exported back to the grid.

Large roofs make an ideal site for solar photovoltaic cells, and the technology could be retrofitted onto older stores. “We should be asking why every store is not covered with them,” he comments. “Depending on which part of the country, they can practically eliminate CO2 emissions and deliver significant cost savings over the longer term.”
State of the art stores can also deliver big CO2 reductions, he maintains. “Better technology will deliver a lower footprint, so we really need to be designing buildings to the limit of today’s technology.

“Stores are designed to have a lifespan of 20-30 years, so we need to be future-proofing them now. Farmers need to ensure their contractors are building tomorrow’s building, rather than yesterday’s.”

Currently there is no simple way of obtaining that advice, he acknowledges, so farmers keen to build innovative, sophisticated stores will have to invest time and money tracking it down.

However, Prof Edwards-Jones believes the industry could tap into the sustainable architecture expertise that already exists in the house-building sector.

“There is some fantastic technology out there, and I am keen to draw a group of experts together to help speed its adoption within the potato sector.

“When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, we are at the end of the beginning. We need radical solutions now.”

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