How online marketplaces can lower CO2 emissions in farming

Brexit has made it difficult for all of us to get our ducks in a row, no matter the sector you work in. When it comes to farming though, we also have the new Agriculture Bill to contend with. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Michael Gove, has said that the government’s new bill will replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy – one that UK farmers have followed since 1973.

The new bill will see farmers rewarded for reducing their environmental impact rather than for food production. Michael Gove has said this will help the agricultural community to become more resilient, productive and internationally competitive. It will also add an extra incentive to the way farmers operate and innovate, too.

Innovation is nothing new to many farmers – particularly on the production side, as they quickly adopt technologies in the field. Think GPS-guided crop spraying, highly automated dairy units, and farm software monitoring inputs and yields. In many ways, farmers are at the forefront of innovation. But when it comes to the business end of farming, traditional methods of trading and transacting are still prevalent. This could leave some farmers out in the cold, as with the rapid advance of technology, traditional business transactions are becoming something of the past.  

How can an incentive to innovate, and the need to progress in business be better for the environment? The answer lies with online marketplaces. By trading online – whether livestock, grain, or even simply making payments via an app rather than by cheque – travelling time, and therefore carbon emissions, are decimated.

That sounds great in theory, but how does it actually work? Traditionally, going to an auction mart would typically see buyers and sellers making an average of a 200+ mile roundtrip each: from the farm to the market and back again, with no guarantee of a sale and a trip to the bank required at the end of it to bank a cheque. Taking livestock to market also potentially exposes them to other animals with infectious disease. According to the latest DEFRA figures Bovine Tuberculosis affects 6% of English cattle herds, with almost 2,400 new cases reported in the last twelve months. With a digital marketplace where farmers buy and sell their livestock online, it cuts down the need to actually go to the market, or to the bank. By bringing this process online, the number of journeys required and the distance of those journeys are reduced. Add onto that the fact that the biohazard of mixing herds or flocks is reduced. And also that instead of spending a whole day at market, both farmers have more time on their hands. Win, win, win.

The most obvious environmental benefit is lowered CO2 emissions. Some calculations found that since the launch of our online livestock marketplace, SellMyLivestock, in 2014, it has helped save an estimated 524 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Online trading also means an improvement in transparency within the food supply chain, through better collection and sharing of data. This is because - excluding proper pedigree auction sales - normal auction sales give you little information about the animal on sale. With an online marketplace, sellers are encouraged to include health information with an exhaustive list of the specific treatments and vaccinations the animal has received. Online marketplaces are also typically linked to other data sources, which contain information about the animals, their health, breed and which farms they have been reared on, effectively giving the buyer as much information as they would need to make an informed purchase.   

Overall, online marketplaces provide a benefit for all, livestock and farmers alike. And from an environmental point of view, lowered CO2 emissions is a win for everyone, whether in the agricultural sector or not.

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