Mapping emissions

Agriculture plays a key role in the emission of greenhouse gases from our countryside and that in turn drives supply chain CO2 emissions for food retailers and manufacturers.

Isometrica is developing a geospatial approach to measuring carbon footprint in rural businesses and communities. The results can then be used by farms and estates to model their emissions over time and to help implement strategies to reduce CO2 emissions.

For the first time industries that make use of agricultural products will be able to see the carbon emissions associated with their supply chains. For example, an organic yoghurt or cheese manufacturer will be able to see the CO2-equivalent emissions for the milk they receive from each of their suppliers and use this data to calculate the carbon footprint of their finished products. What’s more, they’ll be able to compare the performance of each of their suppliers, look at best practice, and make recommendations for improvement.

Our approach

What are we trying to achieve?

Our journey began with a conference in July 2019 at Fir Farm in the Cotswolds organised by National Farmers’ Union and the Sustainable Food Trust Farming and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Carbon Emissions.

The speakers were inspiring, but trying to gauge the scale of the problem was hard. What would it take to reach carbon neutral for a farm or a rural parish? We had no idea! And, we suspected, nor did most of the farms, country estates and local authorities with similar targets.

To our engineering brains a target was useless unless you could measure progress, and that meant measuring greenhouse gas emissions across rural communities and businesses.

Like many others, we had used web-based tools to calculate the CO2 emissions we generate at home, and there are equivalents for many kinds of enterprise including farms. Exploring these tools further, it became clear that though highly detailed the tools are labour intensive and still deliver only an approximation.

It occurred to us that calculating carbon emissions over an area like a farm or a 3000ha estate was fundamentally a geospatial challenge. Over the past few decades online mapping has taken an increasingly important part in our daily lives, so using a mapping approach to model carbon emissions over a region seemed like the way to go.

How does it work?

At a macro level, land use data can be used to calculate net carbon emissions, but this approach requires gross approximations, particularly in rural areas which account for 72% of the UK area. Land use across a farm unit will often change over the year and this further compounds the problem.

Micro-level tools can help to calculate a carbon footprint for households and businesses, including agricultural businesses. These models, however, are extremely detailed, requiring a lot of effort to gather the data required. These micro-level models are hard to use making uptake patchy and although valuable to the individual they will not help gather a regional picture.

More importantly, the micro-models don’t work on a field-by-field basis that allows for changing use over the seasons. For example, a farm’s main product may be milk, but to feed the cows a farmer will make hay, cut silage and grow fodder crops such as maize. Each of these activities has a carbon footprint and aggregating the data to arrive at a net CO2-equivalent emission for a litre of milk is practically impossible.

Our meso-scale models will use a GIS-based approach to assemble land use on a field-by-field basis and then derive CO2-equivalent emissions for each parcel of land that can then be aggregated to a farm unit, a region, an estate or a farming collective.

The broader picture

When we look wider at non-traditional uses of agricultural products the last couple of decades have seen a huge expansion in new products and services. Examples include:

  • using biomass to produce bio-fuels
  • creating chemical products from oilseeds rather than petro-chemicals
  • using plant-based starches to create polymers for biodegradable plastics, and
  • expanding the use of fibres in the textile and automotive industries.

As these new industrial uses for agro-products grow further, accurate carbon accounting will be critical to judging their effect on the environment and Isometrica’s geospatial database will play a key roll in supplying accurate data.

About Isometrica

The Isometrica Team

Jim Cook

Jim is an experienced entrepreneur with over 40 years’ experience in technology and software, 20 years of which have been at the C level. Jim has worked in diverse fields including cognitive systems, large-scale information management for big pharma and AI-based scheduling systems. More recently he spun out Arkivum from the University of Southampton to deliver long-term digital data preservation solutions and then went on to develop the research platform at Genomics England.

He now divides his work time between Isometrica and a Cambridge-based startup, Zetta Genomics, that is delivering the next generation of genomics storage and analysis platforms.

Outside work he is Vice-Chairman of his local parish council, a trustee of Chippenham Borough Lands Charity and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the RSA).

Dave White

Over a thirty-year career, Dave has helped over a thousand entrepreneurs finance and implement their plans for growth.

Dave has extensive experience in the Agritech, Rural Enterprise, Fintech and Food & Drink sectors, advising on Digital Transformation, Sustainable Growth, Brexit, Turnaround and Succession.

Dave is also a Fellow of the RSA as well as being an approved assessor for EU Horizon 2020 Innovation Funding; he is also a senior member of the IT Faculty Committee at ICAEW.

Dave sits on the SME Leadership Task Group and the Digital Skills Steering Group for the Heart of the South West LEP; and work as part of the Enterprise Nation adviser team on Startup, Scale-up and Export programmes.

Join us

We’re looking for a CTO to join our team to help define our tech strategy and as we develop, to use that strategy to drive our product roadmap.

Our new CTO will be passionate about defeating climate change and they will want to use their skills to create novel solutions to tough problems. They’ll be well versed in modern software architectures and they will enjoy rolling up their sleeves and writing code as much as they enjoy helping to lead a dynamic start-up. Knowledge of GIS systems and geospatial data analysis would be helpful but isn’t essential.

If you’d like to learn more please get in touch at work@isometrica.co.uk