What Makes a Good Farmer?

What are the attributes of a really good farmer? Would they include a penchant for order and neatness? A single-minded focus on efficiency and yield maximization? A bullet-proof resolve in the face of risk? What about drive for expansion and scale or technical proficiency? While some or all of these may currently inform our rating of farmers, I want to propose some alternative attributes in response to this question. But before getting there, some context is needed.

One of the formative ideas, probably the most important one, that shaped our thinking when we started Blue North in 2011, and which fundamentally shapes what we do to this day, is understanding farmers as the key role-players in determining the sustainability of food supply-chains, and, by extrapolation, the sustainability of mankind as a whole.

Sound a bit grandiose? We think not: Farmers stand at the interface between the natural system and its inherent productive potential, and mankind’s dependence on the outputs of that system. We easily forget that dependence; we experience food, not as the product of our tilling, plowing, planting and tending, but as hygienic, wrapped and graded items only as far away, and requiring of effort, as a trip to the closest retail outlet.  In spite of the fact that the modern age has allowed the majority of people to live geographically disconnected from primary food production, our dependence on primary agricultural output remains obstinately steadfast and immutable.  We may live with the illusion of being unshackled from the drudgery and toil of farming, free to live in the “knowledge economy”, but it remains an illusion. As Wendell Berry says, “eating is an agricultural act”[1], and all we have done in effect, is outsource our food production to a few, very important people, farmers.

Two factors further magnify the importance of farmers: Firstly, farms, unlike factories, are non-uniform. No two farms are the same; their uniqueness a function of their particular soils, slopes, aspects, drainage, altitudes and micro-climates. This means farmers, unlike factory managers, have to be sensitive to, and learn to manage within, the tolerances of a very specific “place”. A critical coupling, therefore, exist between a farmer and the farm, resulting in the emergence of, often uncodified, site-specific knowledge, solutions and adaptations. The second magnifier is that agriculture represents the largest physical manifestation of negative anthropogenic impact on the planet – mankind’s antagonistic relationship with planet Earth is no more evident than in the vast scale of transformation of natural landscapes for agriculture.

This means that we cannot think about sustainability in general without deep consideration of agriculture, and we cannot consider “sustainable agriculture” without contemplating very fundamental changes to the way that we “do” agriculture. And the key actor at the center of this change is the farmer.

In short, there is a lot at stake and a lot rests on the shoulders of a very important but relatively small community of individuals. It is appropriate, therefore, to more deeply consider the question “what makes a good farmer?” in a bit more depth, and I want to propose, as a start, the following six attributes;

a. A good farmer is a systems thinker, able to perceive and understand the linkages between the farm’s productivity and the social and ecological dimensions of the farm; clear about what the farm depends upon and what its impacts are and how these need to be managed. Systems thinking also implies an understanding that the farm is not an isolated “island” but part of a larger integrated social and biophysical systems – the landscape or catchment – whose “health” is critical to the well-being of the farm, and vice versa. This demands that a farmer’s scope of thinking and management extends well beyond the legal boundaries of the farm.

b. A good farmer builds financial, social and natural capital. Warren Buffet’s patient approach to investing provides a useful analogy; the aim being to build capital to a point where one can live off the interest, necessitating a long-term view and avoiding eating into the capital base or putting it at risk. This stands in stark contrast to market speculation-based investing, high on adrenalin but fraught with risk (and poor performance measured over the long-term). Good farmers apply this thinking and approach not only to their financial capital, but to the management of the farm’s natural and social/human capital, understanding that short-term erosion of these capital stocks fundamentally weakens the farm, while consciously nurturing and growing them is essential to the farm’s productivity and viability in the long-term.

cA good farmer builds buffer capacity: Related to the above, this is about building in a “margin of safety” into the different aspects of the farm that collectively reduce its vulnerability to external shocks. In the current age, efficiency is often the ultimate measure of performance, and the building and maintaining of “buffers” can seem counterproductive, even wasteful. But good farmers understand how important buffer capacity is. In the financial dimension this is about maintaining sufficient levels of financial reserves to be able to continue as a going-concern through periods of low production, low prices, market closures etc. In the social dimension it’s about investment in the farm’s workforce beyond the menial, to those things that really build human potential, and which build the collective wisdom of the farm, in so doing endowing the farm with adaptive capacity – the ability to quickly perceive and effectively respond-to changing conditions.  In the ecological dimension it is about restoring and maintaining areas of natural diverse vegetation and biodiversity (such as biodiversity corridors, riparian buffer zones, diverse cover cropping etc.) even when at the “cost” of reduced areas for production. This sustains and strengthens key ecological processes (for example pollination, pest & disease suppression, soil conservation, flood suppression, nutrient cycling etc.) which reduces the farm’s sensitivity to environmental changes and shocks.

d. A good farmer is a master in delayed gratification: Good farmers play the “long game”, sacrificing short-term gain in favor of long-term stability and strength. Building required financial, social and natural capital as well as sufficient buffer capacity takes self-restraint and patience. Good farmers are also deeply attuned to what constitutes the natural pace of the farming system and are sensitive to anything that risks “forcing that pace” above a level where capital stocks risk being undermined. The use of fossil-fuel based agrochemicals and fertilizers is a case in point; while they provide a quick and convenient solution to a particular pest or nutrient deficiency in the short-term, injudicious use (forcing the pace) comes with the real risk of erosion of the natural and human capital of the farm. Just think of the long-term cost to farms of pest & disease resistance, water eutrophication, soil health decline and chronic illness in workers, for example.

e. A good farmer is a great observer/listener, looking out for and sensitive to feedback from across the system. Typically, financial and operational reporting is available, and most farmers rely on these feedback-loops to assess and manage progress. Good farmers know, however, that this information speaks for only part of the system – providing an incomplete and potentially distorted picture. Sensing the state of natural and social/human capital, the well-being of flows from these stocks and the farm’s impacts on them, the suitability of buffers for each etc. requires a step well beyond financial and operational reporting. It calls for a more nuanced approach of greater sensitivity. It requires time with employees building relationships and reliable, open and trusted communication channels. It requires regular time in-field, becoming sufficiently attuned and sensitive to subtle shifts in the farm’s ecological processes, interactions and dynamics. It also speaks to concerted efforts to build performance metrics and reporting that show the financial, social and ecological in an integrated and holistic way, not as disconnected components.

f. A good farmer is an innovator par excellence, able to take on board feedback, and to develop, test and implement the actions necessary to maintain the farm’s ongoing well-being. This attribute means no tolerance for complacency while demanding tolerance for the unavoidable discomfort associated with ongoing change. This capacity to drive ongoing improvement and perpetual learning is essential within a context of accelerating change and pressures from within the social, political and environmental spheres within which farms exist. Innovation equates to adaptation, and farmers have to be masters at managing adaptation in order for their farms to successfully evolve and survive in the long-term.

Ultimately, and in summary, a good farmer is a steward, a custodian of a more complex system then many of us dare to contemplate, yet one that we are utterly dependent upon. They deserve our keen interest, sympathetic support and deep respect.

Please let us know what you think of these and if you feel any important attributes have been missed. It’s an important conversation for us to be having.

[1] Berry, Wendell. What Are People For?: Essays (p. 145). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition

Case Study: Reducing Carbon Emissions on Farms with Improved Water Management

For water-scarce countries like South Africa, irrigation is critical, and with the majority of electricity being carbon emission intense, irrigation is an important contributor to a farm’s carbon footprint. Indeed, according to Confronting Climate Change industry benchmark reports, electricity consumption for irrigation is the largest source of farm-level carbon emissions. Therefore, improving water management on farms not only has the potential to save water, but also helps reduce operating costs and carbon emissions.

To help farmers access these savings, Koos Bouwer, of Koos Bouwer Consulting, provides his insight into the opportunities for savings obtained during an assessment of irrigation pumping systems on fruit farms. The full case study is available here:  Koos Bouwer Case Study

Carbon Tax

Review of the 2017 Second Carbon Tax Draft Bill

The Second Draft Carbon Tax Bill (National Treasury, 2017) was published on 15 December 2017 following an extensive consultative process around the First Carbon Tax Bill (National Treasury, 2015). It is expected that the Revised Second Draft Carbon Tax Bill will be tabled in parliament in mid-2018, following the due consultative processes.

Whilst the core principles of the tax have remained the same, there have been significant changes to the structure of the bill. Although the agriculture, fisheries, forestry and waste sectors will be exempt from the first phase of the tax, during the second phase these sectors could be included. According to economists at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, what this implies for the agricultural sector is that despite not being taxed directly, the sector could see significant indirect impacts, such as a rise in the price of key inputs such as electricity, fertilizers and pesticides (Partridge et al, 2015).

According to the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, in order for the sector to react accordingly to the implications of the Second Draft Carbon Tax Bill, it is necessary that the sector fully understands the implications of the tax, so as to be able to lobby for outcomes which will best aid the sector going forward. To aid this objective, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture has prepared a brief (FINAL Review of the Second Draft Carbon Tax Bill May 2018) providing a review of the 2017 Second Carbon Tax Bill. This review outlines some of the key issues in relation to the First Carbon Tax Bill and how these have been addressed in the Second Draft Carbon Tax Bill.

This review is available by clicking on the following link: FINAL Review of the Second Draft Carbon Tax Bill May 2018


National Treasury, 2015. Draft Carbon Tax Bill: 2015. Pretoria: Minister of Finance. As introduced in the National Assembly (proposed section 77).

National Treasury, 2017. Draft Carbon Tax Bill: 2017. Pretoria: Minister of Finance. As introduced in the National Assembly (proposed section 77).

Partridge, A., Cloete-Beets, L., & Barends, V. 2015 The Real Cost of Going Clean: The Potential Impact of South Africa’s 2016 Carbon Tax on Agricultural Production. Professional Agricultural Workers Journal. 3 (1): 11.


Understanding agricultural, natural resource management and rural development interventions.

Blue North is increasingly involved in undertaking various types of program and project evaluations within the agricultural, natural resource management and rural development space. But just where does the need for understanding project impact and performance stem from?

Although many programs are obliged to undertake evaluations at different stages of project design, implementation and upon termination, evaluation is driven by a real need to understand and improve a certain situation. Evaluations are carried out to judge the worth, merit or quality of some object (termed the evaluand e.g. a project, a program or even a change in practice or policy). The evaluation is typically conducted using criteria such as relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability, and impact. It is important to note that evaluation approaches do not only deal with understanding the overall impact of a project. Different types of evaluations can serve different purposes in the project life cycle, for example design, implementation, economic and mid-term evaluations. Important benefits of project evaluation are firstly, that it provides accountability, and secondly, that it serves as an important basis for improvement, learning, and the provision of recommendations that can guide projects.

The fields of agriculture, natural resource management and rural development are inherently complex, effected by multiple processes and actors at different scales. Understanding and assessing programs and projects within these fields thus demands an approach that can deal with complexity. At Blue North, we find it useful to consider these interlinked areas as a complex system. As an illustration of this thinking, consider a food system, which is woven together as a supply chain that operates within broader economic, biophysical, and socio-political contexts. Such a system is both complex and adaptive, composed of many heterogeneous pieces whose interactions drive system behaviour in ways that cannot easily be understood from considering the components separately. Importantly, complex systems, whether they are social, physical, or biological, tend to share a set of specific properties. Consideration of these properties and their implications from various scientific and policy perspectives has yielded important insights into system behaviour.

When we are evaluating projects and programs encompassing the food system, given its inherent complexity, we therefore need to make sure that we develop a deep understanding of the system parts as well as the emergent properties of the system itself. For example, this could include environmental disturbances caused by land owners’ decisions about management of climate, land, and water resources in addition to various socio-economic effects mediated by policy processes within the rural landscape, such as income, wealth, and distributional equity, quality of life, and worker health and well-being.

Conceptualizing food systems as complex systems therefore has a strong bearing on our thinking, both during the design of our research approach and methodology for the evaluation of specific projects, and during analysis of project impact or performance. In particular, we have used this approach to frame our thinking in the evaluation of projects and programs in the rural landscape. This includes the assessment of various projects and programs with different objectives such as the improvement of small scale farmers’ livelihoods, the sustainable transformation of the rural landscape and sustainable resource management.


Mackay, R. and Horton, D., 2003. Expanding the use of impact assessment and evaluation in agricultural research and development. Agricultural systems78(2), pp.143-165.

Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System: A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. Food and Nutrition Board; Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jun 17.


Why is climate neutrality important?

Driven by the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) through anthropogenic (human) activities, the planet’s climate is changing. To limit the impact of a changing climate on the planet’s future, global GHG emissions need to be reduced as much as possible. This is a global challenge, to which we all need to contribute! Carbon, or climate – neutrality implies that, through a combination of various strategies, the carbon footprint across a product’s full value chain is reduced to zero.

How can I reduce my carbon footprint to zero?

Through your participation in the Confronting Climate Change (CCC) Initiative, your wine or fruit farm may have already calculated its carbon footprint. Across your product’s value chain, you probably have a good idea of the key drivers of your carbon footprint, whether it is caused by agrochemicals, fuel consumption, energy use, processing, packaging, or freight.  Through the implementation of new technology and operational strategies, the first step is to reduce your carbon footprint as far as possible. Together with various environmental benefits, this can have many financial advantages. Inevitably, there will be elements of your product’s carbon footprint that are incredibly difficult and costly to eliminate.
From here, your best option to reduce your carbon footprint to zero is to offset unavoidable emissions through the purchase of carbon credits. Confronting Climate Change (CCC ) has partnered with Climate Neutral Group to facilitate the purchase of certified carbon credits.

How can your wine estate or fruit farm make its value chain climate neutral?  What do I get?

Climate Neutral Group, an international carbon management firm with an office in Cape Town, has worked with hundreds of organisations to measure, reduce and offset their carbon emissions. Clients in South Africa include Sanlam, Canon, Webber Wentzel, the Two Oceans Aquarium, Sun International and many more. Climate Neutral Group has also helped to set up a number of carbon offsetting projects in South Africa, Southern Africa, and elsewhere in the world. The carbon credits associated with these projects are certified through the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) or the Gold Standard.  In addition to generating carbon credits, these projects are community-orientated, creating value for underprivileged communities. Purchasing carbon credits presents an opportunity to be part of the solution, both environmentally and socially! Provided that your product’s carbon footprint has been properly calculated, reduced where possible, and neutralised through the purchase of certified carbon credits, your climate neutral journey provides you with an opportunity to tell a great and inspiring story.  More and more companies, particularly in European export markets, are concerned with the environmental impacts associated with a product’s entire value chain. We believe that your achievement of climate neutrality is a valuable story that should be heard.

If your wine estate/fruit farm is working hard to reduce its impact on the climate and wants to make its wines/fruit climate neutral, then the “Climate Neutral Guaranteed” standard by Climate Neutral Group is something to consider. Gaining momentum across Europe’s food and beverages sector, this logo recognises that the contributions of your efforts towards climate neutrality have been meaningful, environmentally and socially.
The logo furthermore ensures that the steps you have undertaken towards climate neutral operations have been tested against strict international criteria. The Climate Neutral Guaranteed standard finally helps you – efficiently and clearly – communicate your climate leadership role to consumers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. This is critical in fostering a new generation of socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable businesses.

What is the required investment?

Depending on the size of your product’s carbon footprint and the choice of carbon credits (the price of carbon credits varies across offsetting projects), your carbon footprint can be offset from as little as R0.10 per 750 mL bottle of wine or 3kg of fruit. Should you wish to display the climate neutral logo on your wine bottles, additional auditing costs apply.

If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact Anél Blignaut (Blue North Sustainability): anel@bluenorth.co.za or Franz Rentel (CNG): info@climateneutralgroup.co.za.


Science Based Climate Targets

Calculating and understanding your carbon footprint has become generally accepted practice.  Organisations use carbon footprinting to identify greenhouse gas hotspots, understand the use of expensive inputs like diesel, electricity and fertilisers and to communicate their sustainability credentials.

Once you know and understand your carbon footprint you can set targets to reduce it.  Unfortunately few businesses set clear carbon reduction targets, and the few that do often choose arbitrary targets like “reduce electricity use by 20%”.  With the effects of climate change becoming a reality, consumers are rightly asking if “reducing electricity by 20%” is enough to slow down and eventually stop climate change.  This is where science based climate targets come in.

In 2015 the Paris Climate Agreement was negotiate by 196 countries and to date 174 countries have become party to it[i].  This agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise this century “well below 2 degrees Celsius” compared to pre-industrial levels.  This ‘hard’ target makes it easy to determine science based carbon budgets to achieve this.  Broadly speaking the 2 degrees Celsius target means we have to ween ourselves of fossil based inputs by 2050 (the latest research shows even this may be too little too late, but that is a discussion for another time).

What is a science-based climate target?

A carbon target is defined as ‘science based’ if it is in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial temperatures.[ii] .

A science-based target thus defines a trajectory to move out of fossil fuel based inputs by 2050. Targets can be described as “weak” when not science based, and “strong” when they are.

An example of a how “strong” science based climate targets can and should influence policy is France’s decision to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 and to no longer use coal to produce electricity after 2022.[iii]

As society increasingly feels the ‘bite’ of climate change, and its bigger brother, ‘abrupt climate change’, so the demand that businesses and their associated supply chains set meaningful and impactful carbon reduction targets is gaining momentum.

It is important to understand that science-based climate targets are very ambitious, long term in nature and will take businesses out of their comfort zones.  Imagine fossil-fuel free logistics connecting your business to your suppliers and markets.  This is the new reality we have to create for ourselves if catastrophic climate change is to be effectively avoided.

Adopting science-based targets puts your business and supply chain at the forefront of carbon management and reduction.

Who ensures the credibility of science based targets?

The Science Based Targets Initiative ( http://sciencebasedtargets.org/ ) is a collaboration between the Carbon Disclosure Project CDP, the World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).  This initiative allows organisations to[iv]:

Step 1: Submit a letter of commitment.

Step 2: Develop a target.

Step 3: Submit the target for validation.

Step 4: Announce the target.


Which agri and retail businesses are perusing science based carbon targets in South Africa?

The bad news is not many companies at the moment.  The good news is you can become a leader in this regard!  Currently four South African retail and/or agriculture companies have signed up with the Science Based Targets Initiative.  They are[v]:

  • Pick ‘n Pay;
  • Tiger Brands;
  • Tongaat Hulett; and
  • Woolworths

Even though the companies above have committed to science-based targets, they have not as yet set any targets with the Science Based Target Initiative

Internationally, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Wal-Mart Stores have gone a step further and set science based climate targets with the initiative.

So there remains a long way to go but the signs are positive that companies are beginning to understand that their targets need to move from “weak” to “strong” if they are to make any meaningful contributions to the de-carbonisation of our economic systems. The emergence of the concept of science-based targets and the formation of the Science Based Targets Initiative are important developments to both challenge and support businesses and supply-chains in this regard.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement

[ii] https://www.carbontrust.com/client-services/advice/strategy/#targets

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement

[iv] http://sciencebasedtargets.org/step-by-step-guide/

[v] http://sciencebasedtargets.org/companies-taking-action/


Understanding and addressing the carbon emission hotspots within your supply chain.

To effectively realise and respond to the opportunities and challenges posed by climate change the Confronting Climate Change (CCC) Project was started in 2009 as a strategic cross-industry initiative aimed at supporting the South African fruit and wine sectors’ efforts. Besides provision of a freely available on-line carbon emissions calculator, the CCC initiative promotes technical training supporting its adoption and use and has actively engaged with the retailers and importers to secure their support for the project. The results are accepted and feed into existing retailer sustainability requirements. This helps to avoid duplication of carbon footprinting systems. Farms, packhouses, wineries and other entities across the supply-chain are enabled to undertake accurate measurement of the energy-use and carbon-emissions intensity of their respective business activities. Such measurement is generally accepted as a prerequisite for the effective management towards greater resource-use efficiency, reduced emissions and the long-term sustainability of business activities and operations. The management principle of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” applies.

Farm hotspots

The electricity consumption for the pumping of water is the largest source of farm-level carbon emissions since South African grid supplied electricity is predominantly coal based, and therefore carbon emissions intensive both in production and use. The most significant factors determining the energy requirements being the irrigation intensity of the crop and the pumping “head” of the farm.

The second biggest emitter at farm level is the usage of synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers. As the production of all synthetic fertilisers is energy intensive and in South Africa, the energy is predominately fossil-fuel based, making these inputs carbon emissions intensive.  On the use side, the inefficient or over application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers results in large amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, a very powerful greenhouse gas: once emitted to the atmosphere, one ton of nitrous oxide is equivalent to 300 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). In addition, the prices of these inputs will continue to rise as the fuel prices go up, increasing the risk of increased input costs at the farm level. The more natural products are often multi-beneficial in that they increase soil health which does not only lessen the requirement of synthetic additions, but also improves water retention and productivity. Commodity groups that require more intensive fertilizer programmes will have higher carbon emissions than those that utilize more conservative and natural soil enhancement practices.

Diesel usage is the third largest emissions-source and relates to the usage of a variety of vehicles and equipment for spraying, harvesting, soil preparation, transportation and other farming activities.

Packhouse hotspots

Most of emissions at packhouse level are related to packaging material. The pome fruit and citrus (hard) packhouse emissions are the lowest of all fruit types, pointing to the less intense packaging requirements of these “harder” fruit types.

Winery hotspots

Winery hotspots relate to the use electricity for cooling and virgin packaging material, particularly glass and corrugated cardboard boxes. The use of wooden barrels also plays a significant role in the winery emissions as these barrels are often imported.

These activities form most of the carbon emissions throughout the supply-chain and should therefore be targeted as a priority area for improved efficiencies and alternative product usage.

How can I reduce or manage my carbon emissions?

  1. Start to measure your carbon related inputs.
  2. Enter your data in the CCC carbon footprint calculator.
  3. Read and analyse the detailed carbon emissions report provided once you have entered all your data correctly.
  • Look at your carbon emissions figure and compare it with the benchmark given in the report for your commodity and your region.
  • Look at the individual inputs to your business and learn from the report what percentage they contribute to your total carbon emissions. Start to manage those that result in the highest emissions in your business.
  • Look at the consumption figures (e.g. electricity used per kg of fruit produced or per ha) and compare your business with the benchmark for your region and commodity.
  1. Communicate the results of your carbon footprint analysis within your organisation and incorporate the results in your management tools.
  2. Address the hotspots within your organisation by implementing improved efficiency measures and targets through improved management and operational control and/or new technology where applicable and where the budget allows.
  3. Don’t forget to think out of the box! Change the paradigm and aim to be innovative in your approach in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Which carbon emissions calculator to use for my agri-business?

In South Africa and globally there is increasing pressure from retailers and consumers for the disclosure of the embodied carbon of the products that they purchase.  It is important for South African fruit and wine producers to comply with the market requirements to ensure market retention.  It is furthermore important to measure and manage your emissions to reduce input costs and become more climate resilient.

The question asked by many producers are: “Which tool should I use” and “Will the information generated by the tool be accepted internationally?”.  A brief analysis of the different tools and why the Confronting Climate Change (CCC) tool should be your tool of choice is outlined below.

What tools are available?

There are many carbon emission (CO2e or GHG) calculators available online and as desktop tools that can perform the process of collecting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data and generating a report for an agri-business.  The value of these tools for the farmer or facility manager include raising awareness of the main sources of GHG emissions within the agri-business, a basis for reporting GHG emissions to stakeholders further down the supply chain and most importantly to explore and evaluate possible mitigation options (Green et al., 2017).

Due to the proliferation of carbon emission calculators, it is important to find one that is relevant to your farming enterprise.  The question remains as to what GHG calculator to use?  It is suggested that the four step process developed by Colomb et al. (2012) be followed when choosing a carbon emissions calculator for your agri-business. This four step process is in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: The four step process as developed by Colomb et al. (2012) that can be followed to select a carbon emissions calculator for your agri-business.

There are different kinds of carbon emission tools available globally and all can be grouped into a specific typology depending on the requirements of the user.  Some global and regional calculators are listed in Table 1 according to the requirements of the user.

Aim of user Calculators and geographical zone of application
Raising awareness Carbon Calculator for New Zealand Agriculture and Horticulture (NZ), Cplan v.0 (UK); Farming Enterprise GHG Calculator (AUS); US cropland GHG calculator (USA).
Reporting Landscape tools ALU (World); Climagri (FR), FullCam (AUS).
Farm tools Diaterre (FR); CALM (UK); CFF Carbon Calculator (UK); IFSC (USA), Confronting Climate Change (ZA).
Project evaluation Focus on carbon credit schemes Farmgas (AUS), Carbon Farming tool (NZ); Forest tools: TARAM (world), CO2 fix (world).
Not focussed on carbon credit schemes EX-ACT (World); US AID FCC (Developing countries), CBP (World), Holos (CAN), CAR livestock tools (USA).
Market and product orientated tools Cool farm tool (World); Diaterre (FR), Confronting Climate Change (ZA), LCA tools and associated database (SimaPro, ecoinvent, LCA food etc.)

1: The table above provides a list of GHG calculators that can be used in various geographical location and according to the various aims for determining your GHG emissions.

How do I choose?

Step 1: Define your aim

For individual farming businesses, a combination of Reporting and Product orientated tools are generally required.  Effective reporting of the GHG emissions is crucial and is used as a decision support for better resource efficiency and emission mitigation.  For farming and agro-processing systems, the reporting is per functional unit and takes the form of the apportioning of GHG emissions in various ways:

  • Total GHG emissions for farming entity (no disaggregation);
  • GHG emissions per productive (or non-productive) hectare;
  • GHG emissions per unit of yield (per kg fruit or per litre milk produced).

Ensure that the reporting includes these indicators and an added benefit would be the emissions per activity in order to identify hotspots within your business.

Step 2: Define your geographical area and look if one or several specific calculators are available.

If a calculator has been developed for a specific region then it also has the correct emission factors for inputs and activities for that region and will provide a more accurate result.  A carbon calculator found freely online is more than likely a generic tool used for multiple farming activities on a global scale which will not provide the accuracy and granularity of a regional one.

Step 3: Check that the scope (Perennial, annual crops, livestock, LUC etc.) of your calculator is adapted to your aim (Table 1).  If the local calculator is not adapted, you will have to choose more global calculators.

The data entry and computational capabilities need to be appropriate to the activities within your business.  A data entry system that doesn’t include inputs such as fertiliser or pesticides (organic farming) or needs information on livestock will not be suitable for a mainstream fruit farming system.  Also ensure that the period over which you are collecting data is relevant to your crop output e.g. a year is applicable to perennial tree crops but might not for for cash crops such as vegetables for example.

Step 4: Check your time and skills availability.

The time required to collect data and complete the tool is very important as this is generally constrained at farm level.  This goes hand in hand with the complexity of the tool and whether training is required.  However, generally the more accurate and credible tools which provide detailed reporting require some time and training the first time round.  Once the processes are in place these activities can be completed in much less time and combined with other data collecting for other auditing activities.

Concluding remarks:

In conclusion, this four step process can be used when selecting an appropriate GHG emissions tool for your agri-business.  In addition, ensure that the calculator is based on credible protocols such as the IPCC or GHG Protocol and has been externally reviewed either by academic institutions or independent institutes such the Carbon Trust or the GHG Management Institute.   An added advantage would be if the tool can provide you with a detailed identification of the hotspots in your business as well as a benchmark to measure yourself against and to assist you with setting carbon emission reduction targets.

Calculating your carbon emissions can take a considerable amount of valuable time and effort, especially the first time round, so selecting the right calculator with all the necessary credentials will be worth it.

Confronting Climate Change’s carbon emissions calculator definitely ticks all the boxes if you are a fruit or wine producer in South Africa and require a product carbon footprint!

Please feel free to contact Lorren de Kock: lorren@bluenorth.co.za if you would like to obtain more information on carbon calculations or visit the Confronting Climate Change site on: www.climatefruitandwine.co.za.


Colomb, V., Bernoux, M., Bockel, L., Chotte, J.-L., Martin, S., Martin-Phipps, C.C., Mousset, J.J., Tinlot, M., et al. 2012. Review of GHG Calculators in Agriculture and Forestry Sectors: A Guideline for Appropriate Choice and Use of Landscape Based Tools. 43. Available: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/ex_act/pdf/ADEME/Review_existingGHGtool_VF_UK4.pdf.

Green, A., Lewis, K., Tzilivakis, J. & Warner, D. 2017. Agricultural climate change mitigation: carbon calculators as a guide for decision making. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. 15(6):645–661. DOI: 10.1080/14735903.2017.1398628.


Limits…the baby in the bathwater?

One just has to reflect on the anxiety evoked by the word “recession” to confirm how strongly we associate the concepts of “growth” with our collective and individual well-being. Understandably then, anything that seeks to limit growth is, almost by default, resisted.

Sustainability, when honestly and correctly framed, lays bare the inherent conflict between our growth-based concepts of business success on the one-hand, and the need to limit economic activity to within the boundaries of a finite biosphere (our “one planet” problem), on the other. As a result, business-minded people will very often interpret sustainability’s call for the application of limits, as being anti-growth, and therefore inherently, anti-business.

Yes, sustainability does most definitely call for restraint…for limits…but as we shall see, the negative default response that is evoked tends to prevent a deeper reflection on the concept of “limits” and the inherent gift that they are to a business and an economy…I would argue a classic case of the proverbial baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

The word “limit” is defined as “a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible”. It is not a big leap to associate the idea of “limits” with “curtailment” of one’s activities, or “restriction” on ones’ freedoms, or a “reduction” of ones’ rights & privileges, etc.  All fearful concepts to us individualistically-minded citizens of capitalistic societies.

But we also know that, conceptually and in reality, limits can also have very positive connotations and outcomes. We know, for example, that carefully imposed and respected limits are essential to a well-functioning and ordered home, community and nation (in South Africa we are increasingly aware of the negative impacts of disregarded limits!). But, perhaps even more importantly, that they are also the key catalysts for innovation –  it is this aspect of limits that I want to illustrate through examples of three types of limits that can be imposed on a business and/or economy: regulatory, self-imposed and natural.

Regulatory limits

In July this year President Macron of France announced the introduction of a total ban on petrol and diesel cars, with the sale of internal combustion engines in France to be outlawed from 2040[i]. The fact that almost 95% of France’s current national fleet are petrol or diesel underlines the magnitude of this regulatory “limit”. The target has an air of impossibility about it:  The current technological paradigm is so entrenched; the motor industry is one of the most powerful industrial sectors on the planet with deeply vested interests in current technologies; while the needed alternative technologies and infrastructure are still in their infancy, relatively.

While the immediate reaction of the motor industry has been one of shock, disbelief and even anger, what Macron has done is given it the most powerful of gifts: a catalyst for radical innovation.  Research and Development teams in motor corporations around the world will undoubtedly already be at work, unleashing their creative energies in response to these newly imposed design parameters. France will no doubt hit its target and we, as a result, are to be witness to the transition to a new mobility age.

Self-imposed limits

Perhaps one of the more famous examples of a leader imposing limits on his own business is that of Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets. Ray had an epiphany in 1994 while reading Paul Hawken’s book the Ecology of Commerce[ii] and understood for the first time the toll his business and industry was taking on the environment. After reading the book he gave a speech to his immediate staff, stating that his company was a polluter and a destroyer and from that moment forward, Interface was to integrate sustainability into every facet and aspect of the company.

Stunned silence was how Anderson described their response. A strategy was formulated – Mission Zero – to eliminate all negative impacts on the environment by 2020. In Ray Anderson’s words, the mission is to create a “new industrial revolution” where “extractive must be replaced by renewable; linear by cyclical; fossil fuel energy by renewable energy – sunlight; wasteful by waste-free; and abusive by benign”[iii].

The gift of limits, self-imposed, had been unleashed. The impact of the resulting innovation and fundamental redesign of Interface’s products and processes are legendary. Interface, far from limiting itself to the negative sense of the word, is established as the largest manufacturer of modular carpets in the world with a radically innovated range of products based on recycled materials (primarily re-use of its own carpets), all done while achieving massive reductions in energy-use, emissions and waste. Interface is well on its way to operating within the limits imposed by Ray Anderson.

Natural limits

With the Western Cape in South Africa facing its worst drought in more than one hundred years, residents in this part of the world are beginning to more fully appreciate natural limits and their impacts. While there has been a flurry of innovations in response to our local water crisis[iv] the most famous example of water-scarcity-driven innovation can be found in the country of Israel.

To put Israel’s water scarcity into perspective, average natural water replenishment is only half of Israel’s annual water consumption – requiring almost a billion cubic metres per year of water to be secured from other sources to meet the nation’s water needs[v]. That is equivalent to two full Theewaterskloof Dams per year[vi]. Despite this fundamental natural limit, average annual sustainable natural water consumption has been achieved.

Innovation on a grand scale is the basis of this achievement:  Inspired and spurred on by this naturally imposed scarcity, extensive engineering, biological and logistic challenges have been overcome. Innovations include the invention of drip irrigation and precision moisture-management in the root zones of crops, a ground breaking national water conveyance system, unparalleled scale of treatment and reuse of domestic waste water (grey water) for irrigation (over 85% of Israel’s waste water is recycled for agricultural use), pioneering work in drilling exceptionally deep wells, large-scale desalination of seawater and brackish groundwater and the effective control of algae blooms in reservoirs for reused water.

Israel is today the undisputed global water technology leader and known as the country that made the dessert bloom – all on the back of limit-inspired innovation.


As the above examples illustrate, the imposition of limits, whether arising from within our legal or organisational systems, or from the natural world, serve as powerful catalysts for innovation, adaptation and flourishing. Conversely, it could be argued, that the absence (or ignorance) of limits runs the risk of breeding complacency, stagnation and ultimately decline.

Sustainability advocates regulatory and self-imposed restraint as well as the moderation of our activities to within our planetary limits. As the above examples illustrate, contrary to “cramping the style” of business and economic progress, sustainability achieves the opposite:  It unleashes the innovative and creative potential within individuals, organisations and nations. As opposed to being something to be resisted, sustainability and its advocacy of limits is something to be embraced.


[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/06/france-ban-petrol-diesel-vehicles-2040/

[ii] Hawken, Paul. The Ecology of Commerce Revised Edition: A Declaration of Sustainability (Collins Business Essentials) (pp. 69-70). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition

[iii] http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability/Interface-Story.aspx

[iv] http://ventureburn.com/2017/05/cape-startups-aim-tackle-water-crisis-innovative solutions/

[v] http://oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/4819/Israel:_Innovations_overcoming_water_scarcity.html

[vi] Theewaterskloof Dam is the largest and most important water reservoir in the Western Cape with a maximum volume of 480 million cubic meters.

How to reduce your carbon emissions: Practical case-studies

Confronting Climate Change has for a number of years provided a freely available carbon calculator tool.  Apart from supporting the fruit-and wine industries of South Africa with the use of the tool through training opportunities and direct support, we would also like to assist the users of the tool to move forward from the measurement of their carbon emissions towards the reduction of these emissions.

Although each organisation has its own structures and limitations or opportunities, a few logical steps are provided to guide you through the process of managing and reducing your carbon emissions.

First steps:

Please keep in mind that to reduce your carbon emissions is a long-term process, which should be approached in a step-by-step manner.

  1. Find a reputable service provider to compile an energy audit for you. What is an energy audit? It is a systematic approach that will tell you: What you are using; where you are using it and how much you are using?  Then an assessment is needed to identify the appropriate options to reduce your energy usage.
  2. Reduce your energy consumption by implementing energy efficient practices as recommended in your audit report. This may take place over time as it will have both cost and operational implications.
  3. Use renewable energy

What can we learn from others?

There are a number of technologies and energy efficiency measures that you can implement on your farm, packhouse or winery.  What works for one business does not necessarily work for another and that is where the importance of an energy audit lies.  However, we can learn a lot from others.  Short case-studies are presented below that represent a selection of either green energy technologies or energy saving measures.  Please note that there are a myriad of options available and that this information piece is only presenting a summary of a few technologies.

It is very important that before you consider the installation of alternative energy, that you consult with an independent energy consultant rather than a supplier themselves.

Solar PV

An investigation conducted by GreenCape listed a number of solar PV case-studies that are presented below.


Business Technology Return on investment
Ceres Fruit Growers
  • 986 kWp system installed by SolarWorld Africa and  African Technical Innovations (ATI) in Ceres
  • 4 060 SW250 SolarWorld polycrystalline panels
  • 58 x 17 kW three-phase Sunny Tripower inverters
  • Generating 1 690 MWh per year
  • 6% reduction in annual electricity             consumption
  • 1 622 tonnes CO2 e avoided per annum
Ceres Koelkamers
  • 908 kWp system installed by SolarWorld Africa and African Technical Innovations (ATI) in Ceres
  • 2117 SW240 polycrystalline PV panels
  • 3 800 m2 surface area
  • Generating 848 MWh per year
  • 11% reduction in annual electricity costs
  • 839 tonnes of CO2 e avoided per annum
Stellenpak Fruit Packers
  • 420 kWp system Installed by Energyworx in Paarl 1680
  • SolarWorld SW250 polycrystalline modules
  • 2 744 m2 surface area
  • 21 Steca 20 000 TL3 grid-tied inverters
  • Generating 600 MWh per year
  • 15% reduction in electricity costs
  • 25-year guaranteed lifespan of the system


ArbeidsVreugd Fruit Packers
  • 450 kWp system installed by Renewable Energy Design Engineering in Villiersdorp
  • 1876 x 240 Wp Trina Solar modules
  • 26 SMA Tripower 17000 three-phase inverters Online data of power production
  • Generating 743 MWh per year
  • R38 million savings over 25 years
  • 733 tonnes CO2 e avoided per annum
  • Estimated payback of six years

Variable speed drive (VSD)

This is a device that can adjust the frequency to regulate and adapt motor speed to match the actual demand required by the system or application it is driving, resulting in reduced energy consumption.  Reducing a pump or fan speed by 20% can reduce energy consumption by more than 50%. Installing a VSD will regulate the speed and rotational force – or torque output – of the motor to match actual demand so that it doesn’t work faster than it needs to.  A VSD improves power factor correction and has a soft starting function. When a VSD is not feasible, soft starters or power factor correction can be considered instead (ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2015).

A VSD can optimise your irrigation system when:

  • movable pipe systems and micro- and drip irrigation are used
  • Distances between the blocks of land and the pump stations are different, causing a variation in friction loss and power requirements.
  • Irrigation blocks are uneven in size and a different number of sprayers or drippers are required.
  • Irrigation blocks are on sloped topographies, requiring different pressures and power.
  • Pumps and motors are designed to deliver water to the irrigation block that requires the most pressure
  • The pump and motor are oversized and water delivery needs to be throttled.
  • A second-hand pump and motor are used for the application and water delivery needs to be throttled (ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2015).


A case-study on energy efficient lighting at the Kromme Rivier Poultry Farm, South Africa was available on the ESKOM Integrated Demand Management website.  It provided useful information on the savings that can be achieved through the replacement of mercury vapour lights with LEDs.

Technology description Cost Savings
Replace two 125W Mercury vapour floodlights with 20W light LEDs. Approximately R70 700
  • 51 226kWh less energy used per annum
  • Saved R60 053 per annum.

 Hydro electricity

Problem: High electricity bill of R360 000 and power outages resulting in a major impact on electrical equipment.

Solution: Water on the farm is obtained from springs in the Witzenberg Mountain Range and was ideal for hydro-electric generation.

Savings: The farm saved 50% of their electricity bill during the fruit season (demand 124kWh) and is entirely self-sufficient during winter.

Technology:  The hydro-electrical unit can deliver at least 29kWh.  They have installed four small turbines in parallel so that they can run the system on one or two turbines when the water flow is low.  A turbine can also be services without having to switch off the entire system.  Electricity is also stored in a battery bank with a total storage capacity of 30kWh.

To generate electricity from water you need a water source and a height of about 100m.  Water flows from a top reservoir to the bottom reservoir and generates electricity during the high-tariff period, then it is pumped back to the top reservoir during the low-tariff period.

Payback:  It is estimated that they system will take approximately 5 years to pay for itself, through savings on electricity bills and repairs (Kriel, 2015).


Who can we contact for help?

National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC):  They conduct subsidised energy assessments to identify savings based on usage, and provide recommendations for energy saving options.  They can also link you to government incentives that can help you to reduce costs.

You can visit their website at www.ncpc.co.za and complete an application to undergo an assessment.

Tel: 012 841 3772

Email: ncpc@csir.co.za

ESKOM’s Energy Advisory Services

Tel: 08600 37566

Email: AdvisoryService@eskom.co.za

Useful tools and information portals:

Confronting Climate Change: Carbon footprint calculator: www.climatefruitandwine.co.za

GreenAgri: www.greenagri.org.za

Funding opportunities: Contact GreenCape Green Finance Desk for more information.  Please see their website for more information.  www.greencape.co.za



Janse van Vuuren, P. 2016. GreenCape Industry Brief 01/2016.  Solar PV on packhouses.

ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2015. Variable Speed Drives: Reducing energy costs in horticulture.

ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2013.

Kriel, G. 2015.  Farmers Weekly. http://www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-business/agribusinesses/hydro-electricity-all-the-power-half-the-cost/