With markedly increasing public awareness around the various contributing factors in climate change, it is no secret that agriculture and land use add significantly to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. For example, it is estimated that food systems are currently responsible for 20.1% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally. Therefore, the role agriculture has to play in reaching net zero targets is not to be overlooked.
On the flip side, agriculture is also an industry that remains particularly sensitive to climate change. Factors such as unseasonal temperature variations and changes in weather patterns brought about by the effects of excessive greenhouse gas emissions make forecasting for effective land management extremely difficult; with old models perhaps being rendered obsolete. Climate change may also ultimately lead to a biodiversity loss, seriously impacting ecosystem health, or even threatening to destroy the structure and functioning of ecosystems.
Therefore, there is a significant challenge (and technology opportunity) in understanding, measuring and modelling the impact of our actions to help make better-informed decisions for long-term sustainable land use.
In recent years, the Scottish government and UK Climate change Committee have pledged to support the necessary changes in land use to achieve a net zero target. Further, PwC’s state of Climate Tech report found that investment into Climate Tech in areas such as agriculture reached £80bn, between the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, across key Climate Tech investment hubs globally.
One key investment area is that of ‘climate-positive farming’. Climate positive farming is a transformational approach to farming that achieves net-zero or even negative carbon emissions, whilst also protecting and enhancing the natural assets of a farm, and ensuring long-term financial sustainability of the farm business.
In seeking to be at the forefront of innovative and transformative science for sustainable management of land, crop and natural resources that support thriving communities, the James Hutton Institute, in collaboration with CENSIS, has devised a ‘digital twin’ climate-positive farming initiative; showcased at the ONE Tech Hub in Aberdeen on Thursday.
In short, the digital twin is described as a virtual model for simulating agricultural events for climate positive farming and land management. Through years of research and development using next generation sensing technologies, The James Hutton Institute and CENSIS have built a virtual representation (digital twin) of the real world system of Glensaugh Farm, Fettercairn, Aberdeenshire. For background, Glensaugh is managed as an upland livestock farm, just over 1000 hectares in area, with sheep, cattle and red deer, extensive pastures, moorland, woodland and peatland. The Highland Boundary Fault divides Glensaugh into two distinct geological zones. Glensaugh also currently has 7% woodland cover, which is close to the average across all farms in Scotland.
This digital twin of Glensaugh can be used for spatial modelling of land use configuration options, providing multiple benefits, including habitat connectivity, biodiversity enhancement, improved water quality and flow, reduced fire risk, and other environmental benefits; with the demonstration of this system provided at the ONE Tech Hub being extremely impressive.
Challenges are always present in gaining the most accurate understanding of all elements of climate change and the impacts they have when developing the most reliable model possible; but it was fascinating to see the innovative technologies and processes that have gone into building the Glensaugh Farm digital twin, and how the James Hutton Institute and CENSIS plan to develop and implement the technology in the future.
This demonstration by The James Hutton Institute and CENSIS was testament to the fact that innovative ideas such as the digital twin can play a significant role in helping agriculture reach a net zero emissions target, ultimately helping the rest of the world combatting climate change; with it being very pleasing to see technologies such as the digital twin being developed and implemented in Aberdeenshire.