How to create carbon-neutrality in agriculture

Carbon-neutral agriculture

Agriculture is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for approximately 25 per cent of global emissions. However, agriculture has the potential to reduce emissions through sustainable practices and innovative technologies. By adopting climate-smart practices, the agriculture sector can play a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

The European Union aims to cut its GHG emissions by 55 per cent by 2030. In the United States, President Biden recently committed to reducing emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. Neither of these interim goals is likely to be achieved without reductions in the emissions from agriculture.

Carbon-neutral agriculture refers to agricultural practices that do not release more carbon into the atmosphere than they absorb. To achieve carbon neutrality in agriculture, farmers may adopt practices such as precision agriculture, reduced tillage, cover cropping, organic crop management, agro-forestry and crop rotations that promote soil health and increase carbon sequestration.

Livestock management techniques that reduce emissions such as improved feed quality and management of manure can also be employed.

Carbon-neutral agriculture may also involve the use of renewable energy sources to power farm operations and the implementation of carbon offset programmes that support reforestation and other activities, which remove carbon from the atmosphere by storing it in the soil and vegetation.

Overall, carbon-neutral agriculture is an important component of efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By adopting sustainable farming practices that minimise carbon emissions and maximise carbon sequestration, farmers can help reduce their impact on the environment. This will also improve the health and productivity of their land.

If a farm has a large number of cattle or sheep, it is likely that methane is the largest source of GHG emissions. If a farm produces horticultural products, the main emissions are likely to be mainly nitrous oxides.

Farms that regularly cultivate soils may also lose a significant amount of carbon from soils, while farms that have high energy usage, due to irrigation pumps or dairy infrastructure, may have a substantial amount of carbon dioxide generated from the use of fossil fuels.

It is important to identify the major sources of emissions before making any decisions regarding carbon farming interventions. A nation can't reduce agricultural GHG emissions by producing less food because such a move would just shift emissions to other countries. Rather, the world needs to produce more food, but on the same (or less) amount of land as today.

Promising measures might greatly reduce agricultural production emissions, but the world must invest in research and creative techniques to continuously improve them.

Although producing food imposes large environmental costs, the world almost certainly needs much more food by the middle of the century. Farmers in advanced agricultural countries can be a big part of the solution to feeding the planet while mitigating climate change by doing what they do best.

Overall, creating a climate-friendly and carbon-neutral food system requires significant changes across the entire food supply chain, from production to consumption. By adopting sustainable practices and innovative technologies to address the challenge of climate change, we can build a more resilient and sustainable food system that supports both people and the planet.

These are some of the strategies that can help make agriculture carbon-neutral. A combination of these practices, along with innovation and investment in research, is essential to achieving carbon-neutrality in agriculture.

The author is a former executive director of the Cotton Development Board


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