You may have heard the term ‘carbon neutral’ in relation to farming practices that are better for the environment; but what does that mean exactly?
In a nutshell, it is a system that abandons traditional tilling (plowing) on farms and promotes the use of cover crops that help the soil absorb more water and store more carbon dioxide. This combination minimises the loss of fertile soil from wind and water erosion. Moreover, crops have the potential to store at least as much carbon as soil carbon instead of releasing it as greenhouse gas emissions.
Today, after the energy sector, agriculture is the world’s second-highest emitter of carbon dioxide. Key tools for a farmer such as fuel, fertiliser, manure and other inputs used to grow crops also release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) back into the atmosphere. Mike Lohuis is an agricultural environmental strategy expert at Monsanto, and is developing Monsanto’s strategy to address climate change by reducing a farmer’s use of these tools. “By turning crops from ‘net emitters’ into ‘net sequesters’ of carbon, carbon-neutral cropping can be an important tool for mitigating the amount of GHG emissions from agriculture,” said Lohuis.
Monsanto’s global target is to be carbon neutral in its own operations by 2021. The company is working with an external analytics company, ICF International, which has been commissioned by Monsanto to independently assess the GHG reduction potential of several crop-based strategies. This means accounting for emissions on the field as well as upstream emissions associated with inputs such as fertilisers.
Initial results by ICF show that near-term strategies could reduce cropland emissions by one third to half of current emission levels. The most effective strategies with the biggest potential for farmers are precision nutrient management, cover crops and reduced tillage. These strategies are already in use in some countries but so far have experienced limited adoption on farms in Europe. If fully deployed, they have the potential to help farmers become more efficient and therefore more sustainable. As carbon neutral farming practices gain traction, Monsanto’s seed production footprint and customers’ farms will produce food from existing farmland more efficiently and limit pressure on other ecosystems.
You can learn more about carbon neutral crop production in a recent Monsanto ‘Beyond the Row’s blog here: