Anthropocene reports that adopting a suite of novel farming technologies, such as nitrogen-efficient plant breeds, and electrified farm vehicles, could reduce emissions associated with staple crops by about 71 per cent in just 15 years.
Efforts to bring agriculture in line with climate goals often focus on methods to capture carbon, through approaches like no-till farming and the planting of cover crops.
While these methods are an essential piece of the climate change mitigation puzzle, attempts to actually lower current agricultural emissions before they enter the atmosphere get comparatively little attention, the researchers on the new study say.
This is short-sighted, because due to the high-intensity, yield-focused approach of conventional agriculture, increasing its efficiency may be one of the surest ways to cut emissions down.
For example, conventional row-crop agriculture alone—the method by which a majority of staple foods like wheat, soybeans, and maize are farmed—contributes about 5 per cent to the total greenhouse gas emissions in both the European Union and the United States.
The multidisciplinary research group wanted to investigate the extent to which a fleet of new and emerging agricultural innovations might be able to reduce these emissions.
They used emissions from row-crop maize farming in the United States as a benchmark to determine the impact that technological innovation could have.
The study also took a modeling approach that simulated a phased release of the most promising agricultural innovations into the field, to allow a realistically gradual adaptation, and the careful integration with other mitigation methods on farms.
“Agriculture has huge potential to address global warming and is well-positioned to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Daniel Northrup, lead author on the new study, and director of special projects at Benson Hill, a company that’s developing new crop breeds.
“Our research looked at the tools that could be deployed, and, using life cycle analysis, quantified the impact of deploying those tools or technologies. We then grouped technologies based on their readiness and deployability.”