Top 5 Ways Crop Nutrient Planning can Reduce Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint

“Growers, agronomists, researchers and ag industry experts are tackling today’s biggest challenge – providing food security for the world’s growing population,” according to Ron Baruchi, CEO of Agmatix. 

Food security in the 21st century goes beyond just growing more crops. Growers, agronomists, and industry experts must unlock a path to increased productivity and quality while at the same time reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture in order to sustain production for the future. 

Crop nutrient planning, supported by digital tools, is one way in which agronomists and industry experts can help growers to increase yields while reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint. 

What are Crop Nutrient Planning and the Carbon Footprint of Agriculture?

Crop nutrient planning is a holistic approach to optimizing the economic, agronomic, and environmental requirements related to nutrients used for crop production. Historically, crop nutrient plans may have been informal or focused solely on agronomic or economic requirements. Now, crop nutrient planning supports maximizing nutrients’ economic benefits while minimizing environmental impact. 

Carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases generated by a person, organization, action, or product. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are all examples of common greenhouse gases. High carbon footprints increase the global temperature. Agriculture has a measurable carbon footprint, and it’s sizable. An estimated 31% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are tied to the global agri-food system. 

Crop nutrient planning can be a blueprint for how to reduce carbon footprint in agriculture. By setting a crop nutrient planning objective of increasing nutrient efficiency and effectiveness and reducing environmental impact, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. 

And because synthetic nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, planning for this crop-essential nutrient with the environment in mind is especially important. 

5 Ways Nutrient Planning Can Reduce Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint

  1. Maximizing arable land use: through increasing efficiency, growing more food on the same amount of land is possible. Nutrient planning to increase yield can maximize production per acre while minimizing environmental impact. 
  2. Implementing a 4Rs approach: precision is an important part of crop nutrient planning. The 4 Rs refer to the right place, right rate, right time, and right source. Considering the combination of the 4 Rs to inform management decisions can minimize the carbon footprint of agriculture. For example, the right source can reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers whose manufacturing contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The right rate, right time, and right place can reduce nutrient leaching
  3. Practicing good land stewardship: crop nutrient planning promotes sustainable practices that respect the land. Using fewer chemicals and intentionally protecting natural resources increase biodiversity in the environment. 
  4. Reducing waste: over-application or wasted nutrients are not only unprofitable for farmers – they have detrimental impacts on the environment, too. Wasted nutrients are nutrients that plants are unable to use and potentially become environmental pollutants that degrade water quality. 
  5. Using a data-driven support system: using high-quality agronomic data to support management decisions can help farmers reduce their carbon footprint. Data-driven support systems can be used to optimize crop nutrition. Running simulations to compare nutritional recommendations and understand tradeoffs between yield and environmental impact is one example of how data-driven decisions play out at the agronomist and farm level. 

Mission Critical: Reducing Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint

Agriculture is both a contributor to and at risk from a changing climate. Today, agriculture is estimated to be responsible for roughly 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture’s emissions contributions have grown 30% in the last forty years. 

This runs contrary to the U.N.’s goal to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Reaching net zero will prevent the Earth from warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Right now, commitments and actions fall short of what’s needed to reach net zero. Reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture will help reach these emissions goals. 

Agriculture is also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. Corn, soybean, rice, cotton, and oat yields are already expected to be reduced due to global warming. And climate impacts could cause an uptick in irrigation needs at the same time water availability is limited. 

Improving on-farm efficiency through technology could reduce emissions from agriculture by roughly 20% by 2050. Among other examples, this could include steps to reduce nitrogen over-application in China and India, reducing or stopping tillage, improving rice straw management, and improving the fertilization of rice. Many of the opportunities to increase efficiency and decrease the carbon footprint of agriculture tie directly to nutrient planning and management. 

Digital Crop Advisor Can Help 

Determining how to reduce carbon footprint in agriculture can be challenging without the right tools. Using agronomic field trial data to support crop nutrition planning helps farmers apply the precise nutrients plants need with the lowest possible environmental footprint. 

Agmatix’ Digital Crop Advisor solution makes it easy for sales agronomists and other advisors to calculate fertilizer carbon footprint. It’s simple to compare sustainability KPIs – like nitrogen leaching, for example – against historical nutrient plans or current nutrient plans in other fields. 

With this tool in hand, nutrient planning can take into account the field characteristics, fertilizer and crop types, and more. Science-backed nutrition plans containing all crop-essential nutrients help maximize yields while minimizing agriculture’s carbon footprint. 

12 scientifically-proven crop nutrient data profiles enhance agriculture crop protocol management with unbiased product catalog-based recommendations. Nutrition plans are available for over 150 crops and can include carbon footprint-reducing options like controlled release fertilizers. Various simulations are available to deeply understand potential tradeoffs between yield growth and environmental impacts. 

Digital Crop Advisor is a key tool to address the five ways nutrient planning can reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint. As a data-driven support system intended to optimize nutrient management, Digital Crop Advisor supports land stewardship, maximizing productivity, and reducing waste. The 4 R’s are the bedrock of the recommendations. Digital Crop Advisor is a way to seamlessly support the reduction of agriculture’s carbon footprint.