New Agricultural Techniques Are Helping Farmers Reduce Their Emissions

New Agricultural Techniques Are Helping Farmers Reduce Their Emissions
Reading Time: 4 minutes

New Agricultural Techniques Are Helping Farmers Reduce Their Emissions. Image Unsplash.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Reducing agricultural emissions is among the top priorities for the farming industry. Land conversion, chemical fertilizers, machinery and livestock contribute to emissions that harm the environment. The increasing focus on climate change makes reducing this pollution paramount.

Fortunately, new agricultural techniques are helping farmers reduce pollution and yield better crops in the process. They can also save money and boost productivity. Here are some strategic and technological innovations that can play a significant role in reducing agricultural emissions.

  1. Vertical Farming

Vertical farming is an emerging agricultural technique in which farmers stack crops on top of each other. This method requires a controlled environment instead of a traditional field, so it usually occurs inside small, contained urban areas instead of rural locations. Farming in cities will become more vital as urban landscapes and populations grow.

This new agricultural technique has many environmental benefits. Most importantly, it requires much less land to grow food. About 52% of U.S. land is used for farming. This greatly contributes to the agriculture industry’s pollution because it prevents forests from naturally filtering carbon dioxide.

One estimate from the Technical University of Munich estimates that vertical farming can grow up to 100 layers of crops on just one hectare — about 2.47 acres — of land. By comparison, the average American farm is approximately 445 acres.

Vertical farming solves the issues of land conversion and deforestation and leads to better crop yields. Artificial light gives farmers precise control over how much exposure their crops receive, giving them more control over the soil’s fertility. Water usage can drop by 90% for certain crops and pesticides are no longer necessary.

The growth of artificial intelligence will also make vertical farming in urban settings more efficient. About 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from heating, cooling and other energy-consuming tasks in buildings, and an estimated 30% is wasted. AI can model exactly how much water and electricity are needed to optimize crop growing conditions on vertical farms and minimize waste.

  1. Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is a revolutionary farming technique that uses that same plot of land repeatedly while maintaining the soil’s fertility. On traditional farmlands, soil degradation and fertility decline can begin after just five years of continuous tilling. 

Regenerative agriculture allows farmers to stay put and use the same land for decades with minimal soil disturbance, leading to less land conversion, machinery emissions and pesticide usage. Several subcategories of this farming technique could make a significant impact in reducing agricultural emissions.

No-Till Farming

Soil tilling is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture industry. Tilling machines slowly chip away at the earth’s structure and unlock soil organic carbon (SOC) that releases into the atmosphere. It also accelerates surface runoff and nutrient depletion, which leads to lower-quality crops.

No-till farming provides a sweeping solution to these problems. Instead of churning up the soil with heavy equipment, farmers can deposit seeds into small holes and keep SOC underground. In a study of European farms, SOC levels in organic farms with reduced tillage increased by 1.7% and 3.6% compared to traditional plowing methods.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is another important aspect of regenerative farming. Instead of planting the same handful of crops in the same place year after year, farmers can change their rotations to keep the soil nutritionally balanced. For example, planting clover in a cornfield increases the soil’s nitrogen content and produces higher-quality corn.

Another tactic of crop rotation is to give fields a fallow stage before planting another crop. Fallow fields are not cultivated for one or two seasons. This allows the soil to replenish nutrients, break pest and disease cycles, and maintain local wildlife populations.

Rotational Grazing

Regenerative agriculture doesn’t just apply to crops. It applies to livestock, as well. Instead of letting animals graze in the same pastures and deplete the soil, farmers can implement a rotational grazing system with multiple areas. This method also allows farmers to implement more balanced diets for their cattle.

Rotational grazing can significantly reduce agricultural emissions — specifically methane — by giving livestock more fiber from cool grass species, legume mixtures, corn silos and other foraging sources. Smoother digestion leads to fewer methane emissions.

3. Renewable Energy Investments

Renewable energy is one of the most obvious methods for reducing agricultural emissions. Investing in green energy, such as solar and wind power, can eliminate a significant amount of global greenhouse gas emissions from farming. 

For example, the Indian subcontinent currently produces about 2.88 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions yearly from agriculture. That number could drop by up to 62 million tons if every farmer switched to solar power instead of fossil fuels.

Biomass reactors can provide farmers with alternative energy through plant and animal waste instead of fossil fuels. Biofuel is a natural resource with an unlimited supply as long as global livestock populations remain stable. 

4. Farming Robots

Farming robots can play a big role in reducing agricultural emissions from farming machinery. Instead of inefficiently operating heavy equipment by themselves and producing avoidable emissions, farmers can let robots do the work. There are self-driving tractors, crop collectors, fruit harvesters and more.

For example, researchers from Monash University in Australia have designed an autonomous apple picker that can detect ripe apples and pick them without causing bruising. At the same time, this technology eliminates emissions by only doing the required amount of work. No engine idling or human error can greatly improve farming’s energy efficiency.

5. Satellite Farming

Satellite farming uses aerial imaging to give farmers a clearer picture of crop progress, livestock activity, pest infestation and resource consumption. Farmland inspections have always been a fundamental part of the agriculture industry, and now they can be more thorough than ever with drone-mounted cameras.

Geographic information system (GIS) mapping is one particularly useful satellite farming technology. It uses geographic data to provide three-dimensional visual aids. GIS can help farmers monitor soil quality, local weather patterns and even the farmland’s emissions. It tracks the density of fossil fuels, aerosols and other gases in the atmosphere, helping farmers identify the main sources of their pollution.

A New Era in Farming

The growing urgency of climate change has forced the agriculture industry to rethink its traditional methods. This could be the start of a new era in farming, with cutting-edge technologies and entirely new techniques leading the way. In addition to reducing emissions, these methods will also help farms become more productive and help them save money in their daily operations. 

Industry professionals must think outside the box to find successful solutions for reducing agricultural emissions and making the most of these processes.

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