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Net Zero Farming. Revolutionising Agriculture for a Sustainable Future

The global challenge posed by climate change has prompted various industries to re-evaluate their practices and adopt more sustainable approaches. One of the sectors at the forefront of this change is agriculture, which plays a vital role in both food production and environmental impact. In recent years, the concept of “Net Zero Farming” has gained significant attention as a promising solution to mitigate the environmental footprint of agricultural activities while ensuring food security for a growing global population.

Agriculture is a major driver as well as a victim of climate change. ‘Emissions related to agriculture account for 12% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or about 7.1 billion tons of CO2 equivalent’ (L. Rosa and P. Gabrielli, 2023).

As Professor Tim Benton from the University of Leeds (School of Biology) stated (2022), “The agri-food industry extends far beyond farming. It shapes how food gets to our supermarkets and kitchens, the manufacturing process, waste management and more.”

So, Net Zero Farming refers to the practice of balancing the emissions produced by agricultural activities with the removal of an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In simpler terms, it means that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere through farming practices is offset by methods that capture or reduce these emissions. Besides, not only farming practices within the agricultural sector should be considered, but the whole food supply chain generating its GHG emissions.

In their review “Achieving net-zero emissions in agriculture,” Rosa and Gabrielli point out that “Agriculture faces a unique challenge in that it causes climate change through non-CO2 emissions. The majority of GHG emissions from agriculture come from methane, accounting for 54%, followed by nitrous oxide at 28%, and carbon dioxide at 18% […] Therefore, net-zero emissions in agriculture will require not only net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also net-zero methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions.”

To support and drive the progress of the agrifood system towards net zero, the UK Research and Innovation body set up AgriFood4NetZero Network+. The network brings together key research leaders and stakeholders, their organisations and networks, ‘to interrogate the ways in which the agri-food industry can not only decarbonise agricultural production, but also enhance biodiversity, maintain healthy ecosystems, nurture livelihoods, and support healthy consumer habits and human health, all while minimising the environmental impacts of overseas trade’.

Achieving net zero emissions in agriculture requires a combination of strategies that could reduce the carbon footprint of farming activities while enhancing carbon sequestration. We have listed some key strategies for Net Zero Farming below.

1. Agroforestry

Introducing trees and other perennial vegetation into farming landscapes can enhance carbon capture through photosynthesis. Agroforestry systems not only help sequester carbon, but also promote biodiversity and improve soil health.

2. Cover Cropping and Crop Rotation

Implementing cover crops and rotating different crops seasonally can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, and enhance carbon retention in the soil. Healthy soils function as a carbon sink, sequestering carbon for extended periods.

3. Low-Till or No-Till Farming

Traditional ploughing releases carbon stored in the soil into the atmosphere. Adopting reduced or no-till practices minimises soil disturbance, preserving carbon content and promoting healthier microbial communities.

4. Precision Agriculture

Using advanced technologies such as GPS, sensors, and data analytics allows farmers to optimise resource use, reducing inputs like fertilizers and water. This not only cuts emissions but also improves overall efficiency. Farmer Charlie can help you optimise your farm management and decision-making.

5. Renewal Energy Adoption

Transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, to power farms and related infrastructure helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-based energy consumption.

6. Livestock management

Livestock farming is a significant contributor to methane emissions. Improved animal husbandry practices, dietary adjustments, and methane capture technologies can mitigate this impact.

Net Zero Farming seems to be a concrete solution for our sustainable agricultural future. It not only aligns with global Sustainable Development climate Goals but also addresses the urgent need to produce food without depleting natural resources. Governments, organisations, researchers, and farmers are all called to develop and implement strategies that support the widespread adoption of net zero practices.

Net Zero Farming is not a buzzword, it is a call to action for transforming agriculture into a force for good in the fight against climate change and in finding ways to nourish a heavily populated world. By embracing innovative practices and technologies, the agricultural sector can lead the way towards a more resilient and sustainable future.

-Marina Novokhatska

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