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Achieving net-zero in agriculture

Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to a number of factors, including the clearing of forests for agricultural land, the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and the production of methane from livestock.

The good news is that there are a number of ways to reduce agricultural emissions and achieve net-zero emissions. A recent review article titled “Achieving net-zero emissions in agriculture: a review” in the Environmental Research Letters provides a comprehensive overview of the latest research on this topic.


Here are some of the key takeaways from the article:
  • Improve crop yields and reduce fertilizer use: One way to reduce agricultural emissions is to improve crop yields; by using improved crop varieties, planting cover crops to improve soil health, and using precision agriculture technologies to target fertilizer application. Reducing fertilizer use can also help to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture. The emission of 1 kg of N2O equals to 298 kg of CO2 equivalent.
  • Reduce methane emissions from livestock: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is produced by animals, such as cows and sheep, as part of their digestive process. There are a number of ways to reduce methane emissions from livestock, including:
    • Changing their diet to include more forages and less grain
    • Improving manure management to reduce methane emissions from manure storage and application
    • Using methane capture technologies to collect and utilize methane from manure
  • Reduce deforestation and forest degradation: Forests play an important role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to offset agricultural emissions.
  • Use renewable energy on farms: Farms can also reduce their emissions by using renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to power their operations (e.g. groundwater pumping).
In addition to these general approaches, there are a number of specific technologies and practices that can be used to reduce agricultural emissions. For example:

  • Precision agriculture technologies: Precision agriculture technologies, such as GPS and satellite imagery, can be used to target fertilizer application and other inputs more precisely. This can help to reduce fertilizer use and other emissions.
  • Anaerobic digestion: Anaerobic digestion is a process that converts organic matter, such as livestock manure and crop residues, into biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used to generate electricity or heat, and digestate can be used as a fertilizer.
  • Agroforestry: Agroforestry is the practice of integrating trees and shrubs into agricultural landscapes. Agroforestry can help to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and sequester carbon.
Achieving net-zero emissions in agriculture will require a combination of technological innovation, changes in agricultural practices, and policy changes. It is also important to consider the trade-offs between different approaches, such as the potential impact on food security and biodiversity.

What can you do to help achieve net-zero emissions in agriculture?

There are a number of things that you can do to help achieve net-zero emissions in agriculture. Here are a few ideas:
  • Eat less meat and more plant-based foods. Meat production is a major contributor to agricultural emissions. 
  • Buy food from local and sustainable farms. When you buy food from local and sustainable farms, you are supporting farmers who are using practices that reduce emissions.
  • Reduce your food waste. Food waste is a major problem that contributes to climate change. Visit our foodwaste page to learn more.
  • Support policies that promote sustainable agriculture. You can contact your elected officials and let them know that you support policies that promote sustainable agriculture.
By taking these steps, you can help to create a more sustainable food system and reduce the impact of agriculture on climate change.