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How Australia can increase grain production while reducing its carbon footprint

How Australia can increase grain production while reducing its carbon footprint

How Australia can boost the production of grains, while lowering its carbon footprint

Agriculture is one sector that is most difficult to decarbonize due to the growing global population. This is especially true for growing grains – think wheat, barley, legumes and canola.

Australia is the Third largest exporter of wheat after Russia and the US, with 11% of the world’s wheat trade shipped from our shores in 2017. Likewise, Australia is responsible for up to 20% of the world’s barley exports.

But Our new reportToday’s publication reveals a way to increase grain production by as much as 40% while reducing the carbon footprint per ton of grain by as much 15%. The key to increasing our use fertiliser is improving.

To produce the world’s grains with as few greenhouse gas emissions as possible, all countries, including Australia, need to play their part. Australian grain has a lower carbon footprint (greenhouse gas intensity), than other countries. This means that we have some potential to increase production to meet growing demand. The global market.

Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of grains.

Emissions from the grain industry

Our first task was to determine the greenhouse gas emissions that the grains sector released in 2005. This is because 2005 is the standard baseline year we compare Australia’s emissions to today, in line with our obligations under the Paris Agreement.

In 2005, the sector produced 13.75 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent. Grain emissions in 2005 were primarily under two categories: on-farm emissions (61%) and “embedded” emissions (39%). This breakdown is likely to be very similar for today’s grain sector emissions, but this needs to be confirmed with further data collection.

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Applying fertiliser and the decomposition of plant residues such as stalks and roots, are the main causes of on-farm emissions. On-farm emissions alone are responsible for 1.7% of Australia’s total.

Embedded emissions can be associated with the supply chain for a product such as the production of fertiliser or chemicals. The largest contributor to embedded emission was found to be fertiliser production.

It’s clear how we use and produce fertiliser is greenhouse gas intensive. However, fertilisers – along with the the breakdown of plant residue – are key in improving productivity on farms.

Using nitrogen fertilisers can increase farm productivity.

Grappling with fertiliser

Two important greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide (from fertilisers) and carbon dioxide (from plant residues), are linked by nitrogen from fertilisers.

The relationship between nitrogen in fertiliser and carbon in plants is tightly interwoven – changing levels of nitrogen inputs will change the levels of carbon in the system, and vice versa.

We ran simulations to understand the complex system. Our results were shocking.

Contrary to popular belief, increasing fertiliser (in order to minimize nitrogen losses) can almost maintain net on-farm emissions while greatly increasing the production and quality of grains. This results in a lower greenhouse gas intensity (carbon footprint). Let’s explore why.

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To grow, plants need nitrogen. Insufficient fertiliser can cause plants to eat it. And when the soil loses nitrogen, carbon dioxide is also released into the atmosphere to balance the soil’s nitrogen and carbon levels.

Applying fertilizer in a way that maximizes nitrogen use will increase plant growth and prevent soil depletion. This will, in turn, see more plant residue go into the soil, again increasing the soil’s carbon levels.

But there’s a catch. Because the extra fertilisers have to be manufactured, embedded emission increases. We found that the increase is smaller than the increase on total production. Therefore, the greenhouse gas intensity related to the production a tonne grain decreases.

Australia is third in wheat exports after Russia and the USA.

Where are you going?

These findings are an important part of the global effort by the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector and maintain the competitiveness of the Australian industry.

Next, we will continue to research and develop technology to implement our findings. We will also develop targeted incentives for customers and investors.

With the increase in emissions taking place in the manufacture of fertiliser, rather than on the farm itself, it’s important the industry helps drive those embedded emissions down.

Some initiatives, particularly in the area of development, are already being implemented. of green hydrogen. Hydrogen is a key ingredient for the manufacture fertilisers, so green hydrogen can reduce fertiliser embedded emissions.

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