Carbon Foot Prints: How to Decrease?

Al Ardh Alkhadra > Blog > Agriculture > Carbon Foot Prints: How to Decrease?

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Since the last decade, there has been an ongoing debate about climate change. Quite a few schools of thought point to agriculture as a primary contributor to the problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agriculture and forestry accounts for 10.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This amounts to 0.7 million metric tons.

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Transportation and industry account for about 60% of emissions (4.0 million metric tons). However, what sets agriculture apart is its potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it in soil. Here ,we discuss how agriculture contributes to climate change. We also cover how you can reduce the carbon foot prints as solution for climate change.

Carbon Foot Prints as Solution for Climate Change

Science has demonstrated that agriculture can be an immediate solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. As a result, farmers now hear terms like carbon credits, carbon financing, and carbon payments. 

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Conceptually it is pretty simple, when you have understood the basics of carbon cycling in the env. The climate change issue revolves primarily around the main atmospheric form of carbon, and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the metrics or currency in which changes in atmospheric radiative forcing (i.e., global warming) are measured. 

Relation between Carbon Foot Prints and Farming

The most effective way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is through Mother Nature’s process of photosynthesis. A few simple, back-of-the-envelope calculations demonstrate agriculture’s ability to assimilate carbon dioxide.  It potentially leads to carbon capture and storage. Let’s use corn, the top crop of USA , as an example.

Corn contains approximately 43% carbon (C) by weight on a whole plant basis. Additionally, the amount of carbon deposited by roots will be about 29% of the shoot biomass carbon. The amount of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide corn will potentially assimilate during the growing season will be about 34,679 pounds per acre. With the above ballpark figures and assuming a typical mid-Michigan corn grain yield of 180 bushels per acre.

Carbon Foot Prints – Carbon Assimilation

The 2020 national corn growing champion 476-bushel yield, was produced in Michigan by Don Stall of Charlotte, Michigan. It had assimilated around 91,707 pounds per acre of carbon dioxide. These figure represents the total amount of Carbon assimilated in the corn crop.

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It is not the amount of Carbon “sequestered” in the soil. Much of the assimilated Carbon gets naturally recycled back to the atmosphere. It occurs when an animal respires Carbon Dioxide. This occurs while metabolizing corn grain in its feed or soil microbes metabolize stover remaining in the field. The key to “sequestering” or successfully capturing and storing some of the assimilated Carbon into the soil depends on few factors.

These factors include usage of  C-smart best management practices, including minimal or no-till systems and cover crops.

Carbon Foot Prints – Maintain Soil Carbon

Carbon dynamics in the soil are complex. However, these best management practices help move and maintain soil Carbon into a more stable form. Soil Carbon exists primarily in organic form as soil organic matter. It  comprises of forms that decompose at different rates. The most durable of which can persist for thousands of years. With proper management, you can raise the Carbon level of the soil to a new equilibrium level over time.

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The naturally occurring annual microbial decomposition of crop residue, such as corn stover remaining in the field. It results in the respiration of about 80% of the Carbon addition of the stover and root residue. In addition, there is an incrementally decreasing portion of the previous year’s plant material not decomposed in its first year.

Following C-smart best management practices such as no-till and cover crops are good options. most estimates for long-term stable annual Carbon Dioxide retention hover in the 300 to 1,000 pounds per acre per year range, which varies significantly based on local soil and climate conditions.

Additionally, the Carbon accumulation factor for a given best management practice remains valid for about 50 years. Subsequently,  after which the soil will reach a new equilibrium level of Carbon. Further increases in soil Carbon attributable to that particular management practice would not be likely. Thus, it takes a long time to sequester appreciable amounts of Carbon in the soil effectively.

Carbon Foot Prints – Carbon Emissions

However, some emerging markets are willing to pay $10 to $15 per acre or about one credit (one ton of Carbon Dioxide equivalent) to a farmer for implementing a practice such as cover crops or no-till. Perhaps more important to the farmer and society are the well-documented agronomic and environmental advantages of increasing soil carbon, such as decreasing soil erosion, increasing water permeability, improving soil structure, increasing the rate of spring soil warm-up, etc. 

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For perspective, consider the atmospheric emissions of Carbon from fuel combustion. When you combust each gallon of gasoline you release about 19.4 pounds of Carbon Dioxide into the air. The U.S. consumes roughly 140 billion gallons of gasoline annually, effectively pumping 2.7 trillion pounds of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.

On an average, crude oil being consumed today represents Carbon from plant material sequestered below the surface of the earth about 300 million years ago. Consequently, the annual U.S. 2.7 trillion pounds of Carbon Dioxide fuel emissions constitute new Carbon or at least Carbon that has not been in the atmosphere for over 300 million years. Here lies the basis of the growing climate change challenge.

Carbon Foot Prints Capture in Agriculture

USA typically grows about 92 million acres of corn nationally. Assuming that there is 300 to 1,000 pounds per acre rate of Carbon Dioxide sequestration, no-tilling the nation’s corn crop would potentially sequester about 28 to 92 billion pounds of Carbon Dioxide.

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A respectable amount, but unfortunately, it only amounts to 1 to 3.5% of the Carbon Dioxide emitted from our gasoline cars on an annual basis! We are not catching much lightening in our bottles as long as we continue to pump 2.7 trillion pounds of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere annually from gasoline consumption.

Carbon Foot Prints – Steps to move Forward

However, the real power of farming in the Carbon footprints capture and storage scenario lies in the coupling of renewable fuel production from agriculturally grown feedstocks with carbon capture and storage. This effectively means that by using renewable energy to displace fossil fuels can effectively ratchet down our current 2.7 trillion pounds of Carbon Dioxide gasoline emissions.

Carbon Dioxide emitted from bioethanol is recycled back to the atmosphere. This is not the case in case of gasoline and other fossil fuels.  Thus Carbon is back from where it originated in the first place. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conservatively estimated that conventionally grown corn grain ethanol can be a 21% direct impact reduction in carbon footprint relative to gasoline.

Research studies at universities have shown the reduction in carbon footprint compared to gasoline jumps to over 100%. This happens when you use the cellulosic feedstocks from perennial grasses like switchgrass for biofuel.

A combination of electric and biofuel vehicles powered by renewable feedstocks could potentially wipe out the annual 2.7 trillion pounds of Carbon Dioxide emission from gasoline and provide a net gain of Carbon sequestered into our soils where it can provide environmental and agronomic advantages. Now that’s catching some natural lightning in a bottle.

Carbon Foot Prints – Reduction in Pork Production

Another promising research examines the implications of including high fiber alternative feed ingredients into pig rations. University of Saskatchewan is examining greenhouse gas generation through the pork production cycle using a model developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The researchers have determined these high fiber ingredients can be included in rations at high levels with no negative effects on productivity and now they’re investigating at the carbon footprint.

The model has primarily was used earlier for beef cattle. The model takes into account every thing right from growing the crops, taking the by-products off the crop, producing feeds from those crops, feeding it to the pigs, greenhouse gas production within the barn, manure production in the barn and then the animals going to market.

All these combined data in one model looks at the effect of different diets and byproduct inclusions on the overall carbon footprint. This work is expected to interest pork producers considering the carbon footprint of pork production and those developing policies to lessen the impact of agriculture on climate change.

Yet another study focuses on field peas. Field peas are beneficial for the soil, and broken wheat, a co-product of flour production.

Bottom Line

Agriculture accounts for close to 80 percent of total nitrous oxide emissions. This is due to the application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and manure added to soils or left on pastures. Hopefully, you now understand that there is nothing new about the potential of farming to help protect the env.

You can do this by capturing and storing the Carbon in the soil by adopting the best management practices. The potential has been present since the very first farming took place. Carbon sequestration will likely be of value to future farms. These will be in terms of emerging policy involving C credits, C financing, and C payments. We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.

Read related topics like smart monitoring system, growing microgreens, humidity in Dubai, black spot on leaves, and more.

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