Improved fertiliser, soil and water management can significantly reduce climate gas emissions, while maintaining similar yields and reducing production costs: a typical win-win. However, reports show low levels of adoption. What can be done to mainstream precision farming?
Agriculture is very much affected by the effects of climate change: more extreme and changing patterns in temperatures and rainfall require agricultural practices to adapt.
In a recent study, all available literature on precision agriculture was reviewed regarding the impact of precision agricultural measures on:
The review revealed that most scientists were focussing on productivity and the economic benefit of precision agriculture, the environmental and climate mitigation effects were often only mentioned through reduction of inputs achieved.
Recently, more scientific attention has been given specifically to the climate effect of precision agriculture technologies. The study identified that precision agriculture techniques have a positive contribution to greenhouse gas reduction.
Nutrient and water management have a direct contribution, in particular the so-called Variable Rate Technology for nutrients application because of the lowered N2O emissions. Although results vary between soils and weather conditions during application, variable rate application can reduce fertiliser use by 10-30%, while maintaining the same productivity. Besides the reduction in costs, there is a very important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Agriculture is accountable for 10-15% of all human induced climate gas emissions worldwide. Arable farming emits CO2 and N2O. N2O is a 300 times stronger climate gas then CO2. In the Paris Agreements, many governments made commitments to significantly reduce emissions, to slow down the global warming process. Meeting the climate goals of the Paris Agreements requires many, preferably all, farmers to work with precision agriculture technology.
The European Commission could think of stimulating the uptake for instance by rewarding smart farmers through the CAP. This could reach all farmers in the EU and thus provide a huge contribution to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as well as preserving soil organic carbon. Unfortunately, neither adoption levels nor the motives and barriers of farmers to adopt are known. Structural surveys measuring the adoption of precision agriculture are scarce. In the United States, the Purdue University makes an annual assessment of sales and usage of precision agriculture. This US study also collects opinions of farmers, dealers and contractors. But similar structural adoption surveys are missed in Europe.
To conclude, an increase in farms using precision agriculture techniques will have a huge impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and hence on climate change. Scientists should focus more on the climate mitigation potential. The machine manufacturers, a main supplier of precision agriculture technologies, can promote this by reducing the complexity of precision agriculture for instance by better implementing sector wide standards, harmonising their marketing messages and focus on ease-of-use.
The Conference on Agricultural Performance, Innovation and Geo Information (CAPIGI) is a meeting where governments, industry, research and agricultural sector discuss the relevance of geospatial data and technologies in agriculture. This year the conference, from 9-11 April in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, focuses on Agricultural Performance, relating to the growing importance of sustainability in agricultural production. CAPIGI pays special attention to climate smart farming.