from the industrial-optimization dept.
[T]he agricultural industry contributes about 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Because the amount of land dedicated for agriculture is limited, farmers need to find more ways to operate efficiently, sustainably and profitably while also reducing GHG emissions. With new practices, farmers can make farms a net sink of CO2, helping the U.S. reach its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
Sustainable intensification is a two-prong approach many think could help. It tries to optimize land use and management practices for maximum farmland productivity at the same time it tries to minimize associated environmental impact. The trick is finding the right balance between the two objectives.
[...] "The concept of sustainable intensification of farming was applied into more broadscale landscape application," said one of the article's co-authors, Hoyoung Kwon, a principal environmental scientist in Argonne's Energy Systems and Infrastructure Analysis (ESIA) division. "We considered productivity and GHG emissions, attempted to optimize land management tactics and products, and investigated different trade-offs that improve the land and land productivity."
For example, farmers can clear and repurpose corn crop residue (or "stover") for biofuel, but a percentage of stover can remain in the soil for valuable nutrient and carbon sources for future crops. Farmers can plant cover crops during the winter (or "fallow") season, to supplement removed stover. The authors took into account energy, which has an emissions cost of planting of cover crops to holistically address net benefits of stover removal and cover crop planting. Farmers can also reduce how much land they till after a growing season ends, which lessens decay and reduces the amount of CO2 that emanates from the soil. However, the farmer has to till some of the land to be ready for the next growing season.
[...] According to the study, harvesting 30% of the corn stover for biofuel production would increase farm revenues, double net profitability and increase overall biofuel production from the landscape by 17–20%. Removal of the stover would also mitigate GHGs somewhat, but it reduced the baseline amount of good carbon in the soil by 40%. In comparison, integrated approaches that include winter cover cropping and/or tillage intensity reduction would increase carbon in the soil, improve farm profitability and mitigate more GHGs.
"We focused on corn and soy but our approach could be extended to other crops," said Hawkins. "Many farms today are large, industrial farms that are high-tech and rely much more on high resolution data. We want to give farmers, regional planners and others in agricultural management a tool to calculate how to use land sustainably and get the most value out of the land. This will further both profitability and environmental goals."
Trung H.Nguyen et al., A multi-product landscape life-cycle assessment approach for evaluating local climate mitigation potential [open], JCleanProd, 354, 2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.131691