Report: Conservation Agriculture can cut emissions “more than closing 50 coal-fired power plants”

A Field under Conservation Agriculture with cover crops sequestering carbon in Barruelo del Valle, Castilla y Léon, Spain

A switch to Conservation Agriculture can meet 20% of the EU’s carbon emissions reduction targets


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A report presented at the European Parliament Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (AGRC) today shows that Conservation Agriculture, a farming technique developed in the middle of the 20th century to minimise erosion of soils caused by drought and traditional agriculture, can cut emissions “more than closing 50 coal-fired power plants”.

Data in the new research study shows that Conservation Agriculture can help eliminate about 200 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which amounts to 20% of the EU’s entire commitment to emission reductions from non-ETS (non-economic) sectors by 2030 will be achieved.  The report, put together by the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF), is described as an in-depth analysis that evaluates the conversion of European soils.

“The potential of Conservation Agriculture (CA) is huge. Every four hectares converted to CA negates the average annual emissions of a European citizen. There is no other solution like this out there” says Gottlieb Basch, co-author of the report and president of ECAF. 

 

WHAT IS CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE?

Conservation Agriculture is a farming technique developed in the middle of the 20th century to minimise erosion of soils caused by drought and traditional agriculture. According to the report, CA consists of three specific practices. One is minimal soil disturbance with no-tillage, meaning that the soil is not tilled, and thus not damaged. The second practice is permanent soil coverage where plants are constantly growing on the soil, even in between harvests. The third is diversified crop rotations where, to prevent depriving the soil of its nutrients, a variety of different kinds of crops are planted.

 

BENEFITS OF FARMERS & ENVIRONMENT:

The report says that benefits of CA are plentiful as they are cost effective for farmers, significantly lower carbon emissions, and greatly reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The permanent soil cover allows an increase in the organic matter level, which creates more absorption of CO2 in the atmosphere through photosynthesis. With traditional agriculture, the CO2 absorbed by the plants was released in the atmosphere when the soil aggregates were tilled. The absence of tillage greatly diminishes the use of machinery in the fields, and with it the CO2 emissions.

Glyphosate, a weed controlling herbicide which has been under scrutiny by the EU, will be used along with CA practices in order to prevent these practices from being costly to farmers. Overall, “if we implement CA across the EU, farmers will sequester the CO2 emitted by 18 million households,” says ECAF president Basch. CA is efficient and guarantees success with the direct seeders approach instead of no-till drills, allowing farmers to establish crops successfully under groundcovers. The report also concluded that CA “has a double effect on the reduction of greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere.”

The practices of CA can also constitute an improvement for the conditions of farmers. Since this technique is not based on tillage, the time spent in the fields is diminished, says the report. Also since yields are not diminished, the overall economic benefit does not decrease. However, the conversion needs an initial large investment in new machinery, suited for the No-Tillage planting.

Not only is CA beneficial, it also seems to align directly with goals of the global Paris Agreement.  The 2030 climate and energy framework sets three key targets for the year 2030 including at least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, at least 27% share for renewable energy, at least 27% improvement in energy efficiency. Converting to CA would help achieve around 22% of the necessary reductions. Professor Gottlieb Basch stated that “Current projections of carbon emissions and emission reductions show the EU falling short of commitments made under the Paris Agreement, but CA can bring us a big step closer.”

Basch has commented on the uniqueness, yet urgency necessary to implement this solution. “There is no other solution like this but we need to act fast.” He recognises that there seems to be a decrease of momentum, especially in the global arena. However, this solution brings that momentum back and is one of the few reports with a clear solution. “The CAP has failed to protect the environment so we’re calling on the AGRI committee to support our call to make Conservation Agriculture in Europe a reality, and to help farmers make the switch”, he said taking into account the necessary investment for farmers in Europe.

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