Interventions like applying fertiliser at different times can create win-win situations for both farmers and the environment.
Fertiliser is agriculture's problem child.
On the one hand, synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilisers are hugely important to increasing crop yields and securing the global food supply. It would be no exaggeration to say they revolutionised food production in the 20th century. On the other hand, the same nitrogen-based fertilisers represent an enormous threat to the integrity of our ecosystems. They not only emit nitrous oxide – a gas
300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential – but also seriously damage soil health, pollute water systems, and put biodiversity at risk in their current quantities. According to the IPCC, the usage of synthetic fertilisers has gone up by an enormous 800% since 1960. That increase has left a huge footprint: the synthetic fertiliser supply chain was responsible for around 2.1% of emissions globally in 2018.
If you're a company in the forest, land use and agriculture (FLAG) sector, your decarbonisation journey must encompass accounting for your land management emissions, and fertiliser usage will play a critical part in this. The release of the Science Based Targets initiative's (SBTi)
FLAG guidance earlier this year provided all companies with direct or indirect links to land-intensive activities with clear recommendations on the FLAG targets they need to set to achieve emission reductions in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. You can't manage what you can't measure, so to reduce FLAG emissions, the first steps are to proactively:
But what do better fertiliser management and production practices actually look like? Interventions that satisfy crop productivity goals while also making meaningful cuts to greenhouse gas emissions all focus on being more precise about fertiliser application. It's a question of making sure fertiliser is applied in the right quantity, at the right time, and at the right rate. Supporting agricultural producers with developing a balanced and custom fertiliser regime for different crops and regions is also crucial, as is pursuing conservation practices to improve soil health.
Agriculture is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise and the key to reducing its footprint undoubtedly lies in the more efficient, sustainable application of fertiliser, especially given the estimated increase in global usage by
over 50% by 2050. There is no silver bullet that will solve the challenge of producing more food for a larger global population at a lower environmental impact… yet collaboration between farmers and FLAG-sector companies can drive meaningful reductions today and speed progress towards a net zero future.