Agriculture can be climate neutral by 2030

Agriculture causes around 14 per cent of Australia's national greenhouse gas emissions each year, along with an indirect contribution made by land clearing. But we now have the technologies and knowledge to greatly reduce the climate impact of farming, or even reach zero net agricultural emissions. So how do we achieve this? And what are the options for an exciting career in sustainable agriculture?

Professor Richard Eckard teaches in the Bachelor of Agriculture and Master of Agricultural Sciences. He leads the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre, where scientists work to understand climate impacts and how farmers can mitigate against them.

With the addition of land clearing, agriculture contributes about 20–22 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions, nearly equal to the transport sector’s contribution. While agriculture is a source of greenhouse gas emissions, farms also have significant potential to capture carbon from the atmosphere and to store it in carbon sinks like trees and soils.

Professor Eckard says: “Now we have technologies that can result in about an 80 per cent reduction in methane from livestock and we can achieve at least a 50–60 per cent reduction in emissions from fertiliser use. So, it is quite feasible for us to achieve somewhere between 50–80 per cent reduction in actual emissions from agriculture.”

Adding in tree planting and soil carbon means that agriculture could reach a carbon neutral position.

“In terms of soil carbon, a lot of our soils have been degraded over time, so there is opportunity to improve our management of soils, to improve soil health, to improve the soil microbial diversity, through better grazing management, through better nutrient management, through better, deeper-rooted pasture perennial crops or pasture species.”

Agriculture has a history of sacrificing trees for productivity, but perspectives are changing. It’s proven that trees provide a range of benefits including lamb survival, shade and shelter for livestock in heatwaves, the restoration of biodiversity and the reduction of wind erosion.

Regenerative agriculture focusses on rebuilding our natural resources and there are new exciting pathways if you’re interested in a career in sustainable agriculture.

The application of regenerative practices is paving the way for a new era in agriculture and the opportunity to have a profound impact on food security and climate change, professor Eckard says: “…we’re moving into an exciting, next generation of farming where the new farmers coming onto the land are more proactive about working with the land than against it, and will look at a better resourcing future. Not only to achieve food security, which is increasingly important, but to ensure that we can still do this in 100 years’ time, we can still do this in 1000 years’ time.”

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