Farming sector aims to clean up its carbon act

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Use of fertiliser usage and other modern agricultural practices can help to reduce greenhouse gases and ensure food security, argued business representatives and experts at a conference yesterday (12 February).

Speaking at the conference, president of the European Fertiliser Manufacturers Association (EFMA) Tor Holba said "emissions can be reduced by 50% with new N2O cleaning technology and energy efficiency, 'tailormade' fertilisers and modern agricultural practices". 

"Agriculture has a very significant role to play in mitigating greenhouse gases," said Pete Smith, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Aberdeen. 

Fertilisers are materials that contain organic chemicals and minerals such as potassium (K) and phosphorus (P), which farmers add to the soil to increase crop growth. 

The use of fertilisers on a global scale is known to emit significant quantities of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Emissions come about through the production of fertiliser, which releases methane, nitrous oxide, ammonia and carbon dioxide. 

Agriculture and forestry were left out from plans to extend the EU's CO2 emission trading scheme after 2012. The decision was made due to difficulties related to measuring emissions from these sectors accurately (EURACTIV 23/01/09).

However, in view of global population growth, Holba insisted that fertiliser use is key to feeding people around the world. Indeed, he said "almost half of the world population depend on nutrition from mineral fertilisers," stressing that there is "no alternative technology". 

"Fertiliser production may be emitter of CO2 but if we want to feed the world, it is the most efficient way to do so," he declared. 

Professor Smith added that agriculture has a long-term role to play in reducing greenhouse gases by "improving energy efficiency" and using "feed-stocks for bio-energy," such as residues, dung and dedicated energy crops. 

He estimated that carbon sequestration of soil can "mitigate less than one third of the increase [in atmospheric CO2] and less than one seventh of fossil fuel carbon emissions". 

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