Monsanto on Tuesday rolled out a series of plans tailored to its key operations – seed production, crop protection and crop production – that will focus on making the company carbon neutral by 2021.
The plan includes collaboration with farmers on best crop management practices, including the reduction or elimination of tilling and the planting of cover crops.
"Climate change is one of the biggest issues we face in agriculture, as well as one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity," Monsanto chairman and chief executive officer Hugh Grant said in a press statement.
"Agriculture is uniquely positioned to deliver climate change solutions, and we hope that policy makers recognize the role agriculture, farmers and crops can play in mitigating carbon emissions."
Under the seed production umbrella, Monsanto will use breeding, plant biotechnology, data science, conservation tillage and cover cropping systems to reach carbon neutral goals.
Monsanto says data has shown that using techniques like conservation tillage and other agronomic tools can allow crops to be grown such that soil absorbs and holds greenhouse gases equal to or greater than the total amount emitted from growing those crops.
The company also will work with farmers to promote and drive the increased adoption of these carbon neutral crop production methods, it said.
Crop protection sector goals align with Monsanto's previously announced goal to reduce the operational greenhouse gas emissions intensity in its crop protection operations.
The company has continued to make steady progress against its commitment, it says, but to offset the remainder of its crop protection and other non-seed production operations, a new program working with farmer customers is in the works. The program will provide incentives to farmers who adopt carbon neutral crop production methods – in exchange for part of their carbon reduction value. Monsanto will use those reductions as offsets to neutralize its remaining carbon footprint.
Data collection and sharing
Data collected as part of the carbon neutral plan will be shared with the ag industry, Monsanto says, to encourage adoption of best practices and to reinforce the role crops can play in reducing carbon emissions
To date, these carbon neutral crop models are focused on the Corn Belt, where the most accurate data on crop yields, soil types, crop rotations and best management practices are publicly available.
The models indicate that high yielding, carbon neutral corn and soybean production, in the United States alone, has the potential to reduce crop production emissions equivalent to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equal to reducing 233 million barrels of oil consumption per year.
Data science will also help drive the carbon neutral goals. One example is the precise information offered by Climate Corporation, which helps farmers to plant and harvest crops more precisely than ever.
Other examples include the use of satellite imagery to precisely target emerging pest problems, or the development of algorithms that model the exact fertilizer needs of each field.
The continued integration of this data allows farmers to make more precise decisions, and when used in conjunction with agronomic best practices, can lead to carbon neutral crop production, Monsanto says.
Reaching climate goals
According to a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, agriculture is a significant pathway to mitigating greenhouse gases. Similar to other formalized carbon offset and renewable energy credit programs, organizations like Monsanto have started to invest in verified offsets originating from agricultural activities.
"This program is a critical step in agriculture's overall effort to mitigate climate change," said Dr. Chuck Rice, Kansas State University distinguished professor and IPCC report co-author. "Agriculture can be a positive force in the fight against climate change."
Getting farmers involved will include ongoing demonstrations of best practices and the benefits of carbon neutral cropping programs.
"My goal is long-term sustainability – raising crops as sustainably and environmentally friendly as I can," said Eagle Grove, Iowa, farmer Tim Smith. "Using these best practices together has proven to not only be good for the environment, but it also maximizes my productivity."
Smith cited heavy rains in recent years that have become even more intense as a reason to consider implementing more best practices. "As a farmer and steward of the land, it is encouraging to know that implementing these practices on my farm can be an important contribution in addressing climate change," Smith said.
For more resources and information on Monsanto's climate change efforts and collaborations, visit monsanto.info/climatech15.