Here are 5 technologies that could help make the food system carbon neutral

Here are 5 technologies that could help make the food system carbon neutral

Globally, about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse come from agriculture and food systems. The carbon footprint of the latter includes all emissions from growing, processing, transportation and food waste.

ANALYSIS – Agriculture is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change and, as the conflict in Ukraine shows, geopolitics can affect food systems.

Several technologies can already help decarbonize the complex systems that connect producers and consumers. They can also make our food systems much more resilient to global threats. Here are five that we believe have immense potential.

1. Carbon Farms and Regenerative Agriculture

Most food-related greenhouse gas emissions today come from growing food and are emitted when soils are tilled. This is important to know, because soils that are left untouched store carbon.

However, it only takes a few relatively minor changes in their management for the soils to once again become carbon reservoirs. For example, planting legumes and forage crops every two or three years, rather than just staple crops such as wheat or maize, or sowing cover crops in the fall, to keep fields from being bare, allows organic matter to build up and helps the soil absorb carbon. In addition to helping to slow down climate change, this protects the soil from erosion.

The idea of ​​crop diversification may seem very simple technologically, but it works. Additionally, a new generation of smart farming tools, such as equipment that uses big data and artificial intelligence, will soon help farmers adopt practices that produce food while sequestering carbon.

The smart tools are part of a digital farming revolution, also known as precision farming, which will allow farmers to reduce their impact on the environment and measure the amount of greenhouse gases captured by their fields, creating a carbon registry that documents their efforts.

2. Smart fertilizers

To turn nitrogen from the air into fertilizer usually requires a lot of fossil fuels. Moreover, it is not easy for farmers to put exactly the right amount of fertilizer in the right place and at the right time for the crops to use it effectively.

Too much fertilizer is often spread. These are then not absorbed by the crops, which leads to pollution, in the form of greenhouse gases or contaminants in the water. But the new generation of fertilizers could solve these problems.

Smart biofertilizers use micro-organisms that have been cultivated or modified to live in harmony with crops, capture nutrients from the environment and provide them to crops without waste.

3. Precision fermentation

Humans have always used micro-organisms to transform sugars and starches into fermented products such as beer, wine and bread. But before long, precision fermentation will be used to make many other products.

This technology has long been used to create almost all of the insulin in the world as well as the rennet, an enzyme used in cheese making. The United States recently authorized the use of fermented milk proteins of non-animal origin – obtained by inserting milk-producing genes into microbes – in the manufacture of ice creams, which are now commercialized. It's only a matter of time before precision-fermented products become mainstream in supermarkets around the world.

In the future, if fermentation microorganisms are fed on waste products (such as leftover brewers' spent grain or starch waste from vegetable proteins), farmers could create low-impact, high-value foods. from organic materials that would otherwise be wasted and decomposed into greenhouse gases.

4. Vertical Farming

While nothing beats fresh fruits and vegetables, picked when ripe and eaten immediately, the sad reality is that most of the fresh produce consumed in Canada, the northern United States and northern Europe comes from factory farms in the south. western United States or the southern hemisphere. The carbon footprint of this long-distance cold chain is considerable, and the quality of the food is not always optimal.

A new generation of vertical farms can be a game-changer by using energy-efficient LED lights to grow food locally all year round. These environmentally controlled farming facilities require less water and effort than traditional farms, and produce large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables on small plots.

These installations are springing up all over North America and Europe, but more particularly in Singapore and Japan. Although whether current vertical farms are better in terms of energy consumption is still the subject of much debate, they are increasingly inclined to use renewable energy to ensure a carbon neutral supply. in fresh food all year round, even in Canada's North.

5. Biogas

Manure from livestock facilities is difficult to manage as it can become a source of water pollution and greenhouse gases. However, if the manure is placed in an anaerobic digester, it is possible to capture the methane produced to turn it into green natural gas.

If designed well, biogas digesters can also turn municipal organic waste into renewable energy, giving agriculture the opportunity to contribute to sustainable energy development. This is already happening on farms in Ontario, where a new generation of biogas digesters are helping to increase farm incomes and displace fossil fuels.

Encouraging systems transformation

These technologies are even more interesting when they are linked together. Thus, biogas collectors installed in livestock farms could provide the energy needed to operate fermentation facilities that produce dairy products of non-animal origin.

Similarly, if plant-based proteins, such as those from legumes like peas, are produced on farms that use regenerative farming techniques and processed locally, leftover starch can be used for precision fermentation. . While we don't know if this process can be implemented at scale, its potential sustainability benefits are immense.

Taking advantage of these opportunities requires developing agribusinesses that form circular food systems, so that waste from one stage becomes valuable input at another stage. A key addition to circular food systems will be carbon tracking from field to fork, so as to highlight the benefits.

Technologies to enable a carbon neutral circular food economy will soon come of age. Within a few years, the five technologies described above should be in common use.

The world is now facing one of the greatest challenges of the century: how to properly feed the growing world population while addressing climate change and avoiding destroying the ecosystems we depend on to live.

But we should soon have the tools to feed the future and protect the planet.

Text by Rene Van Acker, Evan Fraser and Lenore Newman

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here are 5 technologies that could help make the food system carbon neutral

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