Launching the next green revolution
Updated: May 26, 2022
Our focus for today is Agriculture. While we have published an edition on the theme of agriculture before which discussed primarily methane emissions; we look at agriculture as a sector and talk about some promising initiatives.
What to expect today:
Launching the next green revolution
New technologies represent a critical part of the world’s decarbonization tool kit—and the world does not yet have all the technologies that it would need to solve the net-zero equation by balancing sources and sinks of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. The good news: research suggests that climate technologies that are already mature could, if deployed widely, deliver about 60 percent of the emissions abatement that will be needed to stabilize the climate by 2050.
Where does agriculture stand?
Agriculture accounts for about 20 percent of global GHG emissions. The most significant GHG from agriculture is methane, which has many times the warming power of CO2. We have covered a primer on methane emissions in a previous post - check it out here. Reducing methane emissions from agriculture (and other sources) would require major changes to how society farms, eats, manages supplies and waste, and stewards cropland and forests. Many of the changes would be enabled by climate technologies, some of which are relatively mature while others need further development.
What are some initiatives that can decarbonize agriculture?
Bringing these technologies to the more than two billion people who work in agriculture will be one of the most difficult tasks on any path to 1.5°C of warming. Some of the initiatives which have great potential are:
Zero emissions farm equipment: Think EVs for farms. Farm emissions account for nearly 2% of all GHG emissions (our next story in today’s edition)
Meat alternatives: Lab grown meat or plant based meat (check out our profile for Beyond meat here)
Methane inhibitors: Feed supplements to inhibit methane production in livestock (check out use of seaweed to reduce methane emissions by 80% here)
Bioengineering: improving productivity and carbon capture by plants - last story in today’s edition on crop residue decomposition)
Tractors to get the Tesla treatment
Electric vehicle technology has finally arrived in the $292 billion heavy machinery market, thanks to battery breakthroughs and increasing adoption of EVs. In the U.S. alone, tractors burn 5.3 billion gallons of fuel a year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, and agriculture equipment emissions accounts for 2% of the country’s transportation greenhouse gas emissions — about one-third as much as the country’s aviation sector. That, increasingly, is creating more incentive to throw R&D money at a small machine with fresh, perhaps fussy technology.
Enter Monarch Tractors
Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Silicon Valley, the self-driving electric tractor manufacturer has raised $81mn in funding so far. The company’s recent funding round of $61mn in Nov 2021 also saw the world’s second largest manufacturer of farm equipment, CNH Industrials, invest $20mn in the funding round signalling a shift in small farm equipment space. Notably, the industry’s two giants; Deere & Co. and CNH Industrials haven't rolled out anything of their own.
How do electric self-driving tractors work?
Monarch’s tractors are engineered to easily swap batteries and can run 24x7 on a farm. The vehicle’s battery pack can also serve as a generator on the farm should there be a need. Cameras on the sides of the tractor feed a continuous stream of images that inform decisions on where and when to plant. The machine’s brains are wired into the roof, where algorithms process sensor data. Today, it can be added with various equipment like spraying, tilling etc. which can perform the specific functions automatically. Check out a small video here on how they work.
Reducing farm emissions in India
Stubble burning is a widespread practice that many developing countries use to intentionally set fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, such as rice and wheat, have been harvested (because it's cheaper to burn than dispose properly). The technique is used widespread in Northern India and is the leading cause of pollution. Every winter, smoke from stubble burning mixes with construction dust and industrial emissions to produce a toxic cocktail that blots out the sun, grounds flights and overwhelms hospitals.
Pusa decomposer system
India’s state-run Indian Agricultural Institute has developed a low-cost enzyme called the Pusa decomposer that breaks down straw and turns it into fertilizer thus eliminating the need to burn stubble. The bio-enzyme when sprayed on the field breaks down crop residue in about three weeks on average and increases organic carbon in the soil. The solution also reduces the need for using excessive fertilizers since carbon and nutrients are naturally returned to the soil. Currently, the initiative is run by nurture.farm, a digital platform for sustainable agriculture, and has been used in 420,000 acres and plans to increase coverage to 5.7mn acres in the next three years.
Source:Economic Times India
Recommendations from the team
Quiz time! - Check out this regenerative agricultural quiz (I scored 6/10)
YouTube - Check out Monarch’s self driving EV tractor (9 min video)
YouTube - Right to repair farm equipment in an increasingly computerized world (16 min video)