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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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What does carbon neutral mean? A Q&A with an expert

Mike Lohuis is the Ag Environmental Strategy Lead at Monsanto, and is helping develop our strategy to address climate change. Here he answers some questions about our commitment to carbon neutrality.

What is Carbon Neutral Crop Production, and why is it important?

Crops use the process of photosynthesis to naturally convert carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere into oxygen and organic carbon in the form of plant biomass, roots and grain. However, the use of tillage, fuel, fertilizer, manure and other inputs used to grow crops also release carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) back into the atmosphere. Carbon-neutral cropping is a system that has the potential to absorb and store at least as much carbon in the form of soil carbon as is emitted (in the form of GHG) in the production of the crop. By turning crops from “net emitters” into “net sequesters” of carbon, carbon-neutral cropping can be an important tool for mitigating the amount of GHG emissions from agriculture.

What is ICF, and what does their recent report tell us about Carbon Neutral Crop Production?

ICF International is a leading analytics provider specializing in assessments of products during their complete life cycle. ICF was commissioned by Monsanto to independently assess the GHG mitigation potential of several crop-based strategies from “cradle to farm-gate”. This means accounting for emissions on the field as well as upstream emissions associated with creation of the inputs such as fertilizers.

What was most surprising about the results that ICF reported?

First, it was surprising to learn that the mitigation potential of a handful of near-term strategies could reduce cropland emissions by 1/3 to ½ of current emission levels. Second, the strategies with the biggest potential were precision nutrient management, cover crops, and reduced tillage. These are strategies that are already in use but have experienced limited adoption so far. If fully deployed, they have the potential to make farmers more efficient and profitable while also becoming more sustainable.

How does the ICF report affect Monsanto’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021?

This report is an important third-party scientific verification of the mitigation potential of the crop-based strategies that Monsanto is planning to promote and support in order to reach carbon neutrality as a company.

Where do we go from here? What are the next steps?

The next steps include continuing the development of an operational plan that supports business growth while ramping up carbon neutral practices on Monsanto’s seed production footprint as well as on our customers’ farms. Monsanto has an extensive suite of products and services that will need to be harnessed to support and enable carbon neutral crop production.

For example:

  • Roundup-Ready® Xtend and Intacta RR2 PRO™ systems enables reduced/no-till by controlling weeds, even those that are glyphosate-resistant, and allowing cover crops to be removed to make way for planting of other crops.
  • Crops that contain a Bt trait as well as corn marketed as Disease-Shield™ reduce insecticide use and enable cover crop use with fewer pest issues.
  • Climate Corporation’s FieldView™ and Nitrogen Advisor™, and newly-announced in-field sensor network will enable more precise application of crop inputs.
  • The Alliance is developing products that can help crops in a variety of ways – like improving nutrient uptake, promoting growth and yield, and providing insect control and disease protection. This new class of microbial solutions is designed to and to do so in a sustainable way that benefits agriculture, consumers, the environment, and society as a whole.
  • Monsanto’s advanced molecular breeding pipeline is increasing crop productivity faster than conventional breeding, which allows greater food production from existing farmland. This is critical in limiting the need for deforestation or agricultural expansion into sensitive ecosystems.

How will consumers benefit from this initiative?

Consumers will benefit by knowing tomorrow’s agriculture, which utilizes the best technology available, will continue to provide a safe and resilient food supply while reducing the use of land, water, and other precious resources. Consumers may feel confused in the face of mega-trends and enormous challenges, but one thing the advent of social media has shown is that individuals can make a difference. By voting with their shopping carts, consumers can send powerful messages to food retailers, starting a cascade of market signals that reach all the way to food producers. By becoming informed about which ag technologies help enable sustainable practices – such as reduced tillage, cover crops, precision agriculture, and sustainable intensification on the best farmland – consumers can purchase food that was produced using methods that improve soil health and the environment.

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