"Agriculture has the potential to become part of the solution,” explains Dr. Joachim Lammel, Yara’s Vice President Research and Development and a self-declared agri-climate optimist.
Q: Global warming affects the food system, and the global population is growing. Can humanity cope with these challenges?
A: I am definitely an agri-climate optimist, if you will. To me, agriculture has the potential to become part of the solution in reducing GHG emissions and environmental impact. But there is a huge need to step up efforts to make farming more climate smart.
Q: How can farming become more climate- and environmentally-friendly?
A: If you look towards European farmers as an example, they are highly resource efficient, and therefore they also have relatively low environmental impact. Use of nitrogen fertilizers, for example, represents both a substantial part of the energy consumption and the potential environmental impact of farming.
For each kilo fertilizer used in Europe, yields have increased by 50% since 1980. This is a fantastic improvement, for the farmers, the climate and the environment. Higher resource use efficiency and climate smart solutions are key elements to make agriculture part of the answer.
Q: What kind of measures should be implemented on farms?
A: On a global basis, it is of course mostly about closing the yield gap: Bringing yield levels up to the optimum, but doing so smartly, using the knowledge we have available. This can minimize deforestation as well as keeping other environmental impacts at a minimum.
We need to improve agricultural technology, methods and knowledge. For example, sensor technology can measure the nutrient status of crops. This enables farmers to add precisely the right amount of fertilizers. European farmers are also using nitrate-based fertilizers. These have less environmental impact, and with clean European production they are also more climate-friendly.
Q: How is balancing higher yields and environmental impact possible?
A: There is always room to improve farming practice. As an example, over the past years Yara has engaged in the countries around the Baltic Sea. This is one of the world's most polluted seas. One of the key issues is run-off and leakage from agriculture into the sea. The solutions that aim to improve fertilizer use efficiency by employing innovative technology and knowledge are actually also more climate-friendly.
Having more farmers use precision farming tools will minimize environmental impact, but maintain productivity. I also believe in pragmatic solutions developed in public-private partnerships. Yara has been involved in such a partnership in Finland, where the phosphorus leakage can be reduced by 60% through treatment of the soil with gypsum.
Q: What is the top priority – mitigating emissions, or adapting to global warming?
A: Both are imperatives. I believe dealing with water stress will become the first critical issue arising from climate change. For several regions it is already a challenge, but as food supply has to increase while precipitation patterns become more erratic, the scale of the issue is rising.
We also know that in a business as usual scenario the total fresh water withdrawal of agriculture will become unsustainable over the next couple of decades. Agriculture must adapt to water stressed conditions and grow more crop per drop.
Q: How can the climate smarter solutions be adopted by the world community of farmers?
A: Unfortunately there is no quick fix or “one size fits all” solution. Farmers are an extremely diverse group, and any measures must always fit the local conditions. What would probably accelerate a positive change is if the market and regulatory framework for agricultural produce favored climate smart choices.
Farmers are smart, and they do what they get paid to do. Such a change would be a tremendous push for resource smart choices, more precision technology and making the right choices when applying fertilizers. Last but not least, creating this momentum would have to come from a strong coalition of global leaders who are dedicated to driving this development.