Low Carbon Footprint Agriculture is a sustainable approach to food production that aims to minimize the environmental impact of farming.
As a leading fertilizer manufacturer committed to sustainability, ICL leads the way in providing growers with the solutions needed to adopt sustainable farming practices that reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.
Analysis and Measurement
ICL has engaged an independent certified company, Filkin & Co EHS Limited, to calculate the carbon footprint of our entire plant nutrition portfolio following the GHG Protocol and ISO 14064 standards for Carbon Footprints. Taking the calculation of Polysulphate fertilizer’s carbon footprint as an example, measurements of all the processes from ICL’s polyhalite mine, where Polysulphate originates, through to its storage were analyzed. While these calculations are clearly complicated, the result is a simple number representing the carbon footprint as the kg of carbon dioxide equivalent produced per kg of product.
Leading the Way
In a first for the industry, ICL will start adding this carbon footprint information to product labels using a simple graphical scale, creating a straightforward way to compare different products’ carbon footprints. For growers looking to lower their carbon footprint, this should provide an excellent starting point, making it easier than ever to make more sustainable farming decisions that reduce the carbon footprint of farming.
Choosing Fertilizers to Lower Carbon Footprint
At its simplest, agriculture’s carbon footprint can be improved by choosing a fertilizer with a lower carbon footprint than alternative products. Some fertilizers require energy-intensive manufacturing processes that can result in a higher carbon footprint than an alternative, low-carbon footprint product. For example, ICL’s natural multi-nutrient Polysulphate fertilizer is just mined, crushed, and screened ready for use, and, therefore, it has the lowest carbon footprint when compared with alternatives.
Timing of Nutrient Release
Everyone involved in farming knows that agriculture is complicated. The initial product choice is just one aspect of farming’s carbon footprint.
Crops continually take up nutrients, a little at a time, throughout their growth cycle, with the demand for nutrients changing at each growth stage. And yet, fertilizers are generally applied to crops at select times during the growing season. As a result, a proportion of the nutrients fertilizers deliver can escape the plants’ roots through leaching or runoff. With every nutrient in a fertilizer having a carbon footprint, any improvement in the ratio of nutrients taken up compared to those lost to the environment will improve agriculture’s overall carbon footprint.
Choosing prolonged-release or controlled-release fertilizers that better match the nutrient release to the crop’s needs reduces nutrient losses to the environment and increases sustainability. Compared to urea, for example, controlled-release fertilizers reduce nitrous oxide (NOx) emission from growing crops, which, considering 1 kg of nitrous oxide (N2O) has an equivalent environmental impact to 298 kg of CO2, is a significant step in reducing farming’s contribution to global warming. Research by the NMI Institute in the Netherlands has demonstrated how using controlled-release fertilizers reduces ammonia (NH4) losses to the atmosphere and the NO3 losses through leaching into the groundwater, benefitting human and animal health and the broader ecosystem.
With a nutrient release duration of between 1 and 6 months, a single application of one of ICL’s Agrocote controlled-release fertilizers can provide the nutrients required for an entire growing season. Therefore, choosing to use controlled-release fertilizers removes the financial and environmental costs of additional fertilizer applications and can also reduce nitrogen emissions that contribute to global warming.
With the recent launch of ICL’s innovative eqo.x release technology, found in our Agrocote and Agromaster CRF products, the sustainability of these CRF fertilizers is further improved. ICL’s eqo.x technology delivers the same high performance that our customers expect from our previous CRF coatings, with the added advantage that once the nutrients are released, the fertilizer coating rapidly and completely biodegrades in the soil, leaving no residue.
Increasing Fertilizer Efficiency
Another significant component in the growers’ toolkit for improving the carbon footprint of crop production revolves around the crops’ Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE). NUE is the ability of crops to take up, assimilate, and utilize nutrients to maximize yields. When referred to as Agronomic Efficiency, it is the increase in yield per unit of nutrient applied, or in other words, getting the best return for every gram of fertilizer applied.
Nutrient Use Efficiency can be improved through the choice of fertilizers. As mentioned above, choosing a fertilizer with a release rate that matches the crops’ nutrient requirements prevents nutrients from being leached out of the reach of the plant roots. But NUE can also refer to plants’ ability to efficiently utilize the nutrients taken up. One key to this is balanced nutrition, ensuring plants get the right nutrient combination.
Balanced Nutrition is often illustrated by the principle of Leibig’s law, which states that growth is not limited by the total resources available but by the scarcest resource. Balanced fertilization prevents an imbalance that might mean plants can not efficiently utilize the available nutrients.
It is important that nutrients are not only available but are available in the correct form. In some situations, nutrients may be present in the soil but can be locked away due to the soil conditions or other environmental factors. Acidic soils may restrict phosphorus availability, while alkaline soils may limit micronutrient availability. In these situations, care must be taken to ensure the nutrients crops require are still available.
Foliar fertilizer application delivers precise, targeted plant nutrition directly to the crops’ leaves. ICL’s liquid and water-soluble foliar fertilizer portfolio includes nutrient combinations crafted for all crops and growth stages, with multiple macronutrient (NPK) and trace element mixes. Foliar fertilizers are ideal for stimulating crop growth, relieving plant stress, and boosting productivity while at the same time minimizing nutrient losses to the environment.
ICL has also developed water soluble fertilizers (WSF) for fertigation systems, another tool to improving nutrient availability and reduce losses. Fertigation increases nutrient use efficiency. Irrigation systems deliver nutrients directly to plant roots to ensure crops benefit from targeted, precise nutrient doses that meet crops’ needs while minimizing nutrient losses through leaching or runoff, reducing fertilizer waste, and maximizing uptake.
Livestock and Dairy Production
There are also areas of livestock production where changes to fertilizer choice and use can reduce on-farm carbon footprint. Research shows how improving silage quality can reduce methane production by approximately 10% for dairy cattle and around 17% for beef production. Both these significant improvements can be achieved by improving the fertilizer strategy for grass silage production.
Lowering Carbon Footprint
Reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is an important goal. ICL is committed to improving sustainability, and our R&D teams are engaged in producing next-generation fertilizers designed to equip growers with the tools to reduce their carbon footprint. With the industry-first labels that identify fertilizers’ carbon footprint credentials, it is easier than ever before to see and compare different fertilizers. Growers now have a straightforward way to make decisions that will positively impact agriculture’s carbon footprint.
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Mini: The granules are 1-2mm in size, which helps the practical application of Polysulphate®, especially in greenhouses and horticultural settings. It’s easy to apply directly via manual or mechanical spreading, while you can mix it with other fertilizers of a similar size.
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