Farmers Take Aim at Net-Zero Emissions



Net-Zero EmissionsIn an effort to stem global warning, the United States announced a goal of net-zero global greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050. As a result, agriculture faces further regulation of emissions, as well as pressure from customers and consumers. Agriculture currently accounts for 9.9% of all GHG emissions in the U.S.

“Our challenge is a global population that is growing faster than the rate of production,” said Ryan Schaefer, senior director of North American Sales at CNH Industrial.

Since 1990, farmers have made progress on emissions while simultaneous improving productivity to feed a growing population. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, during this time the U.S. has decreased its emissions per unit of pork by 21%, while increasing its production by 77%. Milk production emissions per unit were down 18%, while production was up 51%. Emissions per unit of beef were down 11%, while production rose 18%.  Still, more measures will be needed to meet the 2050 net-zero emissions goal.

AEM is determined to take an active role in shaping the future of agriculture for the betterment of all. With that in mind, the association is pleased to offer the Future of Food Production, a whitepaper detailing the key drivers poised to drive ag's evolution in the years to come. Learn more.

Sources of GHG on the farm

Soil management is the largest source of U.S. agricultural GHG emissions, representing 50% of all GHG emissions on the farm. Application of fertilizers, tillage, growth of nitrogen-fixing crops, the drainage of organic soils and irrigation practices can lead to increased availability of nitrogen in the soil and result in emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O).

Enteric fermentation represents 28% of all agricultural greenhouse gases. Methane (CH4) is produced as part of normal digestive processes of ruminant animals such as cattle.

Manure management represents 12% of greenhouse gases produced in agriculture. When livestock manure is stored or treated in systems that promote anaerobic conditions, such as in lagoons, ponds, tanks or puts, the decomposition of the volatile solids component in the manure produces methane. These systems are commonly used in dairy operations.

Fossil fuel combustion from agricultural machinery accounts for 6% of greenhouse gases in agriculture. A majority of farm equipment and heavy-duty trucks are powered by diesel fuel.

Ryan Schaefer


“Our challenge is a global population that is growing faster than the rate of production.” -- CNH Industrial's Ryan Schaefer


Emissions reduction strategies

Reduction in fertilizer use
Scott Shearer, PhD, PE, Professor and Chair of Food Agricultural and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University, believes that precision agriculture tools will help farms reduce their use nitrogen without any loss of yield. “We are beginning to align nitrogen application with weather conditions and stage of crop growth,” said Shearer. “When we apply closer to the time when the plant needs the nitrogen, our nitrogen use efficiency goes up. We can apply less and end up with the same yield.”

According to Schaefer, technology is helping farmers manage their overall inputs. Machine control enables farmers to improve efficiency in the field with the help of GPS technology. The AIM Command spray technology on the CASE IH Patriot Sprayer allows farmers to selectively apply fertilizer through the Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) connect system. “The technology allows farmers to work with their advisor to manage fertilizer inputs on a much more granular level of accuracy,” said Schaefer.

Regenerative agriculture
Scientists believe that agricultural soils could sequester over a billion tons of carbon each year if farmers would adopt more sustainable practices such as planting cover crops and no-till farming. Government agencies are working to accelerate adoption and improve the success of regenerative agriculture. The USDA recently announced that it will be making a $1 billion investment in pilot projects that create market opportunities for U.S. agricultural and forestry products that use climate-smart practices.

According to Schaefer, farmers that are starting to experiment with regenerative agriculture practices are working to do so without any yield loss. “No farmer wants to implement a practice where production suffers,” he said.

Carbon markets could also incentivize farmers to use more sustainable practices. Carbon markets make it possible for farmers to be paid for storing soil carbon. They will be critical for companies who are unable to meet emission targets in other ways. Two types of carbon markets have emerged in the U.S.: compliance markets based on the government emission requirements, like the Cap-and-Trade Program in California; and voluntary or incentive-based markets.

“The biggest thing that we need is a carbon market,” said Mitchell Hora, president of Continuum Ag and Iowa farmer employing regenerative agriculture methods. “We need more transparency and better tools to measure the amount of carbon in the soil.”

“If the farmer can do something of environmental benefit and at the same time make money, that’s a lot of incentive,” said Garrett Goins, manager PS&C for crop care products at John Deere and chair of AEM’s Sprayer Technology Leadership Group.

Seattle-based Nori Carbon Removal Marketplace is a voluntary market. Nori invites farmers to use a computer app, COMET-Planner, to estimate of how much soil carbon they can sequester, pay an expert to verify, and then sell it via Nori. COMET is the official greenhouse gas quantification tool of the USDA.

Hora believes that while the COMET system is fine for academic purposes, more is needed to serve the needs of multi-billion-dollar carbon marketplaces and provide on-farm assistance.

Methane emissions reduction
One way to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste is through anaerobic digesters. AgSTAR, a collaborative program sponsored by EPA and USDA that promotes the use of biogas recovery systems to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste estimates that the systems are technically feasible for 8,000 large dairy and hog operations. Currently there are 317 anerobic digesters working in the U.S. If fully implemented, the EPA estimates these farms could general nearly 16 million megawatt hours of energy per year. The energy in biogas can be used like natural gas to provide heat, generate electricity and power cooling systems, among other uses. Biogas can also be purified to generate renewable natural gas (RNG).

Another promising strategy to reduce methane emissions from cattle and dairy cows is a feed additive called 3-NOP, marketed as Bovaer. Research shows the supplement reduces methane in dairy cows by 30% and even higher in cattle. The supplement is now approved for use in the EU, Chile and Brazil, and is currently being evaluated for the U.S.

The global population is expected to increase by 2.2 billion by 2050, and farmers are being called upon to produce more with less. Here's how they're stepping up and rising to the challenge

Reduced emissions in agricultural equipment
Accounting for 6% of agricultural emissions, fossil-fuel burning farming equipment is another opportunity for reduced emissions. Agricultural machinery manufacturers fully expect stricter emissions regulations to continue and are actively pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels.

The California Air Resources Board is working on potential amendments to off-road diesel engine standards with the goal of making NOx standards up to 90% more stringent, and PM standards up to 75% more stringent than Tier 4 standards. Implementation of the Tier 5 standards is expected to begin in 2028.

“Once a trend starts, it is rare they turn back,” said Seth Crawford, AGCO’s SVP and GM of Precision Ag and Digital.

In the past, stricter emissions regulations have come with a hefty price tag for farmers, but as fuel costs rise, alternative energy sources may become more competitive with fossil fuel vehicles.

1. Renewable Diesel

Renewable diesel fuel offers a near-term solution to reducing emissions because it is a direct substitute for diesel fuel refined from lower carbon and renewable source materials. Tests show it can reduce carbon emissions in diesel engine exhaust by as much as 50-80%. Unlike biodiesel, which is added to fossil fuel (between 2 and 20%) renewable diesel is 100% fuel.

In its annual energy outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that production of renewable diesel supply will grow because of its compatibility with existing distribution infrastructure and engines, higher state and federal targets for renewable fuel production, incentives from tax credits, and the conversion of existing petroleum refineries into renewable diesel refineries.

John Deere recently announced an equity investment in ClearFlame EngineTechnologies, a start-up dedicated to the development of clean engine technology. ClearFlame's solution enables low-carbon fuels to be easily integrated into compression ignition engines. The technology also lowers costs by negating the need for complex aftertreatment technologies.

In addition to providing reduced emissions, renewable diesel also represents an opportunity for farmers. To meet the demand driven by renewable diesel, soybean and other vegetable oil production would need to double by 2030, according to Rabobank.

2. Electrification

Advancements in batteries for electric automobiles are enabling new solutions for agricultural equipment. AGCO recently introduced a 70 hp electric tractor (Fendt e100 Vario). “Our intent is not to stop there,” said Crawford. “I think larger equipment will be a combination of combustion and electric driven accessories.”

John Deere is fully invested in electric vehicles, recently showcasing the second version of Sesam tractor, with a battery module and capacity of 1,000 kWh of energy storage.

CNH Industrial has an exclusive licensing agreement with Monarch Tractor, a U.S.-based AgTech company specializing in fully electric autonomous tractors. “As an industry we are skewing toward autonomy and machine swarms,” said Schaefer. “As we grow closer to the higher stages of autonomy, we can leverage more efficient electric machines with fewer operators.”

In rural America, one of the key challenges to adoption will be charging infrastructure. Fuel tanks on diesel-powered tractors are sized for a full 16-hour day of operation. “To do the same thing with batteries we need six and half times the volume of a diesel fuel tank in the way of battery technology,” said Shearer.

3. Methane-powered equipment

New Holland Agriculture recently launched a methane powered tractor for the U.S. market. In areas with high concentration of livestock, methane gas is easy for farmers to access. “It’s renewable fuel with fairly low environmental impact,” said Schaefer.

4. Hydrogen-powered equipment

With limitations on electric machines, some manufacturers are turning to hydrogen. Hydrogen offers potential in agriculture because fuel cells vehicles do not require batteries and hydrogen fuel cells can be powered with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

New Holland and Blue Fuel Solutions offer the Dual Power tractor, which runs on a combination of hydrogen and diesel, producing lower CO2 and NOx emissions. Fendt is currently using hydrogen-powered prototype tractors on test farms in Germany in addition to working on hydrogen infrastructure.

Kubota plans to bring a hydrogen-powered fuel cell tractor to market as early as 2025.


Garrett Goins


“If the farmer can do something of environmental benefit and at the same time make money, that’s a lot of incentive.”  -- John Deere's Garrett Goins


The road to zero emissions: challenges and opportunity

For agriculture to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, multiple strategies will need to be employed. But unlike many other sectors of the economy, in the process of reducing emissions, agriculture has an opportunity to drive revenue and profit through carbon credits and increased demand for crops used in the production of renewable diesel.

Want to learn more?

America’s farmers have cemented their legacy as the most essential of essential workers. Their willingness to assume enormous levels of risk and work tirelessly to help secure a critical supply chain is unparalleled. Plus, they do it all while managing millions of acres of land and preserving vital natural resources.

AEM Vision Team and Futures Council members spent countless hours discussing how the agriculture industry could be reshaped over the next 10 years. For more information on The Future of Food Production and other trends impacting the equipment manufacturing industry and the customers it serves, visit

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