Technology could help reduce agricultural emissions, but legislation must mitigate risks for farmers

Posted On: 
20th September 2019

Dods Monitoring's Tessa Corina writes on what new technology means for the agriculture sector. 

Farming produces three gases that are particularly harmful to the climate, writes Tessa Corina.
Credit: 
PA Images

The agriculture sector has come under mounting pressure in recent years to reduce its contribution to climate change. The sector, whilst being at acute risk from the effects of climate change, accounts for a tenth of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a proportion that is rising as other sectors reduce emissions at a faster rate. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change recently emphasised the importance of accelerating agricultural emission reductions.

‘Disrupting the system’

Farming produces three gases that are particularly harmful to the climate: nitrous oxide from fertiliser use; methane from livestock farming; and carbon dioxide from fuel for vehicles and electricity. There have been a range of suggestions as to how farmers can reduce their emissions but more recently technology has been proposed to ‘disrupt the system’.

There are many technologies under development, ranging from robotics to assist with crop picking, to electric vehicles which could replace some tractors and other fuel burning vehicles. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have stated that the adoption of new technologies could not only improve agriculture’s productivity, but also its environmental burden through the ability to carry out operations more precisely and with less resources.

The use of drones in Precision Farming

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, are receiving increasing focus in their ability to assist with the efficiency and productivity of farmers’ work, giving agriculture a “high-tech makeover”.

As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states, most food waste, including unusable crops from farms, ends up decaying in landfills and releasing methane into the atmosphere. The ability of drones to assess crop health is something that seems promising through showing precise development of a crop and revealing production inefficiencies, enabling better crop management.

The maintenance of soil health is also crucial, as it stores vast amounts of carbon that will only be released back into the atmosphere if left to deteriorate. To prevent this, the World Government Summit suggests that drones could assist with soil and field analysis by producing precise 3D maps, playing a key role in planning seed planting with minimal soil disturbance and gathering data for managing irrigation and nitrogen levels. Arable crop inputs could be distributed more precisely and evenly using ultrasonic echoing technology, with drones targeting specific areas to spray, resulting in a potential reduction in the chemicals used.

New technology requires new safeguards for farmers

Inevitably, the development of this technology has brought with it numerous challenges. In the wider debate on drones, there are ethical considerations which also translate to agriculture. For example, the irresponsible use of drones has been known to cause sheep worrying and impact on livestock, which can result in devastating impacts for farmers. Further to this, the NFU has previously highlighted how they could be used by thieves to obtain an aerial view of farms for exploitation, which has resulted in calls for new legislation to protect farmers and landowners.

If more farmers were to adopt this technology into their practices, the Government would need to…to view the rest of the article, click here