Adoption of Variable Rate Technology by Australian Grain Producers could reduce CO2-e emissions by up to 915,000 tonnes per annum.

by

Todd Buck

Variable Rate (VR) Technology is a well-accepted practice used throughout the grain industry to optimise the application of nutrients and fertilisers. This proven technology not only can increase production efficiencies, but it also is now a recommended tool in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for grain producers.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)* estimated in 2023 there are over 23,000 farming businesses producing the equivalent of 43.6 million tonnes of grain, oilseeds and pulses. These crops were produced on approximately 21.5 million hectares** of land.

In 2023/24, Precision Ag soil surveyed over 2 million hectares, with most of that work resulting in VR application maps.

As Australia’s leading provider of Variable Rate Farming solutions, we have around 10% of the addressable market and we estimate that the current use of VR tools is around 20-30% of the grain producing areas.

This is higher in the High and Medium rainfall zones and lower in the Low rainfall zones.

As the use of VR technology has been around for many years, there are many papers that scientifically demonstrate the benefits in using this technology. VR application maps can be produced using different source data such soil sample results, satellite imagery, protein and yield data and have various levels of accuracy and cost.  Nevertheless, they all are using many data points to understand the variability and condition of their soil with clear actions to improve their soil quality and subsequent crops.

More recently, there is a clear push from market forces for the grains industry to avoid the production of GHG emissions through more efficient farm management practices.

In recent work done by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)^, it was noted that grain growers can influence around 60% of their on-farm GHG emissions with the remaining 40% embedded in their fertiliser and pesticide production before it arrives on farm. There are several clear strategies identified by CSIRO^ to influence the remaining 60% emissions, of which VR application of Lime and Nitrogen identified as two significant solutions.

Australian grain producers are already some of the most efficient in the world, and typically produce 315kg of CO2-e for every tonne of grain produced # .  We have estimated that via the use of VR Lime and Nitrogen, this could be reduced by around 20-30kg of CO2-e per tonne of grain produced or 610,400 to 915,600 tonnes of C02-e in a typical grain season, if 70% of grain growers had adopted VR-N and Lime techniques.

Whilst this is an impressive reduction, the associated benefit for growers is being able to demonstrate their pathway to a continuing reduction in their carbon footprint. This is something that domestic and international buyers are demanding.  Having access to future markets by having low emission grain, or even gaining a premium for such, are on the table.

And a co-benefit to the reduction in GHG emissions, growers will see an improvement in their soil productivity per hectare through reduced variability across paddocks and optimised nutrient levels for their crops.

We will continue to work with Australia’s growers, industry participants and collaborators to keep rolling out Variable rate solutions across Australia to bring these benefits to market as quickly as possible.

References:
* https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/products/insights/snapshot-of-australian-agriculture#agricultural-production-is-growing
** https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/products/insights/snapshot-of-australian-agriculture#agricultural-production-is-growing
^ Sevenster, Maartje; Bell, Lindsay; Anderson, Brook; Jamali, Hizbullah; Horan, Heidi; Simmons, Aaron; Cowie, Annette; Hochman, Zvi. Australian Grains Baseline and Mitigation Assessment. Main Report. Canberra: CSIRO; 2022. csiro:EP2022-0163. https://doi.org/10.25919/j7tc-kz48
# https://publications.csiro.au/publications/publication/PIcsiro:EP2022-0163## https://cdn.sanity.io/files/1nr0ob5f/production/c27896d2b04367c498a1ee7e4773cad7f8e91e0f.pdf

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