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Charting a Path to Carbon-Neutral Agriculture


In a report for Monsanto Company, ICF assessed the potential of Crop Based Strategies (CBS) to support achievement of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) 2050 Vision goals of increasing crop yields, increasing carbon sequestration in soils, and improving use of plant materials as well as their goal of working toward carbon neutrality in harvesting biomass. ICF evaluated four CBSs for this study:

  • CBS 1: Sustainable Nutrient Management
  • CBS 2: Sustainable Tillage and Cover Crops
  • CBS 3: Produce Ethanol from Corn and Corn Stover to Offset Fossil Fuel Emissions in the Transportation Sector
  • CBS 4: Optimize the Use of Excess Crop Residues

ICF conducted a life-cycle assessment to estimate the change in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the adoption of these alternative crop based management strategies. In particular, ICF evaluated the life-cycle GHG emissions associated with production of upstream input products (e.g., seeds, fertilizers, nitrogen and urease inhibitors, pesticides, production of fuels for on-site use) and downstream sources (e.g., (i) nitrous oxides from volatilization of nitrogen (N) and leaching and runoff of N from fertilizers; and (ii) net emissions associated with the use of by-products (e.g., distiller grains replacing animal feed, corn oil displacing soy oil and biodiesel)). GHG emissions that occur on-site include those from crop production (e.g., use of fertilizers, tillage practices), ethanol production, biochar production and the resulting field application of the biochar, and co-firing corn stover with coal. 

ICF carried out this study to improve the understanding of the effectiveness of different strategies for reducing GHG emissions and to provide an upper-bound estimate of the mitigation potential for on-farm and life-cycle GHG emission reductions in 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050. The results of our findings will support the global dialogue on the most feasible methods for reducing emissions from crop production and offsetting fossil fuel emissions using biomass while maintaining or increasing farm productivity.