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Innovation pays off
A recently released study, conducted by Stanford Earth scientists, provides further confirmation that investing in agricultural innovation produces the two-fold benefit of allowing modern agriculture to intensify crop yields while doing it in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
The study – conducted by Jennifer Burney, Steven Davis and David Lobell – concludes that “advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere – the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.”
Moreover, because crop yields were improved it reduced the “need to convert forests to farmland, a process that typically involves burning of trees and other plants, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”
Remarkably, the researchers estimated that “if not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world’s total output of greenhouse gases since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.”
From an investment perspective, the researchers “calculated that for every dollar spent on agricultural research and development since 1961, emissions of the three principal greenhouse gases – methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide – were reduced by the equivalent of about a quarter of a ton of carbon dioxide – a high rate of financial return compared to other approaches to reducing the gases.”
“Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more ‘old-fashioned’ way of doing things,” said Burney, the lead author of a paper describing the study that will be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Steven Davis, a co-author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford, echoed Burney in saying:
“When we look at the costs of the research and development that went into these improvements, we find that funding agricultural research ranks among the cheapest ways to prevent greenhouse gas emissions.”
Of course, we at the Global Harvest Initiative have long understood that investing in agricultural research and innovation pays off in terms of better protecting the environment and allowing farmers to produce more with less land and water.
We also know that closing the global productivity gap to meet our growing population’s food needs by 2050 requires more investment in research and innovation to produce the new technologies that will help modern agriculture continue to be good stewards of the land and environment. Think about it this way, “without the advances in high-yield agriculture, several billion additional acres of cropland would have been needed” to farm. In no way, would that have been good for the environment.