Increasing Yields Decreases Green-house Gas Emissions

Interest in agricultural practices peaked around 1961, a time period which was eventually known as the Green Revolution. Currently, we are living during a time when a variety of methods is being sought to limit climate change, and agricultural practices also need to be considered as they also release greenhouse gases, which are the drivers for anthropogenic climate change. Burney et al. (2010) have considered three agricultural development scenarios. One (RW) is based on the real world situation, the second (AW1) focused on land expansion, and the third (AW2) is characterized by increased yield. The final recommendation was that if agricultural practices are carried out so that there is emphasis on the quantity of output rather than the quantity of input, there will be lower greenhouse gas emissions, thus making the third scenario the most beneficial for the climate. Nitya Chhiber
Burney, J.A.,Davis, S.J.,Lobell,D.B.,2010. Greenhouse gas mitigation by agricultural intensification. PNAS 107, 12052–12057.

Burney et al. (2010) wanted to understand the best combination of factors for ensuring the least impact of agricultural practices on climate. As certain parameters were difficult to measure quantitatively, they were converted to other units; for example, yield was measured using monetary values in the form of global spending on yield investment between 1961 and 2005. In this study other parameters that contributed to yield improvement, such as fuel use and transport were not considered. Graphs were drawn depicting emissions of nitrous oxide, methane, carbon dioxide that corresponded to levels of yield improvement.

Focus on outputs produced the least impact on climate. For example, increased yields that resulted from an increase in efficiency of fertilizer usage, was more effective in reducing emissions than increasing yields by agricultural land area. It was also found that the AW2 scenario minimized greenhouse emissions, not because AW2 was marked by yield improvements, but because it maintained 1961 standards of living and thus was characterized by an overall lower pressure on land by the population. Therefore land expansion, also known as extensification, was lessened in this particular scenario. 

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