Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, and agriculture feels its effects in profound ways.
Farmers are particularly impacted by extreme weather conditions, which include drought, severe heat, flooding, and other shifting climatic trends. These all pose challenges for farmers as they work to grow enough food, which is why we’re devoted to finding ways to transform agriculture to be part of the solution in addressing climate change. By 2030, we commit to achieve 30 percent reduction of the field greenhouse gas footprint of our farming customers.
From contributor to mitigator
Although agriculture is a contributor to climate change, the industry plays a role in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxide that contribute to climate change
To help ensure a more sustainable future, farmers are taking steps toward a carbon-zero future: using cutting-edge tools and farming practices to remove as much—if not more—greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than a farmer emits. The development of climate-smart solutions including digital farming and improved plant breeding technologies will help reduce agriculture's impact on climate change in the future, and here are some of the many existing practices that are making a positive impact today:
With better weed-control solutions, farmers reduce the need to till, decreasing tractor passes over the field and allowing for less soil disruption. This not only curbs greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use, but when soil is left untilled it is better able to store carbon, as well as nutrients and water.
Digital tools and precision agriculture techniques enable farmers to have a more intimate and informed understanding of what’s happening in their fields. For example, Bayer is working on software platforms that offer monitoring tools which help farmers use pesticides more efficiently, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide runoff into water. Precipitation alerts let farmers know which fields may be too wet or too windy to apply pesticides so they can avoid costly treatments and unnecessary fossil fuel use. Satellite and drones provide real-time field health images that enable farmers to identify areas of crop stress or pest infestations, so that corrective actions can be taken quickly and efficiently. These tools help farmers optimize land use to grow enough food on less acreage, offering the potential to reduce the number of acres needed to feed a growing population.
Agriculture is also pioneering the use of microbes to enrich crops by helping plants harness and use nutrients and water more efficiently. Joyn Bio, a joint venture between Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks, is working to create microbes that will help crops like corn, wheat, and rice extract nitrogen from the air to use on their own. This would radically reduce the need for man-made fertilizer and be a powerful step towards a carbon-zero future for agriculture.
The largest source of atmospheric carbon related to farming occurs when agricultural expansion leads to deforestation or draining of wetlands, which reduces the ability of the natural ecosystem to absorb and store carbon. By developing solutions that help farmers grow enough on less land, agriculture is working to preserve natural habitats—even finding ways to help farmers identify areas of their land that would add more value to their operation as a biodiversity sanctuary to support animals, pollinators, and their surrounding environment.
Helping farmers manage changes in weather
Smallholder farmers are particularly dependent on climatic conditions to grow their crops. With an increasingly unpredictable climate, extreme weather conditions could threaten their entire harvest. To help, Bayer is committed to finding innovative ways to empower smallholders with access to tools, insights, and resources to mitigate these effects so they can cultivate their crops in spite of climatic challenges.
All crops need water to thrive, but too much water can be devastating. Rice is an important staple food for over 3.5 billion people, who rely on approximately 200 million small farmers to grow it.
By 2030, rice yields will have to rise by 30 percent—from the same area of arable land—to guarantee food security.
Flooding throughout the Mekong Delta in Vietnam has been a considerable challenge for smallholder farmers to cultivate their crops while meeting growing demand. If the rains are late, the sea can flood the rice paddies and salinize (or add salt to) the soil. To help smallholders withstand and overcome these challenges, Bayer’s “Much More Rice” program offers a comprehensive solutions program featuring innovative technologies such as hybrid seed that can withstand up to 14 days of being submerged.
On the other side of the spectrum, climate change can also create conditions that lead to drought. Wheat farmers in the Midwestern United States require about 50 centimeters (almost 20 inches) of precipitation per year, but in some years, they only get half of that. With drought as a considerable factor, recent studies estimate that wheat harvests could decline by 6 percent with every degree of climate warming.
The demand for wheat will increase by approximately 60 percent by 2050.
Many farmers use reduced-tillage methods to maintain moisture in the soil, but this can create opportunities for invasive weeds to compete with wheat plants for light, nutrients, and the very moisture farmers are working to conserve. At Bayer, we’re developing new and more effective crop protection solutions that are helping farmers manage their crops without leaving them vulnerable to additional threats such as weeds, insects, or disease.
One challenge with countless solutions
Climate change is a major challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for us to reimagine what we can accomplish through agriculture. In addition to developing new solutions to reduce agriculture’s impact on the environment, we’re also exploring how to shape agriculture to become part of the solution. As we work to accomplish both, we’re proud to empower farmers with the tools they need to grow their crops in spite of the many challenges they face as we all work toward addressing climate change.