Agustín del Prado is a researcher for the Basque Centre for Climate Change and last September he took part in a course in estimation and reduction of greenhouse gases in farming, area in which he does research, organised by CIHEAM Zaragoza.
What is the relationship between greenhouse effects emisions and crops?
Land farming to produce food involve a series of managements which mean emissions, mainly of nitrous oxide coming from mineral as well as organic fertilisation, and from other related activities, such as the use of machines, farms’ supplies, use of fuels… All these things have a heavy enviromental impact.
There are certain crops, such as rice, which due to being flooded for so long, favour methane emissions, which is highly polluting too.
How can this situation be reversed?
There are a lot of ways, like reducing the intensity of land working, adjusting the use of fertilisers to the amount the crop requires and applying it at the right moment, using carbon sequestration, such as woody crops or slurries and manure.
How can this affect production practices?
This is, precisely, what was discussed in the course, the cost-efectiveness relationship it has. The measurements we tend to promote not only don’t have a serious financial harm, but also they can benefit farmers in economic terms because performance can be increased and emissions can be reduced at the same time. There are some options such as fertilisers with suppressors, but they are rather expensive and, unless they are subsidised or products can be sold with a premium value, farmers will not use them.
How does farming have to evolve, what is being done well and what isn’t?
A lot of factors are given by the background, so it is difficult to set the ethical question. The use of fertilisers, for instance, has decreased because their price has gone up and farmers have become sensitive to the fact that it is a resource which cannot be wasted.
For example, in Aragón the difference between irrigated and non-irrigated lands have to be taken considerably into account. We should be specially careful to areas where there is water scarcity in themselves, as prospects are even far worse. Not only due to emissions, but also due to these systems sustainability. They can be efficient but we have to consider water restrictions, where it is obtained, the hectares to be used… so that it can be sustainable as well as efficient. This subject arises interesting questions coming to terms with fodder and for animal consumption crops, but any measurement taken must be specific to each area.
What could be the role of organic farming in this process?
In my view, the most logical would be to approve strategies aimed at boosting this kind of productive systems, which are less agressive to lands than others. On the whole, a more extensive farming is more likely to reach what is sustainable. In addition, we cannot ignore that the main problem of rural areas in Spain is depopulation, we should bet on stopping the emptying of these areas and people’s disengagement to lands.