Growing practice adjustments and location-based strategies to cut methane emissions
As CPGs, it is crucial to understand the impact of sourcing decisions on the environment, especially in the context of climate change. Although it is not often at the forefront of conversations about sustainable procurement, methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a warming potential 28-36 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, is a significant concern within the food industry. In fact, it accounts for an estimated 42% of global methane emissions.
Methane also dissipates in the atmosphere more quickly than other GHGs. This characteristic of the gas presents an opportunity for impactful short-term climate change mitigation strategies, as reducing methane production could have immediate and significant effects on reducing the overall GHG impact.
To minimize the environmental footprint of CPG products and contribute to a more sustainable global food system, procurement teams should be aware of the highest methane-producing ingredients and actively explore alternative growing or sourcing practices. In this article, we’ll provide key carbon strategies to ensure that you’re making environmentally responsible sourcing decisions and that your suppliers align with your ESG goals.
1. Ruminant Livestock – Beef and Dairy Products
Ruminant livestock is one of the primary sources of methane emissions within the global food and agricultural system. Cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats produce approximately 100 million metric tons of methane annually through enteric fermentation during which microbes break down complex carbohydrates, producing methane as a byproduct that is released into the atmosphere primarily through belching.
METHANE & CARBON REDUCTION STRATEGIES:
Regenerative agriculture practices can help reduce methane production in ruminant animals indirectly. While these practices do not inherently alter the digestive processes that produce methane, they can improve soil health, sequester carbon, and increase biodiversity in grazing lands. Healthier pastures with a diverse mix of plant species can lead to improved livestock nutrition and overall digestive efficiency, which may result in reduced methane emissions per unit of animal product. Additionally, regenerative agriculture practices could help offset methane emissions by increasing the carbon sequestration capacity of the soil, greatly reducing the environmental impact.
Seaweed in Cattle Feed
Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark are experimenting with a solution to reduce methane emissions from cattle by incorporating seaweed into their diet. They have found that adding a small percentage of specific seaweed species, such as Asparagopsis taxiformis, to cattle feed can substantially reduce methane emissions during enteric fermentation. This is because the bioactive compounds in seaweed inhibit the activity of certain microbes in the cow’s stomach, responsible for producing methane. By supporting producers who adopt this feeding practice, you may be able to contribute to the reduction of methane emissions while still offering beef-based products.
Consider promoting plant-based alternatives like soy, almond, or oat milk, and offering meat substitutes made from peas, lentils, or mushrooms. By reducing the reliance on ruminant livestock, you may be able to significantly reduce methane emissions associated with your products. It is essential to also emphasize the importance of regenerative practices with plant-based ingredients, as conventionally raised crops can have a high carbon footprint and negative environmental impacts, making sustainable agricultural methods crucial for both animal and plant-based food systems.
2. Rice Production
Rice produces 10% of global methane emissions. Rice paddies produce methane as a result of the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in waterlogged fields. The warmer and wetter the climate, the higher the methane production. Rice is a staple food for billions of people and it is essential to be aware of its environmental impact.
METHANE & CARBON REDUCTION STRATEGIES:
Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) can make a substantial dent in rice’s methane emissions, a few examples of CSA are as follows:
Alternative Wetting and Drying (AWD):
AWD is a water management technique where rice fields are allowed to dry intermittently between flooding periods instead of maintaining continuous flooding. This practice introduces aerobic conditions in the soil, inhibiting methane-producing microbes and thereby reducing methane emissions.
Instead of transplanting rice seedlings, direct seeding involves sowing seeds directly into the fields. This method reduces the period of flooding, which in turn lowers methane emissions.
Cultivating in Aerobic Soil Conditions:
Growing rice in aerobic soil conditions, where fields are not continuously flooded, can significantly reduce methane emissions. This practice allows oxygen to be present in the soil, suppressing methane-producing microbes.
Selection of Suitable Locations:
Choosing locations with well-drained soils or those less prone to waterlogging can help minimize methane emissions. Additionally, cultivating rice on slopes or elevated fields can facilitate better drainage and aeration, reducing the conditions that favor methane production.
Introducing crop rotation with non-rice crops, such as legumes, can improve soil health and reduce methane emissions. The non-rice crops introduce oxygen into the soil, which inhibits the activity of methane-producing microbes.
Incentivizing these practices and using location-based strategies may allow rice production to become more sustainable and contribute to the reduction of methane emissions in the global food supply.
3. On-Farm Food and Crop Waste
On-farm food and crop decomposition is a significant contributor to methane emissions. It occurs when crops are damaged, left un-harvested due to price fluctuations or supply chain inefficiencies, lost during harvesting, or deemed unsuitable for sale due to aesthetic or size requirements. Climate change is exacerbating this issue as it leads to more frequent and severe weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms, which damage crops and make it more difficult for farmers to predict yields accurately.
As the planet continues to warm, the risk of crop loss increases, resulting in higher volumes of organic waste left to decompose in the fields or be discarded. When this waste decomposes, it releases methane into the atmosphere. Moreover, the resources invested in producing these crops, such as water, fertilizer, and energy, are also wasted, further amplifying the impact on the environment.
METHANE & CARBON REDUCTION STRATEGIES:
To address on-farm food and crop waste, food and beverage professionals can support initiatives that work towards reducing waste at the source. Some strategies include:
Encouraging Crop Diversification:
Promote the use of biodiverse, climate-resilient crop varieties that can better withstand extreme weather events and minimize the risk of crop loss.
Contour Planting and Riparian Buffers:
Implementing riparian buffers and contour planting can reduce crop loss by stabilizing soil, preventing erosion, and promoting water infiltration, ultimately creating a more resilient agricultural ecosystem that can better withstand the impacts of extreme weather events and climate change.
Encourage the adoption of precision agriculture technologies, such as satellite imagery, GPS guidance systems, and drones, which help farmers optimize crop production and reduce waste by enabling more accurate predictions of yield and targeted application of resources.
As food and beverage professionals, we have a crucial role in addressing the challenges of climate change. By understanding the ingredients with the highest methane-producing potential, we can make informed decisions about sourcing, innovation, and R&D to reduce our environmental impact. Implementing these strategies and supporting sustainable practices allows food and beverage professionals to help mitigate methane emissions and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable food system. Learn more about how you can use HowGood’s sustainability intelligence platform to reduce carbon and methane emissions.