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16 February, 2022

Australian grain found to be a world leader in low emissions intensity production

Australian grain growers are producing low emissions intensity, high quality cereals, pulses and oilseeds, according to a new report released by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

GRDC Chair and Goondiwindi grain grower, John Woods.

The  report, Australian Grains Baseline and Mitigation Assessment, found that the Australian grains industry exhibits low greenhouse gas emissions for each tonne of grain produced compared to other grain producing regions and countries, including the EU, USA, Canada, Russia and Ukraine.

GRDC Chair and Goondiwindi grain grower, John Woods said Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO was commissioned to prepare the report to establish a detailed and robust greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions baseline for the Australian grains sector and explore mitigation opportunities that maintain or increase profitability.

“The risks of climate change and climate variability including low rainfall and increased temperatures to the Australian grains sector are significant,” Mr Woods said. 

“Yet climate challenge creates new opportunities for innovation and growth for the agricultural sector, and with the right approach, Australia’s grain sector can prosper in a changing environment.

“Grain growers manage about four per cent of the Australian continent with 22,300 grain farms covering an estimated 31 million hectares, so they play an important part in delivering economic and environmental outcomes on behalf of the broader community.

“As growers we continue to apply farming practices that result in world-leading low emissions intensity grain production, while maintaining and improving profitability.”

Mr Woods said there were multiple drivers for the agricultural sector to investigate low emissions intensity opportunities, including market preferences, financial investment advantages and environmental considerations.

“International markets are now looking to source grain grown with the lowest emissions and they should be looking at Australian grain growers,” he said.

“We are amongst the most efficient producers in the world.”

CSIRO Senior Research Scientist, Dr Maartje Sevenster led the 18-month research initiative and
co-authored the report. 

She said the information provided essential baseline data around the current level of greenhouse emissions for the Australian grains industry.

“Having robust reference information for greenhouse gas accounting and assessing priorities for mitigation is essential,” Dr Sevenster said. 

“This type of information will also be increasingly important for the Australian grains industry in maintaining access to global markets.

“If Australia can produce grains to feed the world at relatively low greenhouse-gas intensity there is global benefit.”

To identify a GHG emissions baseline for the Australian grain production sector, CSIRO scientists used the 2005 baseline for Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement (COP 21). 

Their research found:

  • Emissions arising from Australian grain production in 2005 were 13.75 million tonnes CO2~e or 315 kg of CO2~e per tonne of Australian grain produced.
  • Approximately 60 per cent of these emissions are direct farm emissions.
  • The report notes that approximately 40 per cent are scope three emissions external to the farm gate, which include the emissions produced in the manufacture of the inputs growers use such as fertiliser
  • On-farm emissions from Australian grain accounted for 1.7 per cent of all of Australia’s national emissions reported in 2005-06.
  • Reducing overall net emissions of the Australian grains industry by 2030 is unlikely to be achieved without decreasing Australian production.
  • Any reduction in Australian grain production is likely to result in an increase in grain production in regions of the world that are not able to achieve the low emissions intensity of Australia, increasing global grains emissions.

“We focused our assessment of mitigation opportunities on measures that would maintain or improve average production across the sector and found that it is possible to increase production dramatically while keeping net on-farm emissions more or less constant,” Dr Sevenster said.

“While this is not the same as reducing emissions, it is a very important finding. 

“The next step is to determine what information and tools farmers need to make those modelled scenarios reality.”

Mr Woods said there was significant complexity in terms of greenhouse gas mitigation in grain production, however several opportunities existed to further reduce emissions intensity of Australian grain production.

“Six scenarios were modelled to reduce emissions intensity: current rotations and nitrogen rate, best practice nitrogen application, perfect nitrogen management, optimised rotation, green ammonia fertiliser and controlled traffic farming,” Mr Woods said. 

“These are key areas where GRDC has a long track record of research, development and extension (RD&E) investment and where we will continue to invest to drive profitability for growers and enhance environmental outcomes.”

Mr Woods said the CSIRO report indicated the collective adoption of modelled scenarios could reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity per tonne of grain by up to 15 per cent.

“This report has identified opportunities for further research and demonstrated that best practice farming has the potential to further reduced emissions intensity for Australian growers.”

He said the report’s findings gave the grains industry a realistic pathway towards reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of Australian grain production as part of a profitable grain growing business sector.

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