WPC 2021: Sustainability and policy are set to fundamentally reshape agriculture

20:26 PM | March 11, 2021 | Rebecca Coons

Sweeping policies targeting more sustainable farming are expected to drive widespread changes in the agribusiness value chain, including rapid adoption of integrated pest management and fertilizer use efficiency, according to a panel at the IHS Markit World Petrochemical Conference, currently underway in a virtual format.  

Steve Gillman, Agri-Food Policy And Sustainability Correspondent at IHS Markit, discussed European Union policies, specifically the Farm2Fork (F2F) strategy aimed at aligning the agrifood industry with EU’s net-zero carbon emissions goals. The F2F targets include targets of by 2030 reducing pesticide use by 50% and fertilizer use by 20%. While the paths to achieving these targets are still being hashed out at the national levels, the goal is to award farmers who use integrated crop management and make it easier for sustainable products to get approved. “Focus areas that are likely include precision ag, minimized nutrient release, and recycling of organic waste into renewable fertilizers,” Gillman says. The European Commission also wants to increase the total percent of farmland using organic practices to 25%. “The key challenge for that is that the current share of organic farming in the EU is around 8%,” he adds. 

Alberto Persona, Principal Analyst, Phosphate And Potash, IHS Markit, discussed sustainability trends in fertilizers and some of the potential tradeoffs, using the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework. “Defining sustainability is very difficult,” Persona says. Policies that force rural farmers to use fewer inputs to align with the Life on Land and Life Below Water SDGs could negatively impact farm incomes and food production, and thus be incompatible with the No Poverty and Zero Hunger SDGs.  

Georgy Eliseev, Principal Ammonia Analyst, IHS Markit, discussed the push to decarbonize ammonia through the use of new technologies. “The problem the industry faces is that ‘grey’ ammonia, the conventional method produced using hydrocarbons, is responsible for about 1% of global carbon emissions,” he says. Two routes under development are blue ammonia produced through electrolysis or water and green ammonia, which is conventional production with a sequestration step. Green ammonia would have the benefit of continuing to generate hydrogen for urea production, but requires sizable amounts of energy.  

Jonathan Shoham, Senior Consultant Analyst at IHS Markit, discussed the drivers of sustainable crop protection and methods of protecting yields with fewer inputs. Regulatory pressure on existing products—including requirements for re-registration and outright product bans—and more stringent requirements for regulatory approval of new products are reducing the number of tools a farmer has to work with.  Environmental awareness, policies like F2F, and the ability to measure smaller and smaller amounts of residue are also adding pressure for farmers. Newer, safer, and more biologically active products, along with new formulations, digital agriculture, genetically modified organisms and integrated pest management will help farmers manage with fewer crop protection options.