”We have developed a new and more sustainable method of grain cultivation that cuts its environmental impact by 20 percent. So far, 70 000 tonnes of such wheat has been harvested in Sweden. It has cut carbon dioxide emissions by around 6,000 tonnes”, says Claes Johansson, Head of Sustainability at Lantmännen.

Focus on the farm

lm1”From field to fork, food consumption accounts for a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. The major part of this is farming-related. To reduce the carbon footprint of the dinner table, we begin with the most important step: improving the cultivation methods used on the farms. Our new climate clever concept is the result of research, development and cooperation between our owners – the Swedish farmers. Lantmännen is among the first in the world to use this approach for large-scale grain farming”, Claes says.

The new method is based on a number of steps, all reducing environmental impact:

  • Environment friendly mineral fertiliser. The fertiliser is produced with the help of technology reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Precision farming. Fertiliser amount and distribution is tailored to actual needs.
  • Green energy. Production using electricity with guarantees of origin.
  • Ecodriving. Tractors, farm machines and other vehicles are used energy efficiently, and drivers are trained in ecodriving.
  • Energy monitoring at the facilities. Consumption is analyzed and measures are taken to maximize energy efficiency.

”What makes the cultivation method unique is that important measures and technical solutions are integrated and adopted at selected farms to create a more sustainable product. For us, it is a way to illustrate how conventional farming can develop in a sustainable direction”, Claes Johansson says.

Mineral fertiliser

Production, transportation and use of mineral fertilisers contribute directly and indirectly to emissions of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Fertilisers also enhance agricultural productivity and stimulate CO2 uptake by the crop. They increase yield and reduce the necessity to cultivate new land. In the fertiliser’s life cycle, both emissions and uptakes of greenhouse gases occur.

According to chemical company Yara – the world’s leading producer of mineral fertilisers, with a production facility in Landskrona – ammonium nitrate based fertilisers are suitable for the European soil and climate conditions. Ammonium nitrate is made up of ammonia and nitric acid. Its carbon footprint depends on the energy consumption, the feedstock used in the ammonia production and the N2O emissions from nitric acid production. Using BAT (best available technique, as defined by EU) for production processes results in 50 percent less emissions than the emissions of an average European plant not operating with BAT.  According to Yara, plants outside Europe generally have even higher footprints than average European.

Yara has developed a catalyst technology reducing N2O emissions from nitric acid plants by as much as 90%. Their fertilizers sold in Sweden have a carbon footprint below the European BAT level (3.6 kg CO2-eqvivalents per kg N for fertilizers that use ammonium nitrate as the nitrogen source). This also means that they fulfil the emission standard (4 kg CO2 per kg N) set by the Swedish food industry for climate branding (www.klimatmarkningen.se).

Precision cultivation

Precision cultivation means that nutrients are added only where they are needed by the growing crop. Phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) that is not absorbed by plants leak into lakes, rivers and oceans, causing eutrophication. Precision cultivation is also beneficial in a climate perspective, and serves the financial interests of the farmer as well.

“In precision farming, a tractor-mounted tool called N sensor is used to vary the application rate of nutrients. The sensor measures the fertiliser requirement as the tractor passes. Compared to traditional grain farms, “sensor farms” are both more eco-friendly and more profitable”, Claes Johansson explains.

A comprehensive environmental perspective

Besides the smaller carbon footprint, Lantmännen’s sustainable wheat cultivation concept also contains steps promoting biodiversity and reducing environmental impact in other ways, for instance:

  • Maintaining agricultural orderliness; this includes measures such as soil mapping, cropping plans, and nutrient balances.
  • The LRF program Focus on Pesticide Use is to be followed.
  • By leaving “lark squares” – patches of unsown ground – sky larks are enabled to land and forage for food in the bare soil. Every hectare should contain 16 – 20 square meters of lark squares. In the last 35 years, 75 percent of larks have disappeared from the agricultural land; dense vegetation, intensified grassland management and crop diversity loss are some of the causes.
  • To make sure that licensing requirements, regulations and standards are met, a third of the farmers are audited by an independent third party. The company responsible for the auditing in Sweden is Intertek.

”The criteria for sustainable farming can be applied to all crops, but certain adaptations are necessary – i.e. depending on whether the crop is sown in spring or in autumn. We hope that this method of farming will inspire others, and that it becomes standard practice. Our ambition is to stay one step ahead, and we will continue to develop the cultivation concept”, says Claes Johansson.

The article was published in March 2016.