‘Digital farming’ aims to cut emissions, toxic runoff
First in a two-part series.
A climate revolution is starting to take root in the agricultural industry.
And it’s all due to a growing interest in synthetic microbes.
Advocates say these custom-designed microbes — when applied to either seeds or fields — can help corn, wheat and rice draw more nitrogen from the air. That means farmers won’t have to use as much chemical fertilizer.
The climate potential is significant. If farmers start to broadly use these microbes, supporters say, it could cut the planet’s greenhouse gases by 3 percent. As a bonus, synthetic microbes can reduce farmland water pollution, too.
That’s a big deal for aquatic life. When nitrogen-based fertilizers wash into streams and rivers, they help create toxic “dead zones.” There is one the size of New Jersey that lingers in the Gulf of Mexico.
For now, these goals are largely aspirational.