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 Unique opportunities in the agriculture sector | Climate smart agriculture | Cropping | Livestock | Energy

Farmers and ranchers in Alberta have many opportunities to continue to show leadership to deal with concerns about climate change. Climate-smart management of cropping, livestock and energy systems also brings many benefits to farming operations.

Unique Opportunities in the Agriculture Sector

Unlike most other sectors, agriculture can do more than just reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural management can also remove and store (sequester) emissions as soil carbon, and/or replace fossil fuel emissions with a range of bio-based renewable energy feedstocks.

This range of opportunities offers many co-benefits of efficiency improvements, cost savings as well as increased adaption to changing climates. For example, using conservation tillage to increase soil carbon storage also lowers fossil fuel use. Conservation tillage also improves moisture infiltration and nutrient cycling, which increases the capacity of soils to adapt to variable climate conditions.


About half of Alberta’s agricultural emissions are from crop production. These are primarily from fertilizers and manures, as well from fuel use and tillage.

Nitrous oxide from fertilizer and manure are emitted from soils in warm, wet conditions. Management that optimizes a crop's use of nutrients using timing, placement, product and rate of nutrient source lowers nitrous oxide emissions. Collaborative research to test the impact of managing these factors in Alberta conditions is currently underway by staff with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Further efficiency improvements are expected from new technologies that are currently developing in the fertilizer industry.

Alberta’s cool dry climate is very well suited to increasing rates of soil carbon storage of the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by growing crops. Emissions from agricultural operations are lowered by practices like conservation tillage and reduced summer fallow. These practices also lower fuel use which increases efficiency and improves soil quality, which supports adaptation to changing climates. Rotations that include perennial crops bring similar benefits, and provide opportunity to break disease and pest cycles, protect soils from erosion and access water at deeper depths than the shallow roots of annual crops.

Other ways that farmers and ranchers can increase carbon storage is by planting trees or shrubs. Trees and shrubs can act as buffers that help trap nutrients and protect waterbodies from erosion. Shelterbelts give co-benefits of trapping snow. Biomass from woodlots and interplanting with crops and pastures can also become a feedstock for renewable bioenergy.

  • Climate Smart Agriculture in Alberta - Cropping Systems
  • Soil Organic Carbon
  • Greenhouse Gases and Agro Forestry in Alberta

    Other Information:

  • Impact of Cropping Practices on Soil Health, Crop Productivity and Profitability (Alberta Pulse Growers)
  • GHG Improvement (Canola Council of Canada)
  • Lowering GHG in Grain Production (Western Grains Foundation)
  • Cropping Practices to Lower GHG from Dairies (Dairy Farmers of Canada)
  • Managing Agricultural Land for GHG Mitigation (Includes cost estimates, UDSA)
  • Cover Crops (USDA / Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education)


    About half of agricultural emissions in Alberta come from digestion by cattle and decomposing manure.

    Efficiency improvements lowered greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of live weight of Canadian cattle by 14% in 2011 as compared to 1981. Lower emissions resulted from improved reproductive rates, as well as increased average daily gains, slaughter weights and crop yields. These improvements reduced breeding herd requirements by 29% and land base requirements by 24%, with associated cost savings. Water use intensity per kilogram of boneless beef also decreased by 17% from 1981 to 2011.

    Other strategies to lower cattle emissions include shorter days to harvest and improved feed quality. Alberta researchers are global leaders in selecting genetic traits to improve feed efficiency in beef cattle, which lowers greenhouse gas emissions and costs. Further efficiency improvements are expected in new Alberta research that is currently developing in the area of cattle feed additives.

    Manure emissions are affected by types of storage, field application rates and methods, as well as soil conditions. Timing the land application of this nutrient-rich material as closely as possible to growing crop needs improves nutrient use, while reducing losses of nutrients to the environment. Manure additions to soils also provide important soil carbon benefits to soils that are low in organic matter.

    Livestock have a key role in lowering Alberta's agricultural greenhouse gas emissions since they consume perennial crops that store significant amounts of soil carbon. Perennial crops also provide an important break in disease and pest cycles in annual cropping systems. Land used for grazing also provides essential ecosystem service benefits, such as water infiltration, runoff control and wildlife habitat.

  • Climate Smart Agriculture in Alberta - Beef Production
  • Residual Feed Intake (Net Feed Efficiency) in Beef Cattle
  • Video: Will Residual Feed Intake Studies Mean a Lower C Footprint for Cattle Producers?
  • Manure Management and Greenhouse Gases
  • Cow/Calf Operations and Greenhouse Gases
  • Hog Operations and Greenhouse Gases

    Other Information:

  • Environmental Footprint Beef Production(Beef Cattle Research Council)
  • Nutritional Changes that Reduce GHG (Dairy Farmers of Canada)
  • Manure Management to Reduce GHG from Dairies (Dairy Farmers of Canada)
  • Animal Agriculture (USDA) in a Changing Climate – Mitigation of GHG Emissions (Texas A&M/USDA)


    Increased efficiency of energy use not only lowers emissions and results in productivity improvements, but also lowers costs. The reports listed below highlight key considerations for farmers and ranchers.

  • The First Steps to Energy Management: Save Energy and Money.
  • Beneficial Management Practices: Environmental Manual for Crop Producers in Alberta - Energy Inputs
  • Greenhouse Gases in Alberta’s Agri Food Industry
  • Factsheets on technologies to increase on-farm energy efficiencies
    Replacing fossil fuels with renewable biologic feedstocks lowers emissions from the extraction and combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. Biogas can be generated from anaerobic digestion of agricultural waste materials like manure. The resulting digestate is a nitrogen-rich material that can be used as a fertilizer. For more information, please see:
  • Climate Smart Agriculture in Alberta - Renewable Energy Potential
  • Energy Opportunities - Anerobic Digestion for Methane Production in Alberta
  • Integrating Biogas, Confined Feeding Operations and Ethanol Production

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    For more information about the content of this document, contact Sheilah Nolan.
    This document is maintained by Laura Thygesen.
    This information published to the web on January 9, 2017.
    Last Reviewed/Revised on February 14, 2019.