Summary: One of the key debates relating to the transition of agriculture to a more sustainable business model relates to the use of synthetic fertiliser. On one hand, nitrogenous fertilisers are recognised as being one of the contributors to the so called green revolution, which saw greatly increased crop yields and agricultural production. The flip side is that their production is a major producer of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, and their use is now widely seen as having serious side effects including runoff related pollution and soil degradation. So, the question posed, is a key one - both in terms of climate change and the renovation of our soils and rural environment.
Why this is important: Many companies rely on our agricultural supply chains (think food producers and supermarkets for instance), so it’s a big long-term issue all investors should be considering. Recent food supply disruption and price inflation has brought it more to the fore.
The big theme: Agriculture (and its sibling, aquaculture) sit at the intersection of a number of UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). As one reads through the list of goals they are either directly relevant (for example goal 2: zero hunger or goal 3: good health and well-being) or have a causal relationship (for example, education improving with better nutrition and less pollution). Reforming agriculture is going to require massive social and economic change and disruption, to production methods, to supply chains and to employment. It’s not clear (yet) that the political will to change fast enough really exists, which could mean faster and more dramatic change needs to come in the future.
The chart below from Our World in Data has been regularly republished by commentators to highlight one of the risks of stopping oil and gas production: we will not be able to produce synthetic fertilisers (mostly nitrogenous fertilisers), which in turn means that we cannot produce enough food to feed half of the World population.