How John Deere and Case New Holland Industrial are helping redefine carbon-smart farming
Companies like John Deere and Case New Holland are taking some drastic measures in the interest of decarbonization. But what does that mean, and why are they doing it? Most importantly, how does it affect their customers and the future of farming?
Decarbonization is one of those words — like "organic" or "biweekly" — that doesn’t always mean what you’d think. Sometimes, it simply refers to removing carbon, but more often, it refers to creating a sustainable “carbon cycle,” either by making different choices about our carbon sources or by finding ways to balance what we put into the atmosphere with what we take out.
“Decarbonization is an increasingly important topic for us, especially when it comes to how our customers use our products,” said Kelly Hrajnoha, Sustainability Manager for CNH.
Why, relatively suddenly, has decarbonizing become so important? We are made of carbon, after all, and so are food, fuel, and much of our environment. What we’re up against, however, is an age-old problem: too much of a good thing.
For the past 275 years, give or take, starting with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, we’ve been on carbon overdrive, extracting incredible amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas from underground and turning it into heat, electricity, and other forms of energy. The problem? The planet has a delicately balanced carbon cycle. Animals breathe carbon dioxide in and out. Plants photosynthesize it. The land, sea, and atmosphere pass it back and forth.
However, the carbon we burn for energy is, in a sense, extra. If not for us, it would have remained deep underground for thousands — maybe millions — of years more. That extra carbon effectively traps more heat close to the planet, making it warmer on average as the years tick past and leading to social and environmental challenges.
Decarbonization is the catch-all term for decreasing the amount of “extra” carbon emitted. It doesn’t necessarily require us to use less carbon, but that we take it from sources that are already part of Earth’s balanced carbon cycle or that we manage the emissions sustainably (e.g., carbon storage or sequestration).
Businesses are under pressure to help carry out this decarbonization, including agricultural equipment manufacturers. Existing at the intersection of scientific research, technological innovation, resource management, and the fulfillment of basic human needs, major companies like John Deere and CNH Industrial have both the incentive and the means to make an impact — and that’s exactly what they are doing.
“The journey toward sustainability isn’t new for us. It’s an extension of our dedication to helping farmers maximize profitability while safeguarding their most precious resource: the soil,” said Oriana Lisker Bosin, Product Manager, Sustainability Solutions for John Deere. “One of the things relatively unique to agriculture is that profitability and environmental sustainability are complementary, not in conflict. When farmers reduce their inputs, their costs decrease and so does the size of their environmental footprint."
Some of the effort is directed internally to reduce the carbon footprint of production and business operations. For example, both companies are working to reduce water usage and waste intensity while increasing operational energy efficiency. Localized procurement, renewable energy, sustainable material choices, and circular design are also being emphasized, with each contributing in some way to either lower overall carbon usage or reduce reliance on fossil materials like coal and natural gas.
However, both companies also share a bigger goal: to dramatically decrease the total emissions associated with their products throughout their operational lifetimes and help farmers improve their precision agriculture practices.
For context, in 2022, CNH found that over 90% of the company’s associated emissions came from the use of sold products. Reducing those emissions means finding ways to lower the carbon intensity of agricultural products during their use phase — in other words, on the farm — which is where decarbonization begins to impact farmers in various ways.
“Efficiency, productivity, and longevity, all of which underpin sustainability, are very relevant to our customers’ needs across the board,” said Rob Zemenchik, Sr. Manager of Sustainability for CNH. “In particular, for our producer customers, being sustainable is what they’ve always done to ensure their farms carry on to the next generation.”
For these companies, helping customers on this journey is key to achieving their own business goals. Here are some of the major ways they’re doing it:
Empowering precision agriculture methods
Precision agriculture is a cornerstone of decarbonization efforts by both John Deere and CNH. By optimizing farm operations and helping farmers apply fertilizers and crop protection when and where they are needed, a precision approach not only minimizes emissions and ensures a lower carbon footprint but also empowers farmers. They can achieve better yields using fewer resources, leading to more sustainable and economically efficient farming. Recent innovations from John Deere, such as the company’s ST Series Strip-Till, See & Spray™ Ultimate, and ExactShot™, are designed for this purpose.
“It’s about doing more with less,” said Bosin. “Farmers are already some of the biggest environmental stewards out there — their livelihoods depend on it.”
CNH boasts its own impressive array of precision ag tools and also owns a dedicated innovation platform called AGXTEND, created to make the newest precision technologies constantly available to growers. These innovations, combined with data from connected products, provide farmers with real-time insights to optimize production, enhancing both their harvests and land care.
Testing alternative fuels and propulsion systems
Bioethanol, biodiesel, renewable diesel, hydrogen, methane, and biomethane are all being tested as propulsion options by large-scale equipment manufacturers. Moving away from fossil-based diesel and toward these more sustainable alternatives is a key pathway toward decarbonization since, in many cases, burning fuel is what accounts for the majority of emissions associated with agricultural vehicles and equipment, though per John Deere, fuel makes up only five percent or less of the carbon footprint of an acre of corn.
Certain types of biofuels and renewable fuels can also be used with no modifications to engines or storage infrastructure, meaning emissions reductions can be achieved immediately as opposed to over a longer period. Farmers may also see economic benefits when adopting alternative fuels, such as the ability to qualify for or participate in various government incentive programs. John Deere also recently unveiled a bioethanol-powered 9.0L concept engine at Agritechnica.
In a pilot program with partner Bennamann, CNH is in the process of augmenting multiple farms with a unique energy creation system that produces purified biomethane out of captured emissions from livestock manure. The biomethane can then be used to fuel farm vehicles or supply electricity, enabling the farm to become its own integrated energy provider.
Extending product lifespans
Additionally, both companies have initiatives designed to conserve manufacturing resources and keep machines going for longer, thereby creating measurable carbon footprint reductions while directly benefiting the farming community. John Deere Precision Upgrades provide customers with the opportunity to adopt the latest technology without purchasing new or used equipment. This gives them a faster return on investment while increasing the value of their current machine and improving operation efficiencies. For farmers, this matters.
“The number one concern for most farmers is profitability. Profit margins can be razor thin given timing challenges, labor shortages, extreme variability, and complicated decisions,” said Bosin.
Remanufacturing of John Deere’s machines has seen significant growth through John Deere Precision Upgrades. Similarly, CNH's Reman initiative focuses on remanufacturing components for global distribution to dealers and customers. This approach has also decreased the company's dependence on raw materials, with a reduction of over 5,100 tons in 2022 alone.
“Efficiency is a priority, and so is balancing short- and long-term considerations,” said Zemenchik. “Our customers have a tremendous responsibility to feed and shelter our world and to do so for the long haul.”
The efforts listed here are far from the only things that John Deere, CNH, and others in the agricultural sector are doing in the interest of decarbonization. While the results are important to the world at large as well as the companies themselves, the impact will largely be felt by farmers first, in a good way — giving them more control over more aspects of their products, their processes, and their livelihoods, creating both cost savings and new revenue opportunities.
For example, John Deere — and other companies like Farmers Business Network — offer technology that helps farmers decide which programs pay more for sustainable practices that are best for their individual operations. Those applications also enable farmers to enroll in the programs and facilitate gathering the information necessary to demonstrate compliance with each program’s respective requirements.
These programs are essential because about half of farmers do not enroll in sustainability programs because of a lack of information available about them. Documentation is a big hurdle, and these companies are working with others to make it easy across the industry as supply chains become more sustainability-focused.
Agriculture companies continue to invest in the development and production of technology that will help farmers take vital care of their greatest resource — the land — while creating enough food to nourish and sustain the entire
Farmers are at the center of a transformative shift. Historically, they have been stewards of the land, ensuring that their farms and families can flourish. Today, that role is increasingly intertwined with a larger one: ensuring a sustainable future for the whole world.