Agriculture has a significant role to play in helping the country meet the Australian Government’s target of a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. Considered one of the hard-to-abate sectors, transformative change needs to occur across agriculture, fisheries and forestry to achieve this. Concurrently, the growing global demand for food and the Australian Government’s ambitious Ag2030 vision will increase production, undoubtedly leading to an increase in the sector’s energy use. As rural industries turn their focus to reducing emissions and switching to renewables to address climate risks, there is a call to identify transformative pathways to transition from dependence on petroleum diesel fuels.

The consumption of energy across agriculture, fisheries and forestry is heavily biased to petroleum diesel fuels, and recent price volatility and diesel fuel security concerns have highlighted just how vulnerable farmers, fishers and foresters are because of this reliance. While there are many hurdles that must be overcome to enable the transition away from diesel-powered equipment, there is also significant opportunity associated with shifting to more secure and affordable energy alternatives. Transition will require a long lead time and provisions to support incumbent energy systems.

To better understand what alternative energy options are most suitable for Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries, and to comprehend what is required to support this transformational change, AgriFutures Australia engaged Acclimate Partners to review how long change might take and what regulations and policies are required to ensure industries can continue to function during the transition.

Cassian Drew, Managing Partner at Acclimate Partners and lead author of the report The Diesel Transition: Petroleum diesel alternatives for the Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector, said the research highlighted the sector-wide opportunity for change.  

“Diesel is the most widely used source of energy in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries at 84% of total energy consumption. In the current climate this presents an opportunity to rethink the way agriculture operates in order to meet growing global food demands and emission reduction targets,” Mr Drew said.  

“The report recommends practical steps for a sector-scale transition to alternative energies, but a bold, coordinated approach from industry, government, manufacturers and the wider workforce is needed to make the switch.” 

Research partner Australian Farm Institute’s Katie McRobert echoed the sentiment, saying it’s important the transition is supported by a collaborative cross-industry, indeed cross-economy, effort.  

“Building on earlier work investigating energy needs of Australian agriculture, we now have a practical roadmap to deliver new energy technology for the sector. Homegrown solutions are being trialled and we can expect rapid uptake over the next four to five years,” Ms McRobert said.  Supply risks, rising prices and price volatility due to unstable energy markets and geopolitical tensions are a stark reminder of the sector’s vulnerabilities when it comes to reliance on diesel.  

AgriFutures Australia Manager, National Rural Issues, Jane Knight said there are many opportunities to reduce diesel consumption and a clear business case for rural industries to shift gear. 

“Battery electric and hydrogen fuel cells are the dominant technologies expected in future heavy machinery and equipment markets,” Ms Knight said. “Agricultural industries will likely benefit from new energy machinery advances in the freight and mining sectors, however a coordinated effort on both supply and demand sides will be required for equipment and new energy infrastructure. 

“We’ve seen evidence in the freight sector where prime movers have been retrofitted for battery electric operation, with electric trucks achieving a 300km range for between $14-$42 in comparison to a $116 diesel equivalent.” 

The research acknowledges economies of scale within agriculture are a limiting factor, yet the potential benefits are a strong motivator, with alternative energy expected to create an average of 34,000 new jobs annually to 2035.  

To reach Australia’s net zero goal, Ms Knight recognises that overcoming initial constrains in the growing alternative energy market will be key to change, and to support this the research outlines four recommendations to guide the transition: 

  1. Understand and map transition barriers 
  2. Establish incentives and coordinate planning  
  3. Introduce pilot transition programs 
  4. Harness the expertise of supporting sectors   

“Rural industries are under increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and diesel consumption in farm machinery is one area we can confidently transform. 

“This research paves a way for change and there is a huge opportunity for Australia to learn from international best practice in all areas of transition and become a leader in energy innovation.”  

Read the full report here.

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