The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would invest $1 billion in pilot projects to encourage producers to adopt greener farming, ranching, and forestry practices.
The goal of investing in climate-friendly farming is to eliminate half of the farm industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to prepare the US to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
What is Climate-friendly Farming?
Climate-friendly farming refers to agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester (store) carbon and nutrients in plants and soil.
Examples of climate-friendly farming activities might be dairy farm projects to reduce methane emissions or the implementation of farming techniques that absorb carbon from the air and store it in the soil.
One inexpensive practice farmers could implement is restoring strips of native plants around fields (called prairie strips). The plants absorb and store carbon and nitrogen as they grow. They also minimize erosion and nutrient loss in soil and support other organisms. In particular, prairie strips mitigate nitrous oxide emission, which is “a greenhouse gas 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
Another climate-friendly measure is protecting wetlands, which sequester carbon, filter water, and support a healthy ecosystem for many organisms. This is recommended for farmers as wetlands are usually not profitable for growing crops.
Farmers can also choose to grow perennial crops. These crops live across several seasons and hence require fewer fertilizers. They also develop deeper roots that help bind the soil and collect water, preventing erosion. They can also use techniques like intercropping where two or more plants are grown together - not only do the plants benefit each other but also reduce the need for pesticides.
Why is Climate-friendly Farming Important?
Climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, which leads to crop and livestock losses and increases the chances of crop diseases. This affects the food supply and poses direct risks to people.
Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Farming emits greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide from the soil, methane from livestock, and other emissions from tractors, fertilizers, and transport.
However, adopting climate-friendly farming practices could change agriculture’s role in the climate crisis. According to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global croplands and grasslands could sequester about 8.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year, or 1.3 times the annual emissions produced in the US.
Not only do climate-friendly farming practices reduce the risks from climate change, but they could also benefit farmers in the long term.
Food companies and suppliers are trying to reduce their carbon footprints and consumers are looking for more sustainably-produced foods. By adopting climate-friendly practices, farmers could increase the value of their crops and products.
Clearly, climate-friendly practices can help transform agriculture from a problem into a solution.
Sources: Reuters, The Conversation, Earthjustice, Columbia.edu