Agriculture may be the key to saving the world from climate change. In the Anthropocene, we have come to realize that mankind’s actions have had a huge impact on the world’s climate. One factor that may come as a surprise to some is that agriculture, one of our oldest organized activities has become a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. While agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases are not necessarily a good thing, we now see that this economic powerhouse has the potential to make real change, if we can figure out how to mitigate climate change in agriculture.
How to Reduce Carbon Emissions in Agriculture
To lower the carbon score of agriculture will allow this reduced carbon intensity to be calculated into the sustainability of products derived from agricultural feedstocks and raw materials:
- Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable or regenerative agriculture has until recently been poorly understood and often overlooked. Agriculture can leverage Earth’s natural systems to pull significant levels of carbon and other gases with global warming potentials from the atmosphere. When sustainability is not considered, agriculture can also release GHG emissions such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
- Low-till and no-till farming practices help the soil to sequester more carbon and retain it.
- Improved high-potency microbial soil amendments – or soil “probiotics” – can be used to stimulate enhanced crop vigor, increased nutrient uptake, enhanced photosynthesis and substantial expansion of crop roots and the associated microbial populations associated with these now larger root systems and the elevated levels of complex carbohydrates being exuded from them.
- Use of cover crops keeps fallow fields from emitting carbon and instead conditions the soil
- Farmers who keep livestock as a complement to growing corn also have a source of organic, inexpensive fertilizer in the form of manure. By employing this manure, farmers keep the nutrients from the corn on their farms, without needing to buy or truck in synthetic fertilizers.
- The manure also can be placed in digesters that use natural yeasts to break down the manure, releasing methane which is then captured and used for energy as renewable natural gas—called biogas. Installing these digesters at farms in the area allows businesses to use the biogas to offset even more of the energy use, making the most of this renewable resource. The use of biogas will have the advantage of reducing GHG emissions from the manure, while also reducing the dependence on petroleum-based natural gas for energy.
- Regeneratively grown agriculture feedstock options also offer considerable sustainability, from sugar beets to sugarcane, to lignocellulosic sources such as rice straw, bagasse, and even woodslash. The necessity of adapting to crops around the world is reinforced by the geography.