The Relationship Between Agriculture and Climate Change
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Agriculture and climate change are inextricably linked. Agriculture is responsible for ten percent of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions. It also causes other environmental degradation, including soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and heavy water usage. Climate change harms agricultural production by causing higher average global temperatures, more droughts and heat waves, and more intense hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Sustainable agriculture combines adaptations to climate change with practices that reduce emissions and environmental degradation. It is an incredibly important tool for slowing climate change, improving environmental health, and allowing all people access to healthy and nutritious food.
Scientists and farmers have devised ways agriculture can be more sustainable. Educating ourselves on where our food comes from and how it can be more sustainably produced is an important facet of climate change action.
Sustainable Agricultural Practices
- Crop rotation and diversity
- Cover crops
- Reduced or no tillage
- Drip irrigation
- Selling locally
Crop Rotation and Diversity
Different crops absorb different nutrients from the soil, so changing the crops you plant every year can prevent soil from being depleted of one nutrient. For example, corn requires a lot of nitrogen to grow. If you plant corn in the same spot every year, the soil will run out of nitrogen, so you’ll have to use more fertilizer that can harm local waterways when it becomes runoff. Instead you can alternate corn and soybeans each year, because the latter puts nitrogen back into the soil, reducing the need for fertilizer. Intention rotation and diversity of crops can maintain the health of the soil and keep pests and diseases at bay.
The purpose of cover crops is to reduce soil erosion, maintain the health of the soil, keep pests away, and increase biodiversity. Cover crops have also been found to increase crop yield and attract pollinators. Popular cover crops include rye, wheat, barley, oats, grasses, and legumes.
Reduced or No Tillage
Tilling has been traditionally used to eliminate weeds, introduce nutrients, and prepare the soil for seeds. This process often increases soil erosion and water demand. There are many benefits to reduced or no-till farming, including reducing soil erosion, maintaining soil structure and nutrients, and increasing water retention.
This type of irrigation differs from spray systems because it targets the exact spot where a crop is planted. An irrigation tube sits right above the crops and applies the appropriate amount of water. Drip irrigation reduces harmful runoff and evaporation, decreasing the amount of water needed for each crop to grow.
Farmers’ markets are a great way to reduce carbon emissions from transporting foods long distances. It also builds relationships and a sense of community. You can find farmers’ markets near you using this website or your local community resources.
The Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) has been introduced into the United States Congress. This bill is farmer and research-driven, aiming to reach net zero emissions and promote sustainable agricultural practices. It has been endorsed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. You can learn more about the ARA on this website. If you would like to show your support for this bill, you can contact your Senators and Representatives to urge them to support it, too.
Ways You Can Support Sustainable Agriculture
- Implement sustainable practices in your home garden
- Buy from local farmer’s markets
- Volunteer at a sustainable farm
- Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program
- Vote for candidates who support sustainable agriculture