Part of the series Harvesting Peril, about agriculture, climate change and the American Farm Bureau’s influence.
Growing crops, raising livestock and clearing land all produce greenhouse gases, so agriculture gives off lots of the pollution that is warming the planet. Scientists say that without significant changes, farming’s global warming footprint will grow rapidly in the next few decades. Farmers, along with the rest of us, would pay the price. But climate-friendly farming could help solve the problem by trapping carbon in the soil, improving its quality while offsetting dangerous emissions.
The practices farmers use for growing crops can increase or lessen emissions and the soil’s ability to store carbon. Chemical fertilizers, in particular, pose a triple threat for the climate.
Agriculture emissions don’t stop in the fields. Much of the country’s grain goes to feed livestock, which are a leading source of methane.
But while farms are emissions sources, they’re also important climate solutions. Farmers have a vested interest in reducing emissions, too: Rising global temperatures fuel heat waves, droughts and extreme rainfall that can destroy a season’s entire crop.
Potential for reining in these threats is just below the surface. Soils store two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere, which also creates the rich organic matter that food crops thrive on.