Are Farms the Hidden Key to Fighting Climate Change?

Emily Folk

Climate change, as we now experience it, isn't just about belching smokestacks and tailpipes on the highway. One of the leading sources of anthropogenic carbon emissions is from industrial farming. Fortunately, sustainable agriculture will not only reduce emissions, but ultimately increase yields in a changing climate.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas primarily responsible for emissions, is at an all-time high. CO2 absorbs solar energy and keeps heat near the planet's surface ⁠— a process known as the greenhouse effect.

Svante Arrhenius first discovered the link between global warming and CO2 from burning fossil fuels in 1896. Today, climate change refers to complex shifts in the planet's weather systems driven by greenhouse gases.

Starting from the ground up

You might think power plants billowing out smoke or traffic-filled roads are to blame for climate change. However, there is a significant source of carbon emissions you might overlook — soil, specifically peat. Peat is the accumulated semi-decomposed plant remains that are immensely carbon-rich.

Many living peatlands have vanished due to clear-cutting and drainage for plantations. When you drain peat soil, it shrinks and compacts, causing the ground to sink and the carbon to react with oxygen, forming CO2. Every hectare — approximately 2,471 acres — of tilled peat soil with a water table of 50 cm or more below the ground surface emits between 12 and 30 tonnes CO2 equivalent. That number is more than 10 times the emissions of a modern car traveling 10,000 miles a year.

As agriculture continues to industrialize, it has become the second-largest leader in greenhouse gas emissions. Now, it's time for a change.

Sustainable agriculture and carbon farming

Modern agriculture needs to change if we hope to save our environment and fight climate change. For decades, farmers have produced the bulk of the food we eat through industrial agriculture. This field is dominated by large farms that grow the same crop each year and use vast amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that damage the soil, water and air.

Conventional farming practices, such as tillage, forest conversion and the use of synthetic fertilizers, all work like draining peat. They move the carbon from the soil and into the atmosphere. It's a system that misuses and degrades the resources it depends on, robbing nutrients from the ground and altering the natural carbon cycle.

It's a system that can't last. Is there a way to prevent mass environmental damage while maintaining a profitable industry?

Sustainable agriculture uses the latest science-based practices to maximize productivity and profit while minimizing environmental damage. Yet what exactly is it?

It's not a rule book. Instead, it's' a complex idea with many different facets, including:

  • Economic: A farm should be profitable and contribute to a robust economy.
  • Social: A farm should be fair to its workers and have beneficial relationships with the surrounding community.
  • Environmental: A farm should exhibit proper management of the natural resources relied on, including soil and water.

Carbon farming is an approach to sustainable agriculture that restores land and draws carbon from the atmosphere to the soil. By restoring carbon levels, farmers can rebuild soil fertility and increase yields.

The farming fight against climate change

As we discover the impact farming can have on climate change, it's vital to invest in regenerative land management and understand the role carbon plays in the farm ecosystem. Farmers can take action and fight for our environment.

Research sustainability certifications, such as through the Scientifically Certified Systems Global Service. While the adoption process can be rigorous, there are several benefits in the agriculture industry.

We might be years away from roads full of green cars and backyards filled with solar panels. However, there are ways we can all take action and fight climate change. It's undeniable — agriculture plays a significant role in global warming. Change starts with the way farmers treat the Earth and the natural resources they work with.


Land & Agriculture