You Need to Understand the Relationship Between Agriculture and Climate Change

You know climate change is a hot-button issue, but which industries are causing it? The simplest answer is all of them. Countless sectors around the world emit harmful gases, suck up resources, and pollute lands and waterways. However, some have a more prominent hand in global warming than others — including agriculture.

Growing food and raising animals requires a lot of energy and resources. It’s no wonder that farming contributes 10% to European greenhouse gas emissions, especially when current techniques are anything but eco-conscious. The world needs food to survive, so there’s no stopping industrial agriculture — but it doesn’t have to destabilise the environment, either.

It’s hard to ignore the realities of an ever-warming world, and ideally, no one should. The agricultural industry must conduct a massive overhaul of its current practices to avoid pushing the planet closer to permanent harm.

Livestock’s Influence

Most people know livestock’s influence on global warming — veganism is popular for a reason. Cows release methane in their belches and manure, contributing to 65% of total livestock emissions. Pigs, buffalo and chickens follow behind cows in their emission rates.

Raising these animals for food puts a significant strain on the environment, but it’s unlikely that farmers will make a mass shift away from animal farming. Many people still love meat, and they like to have it as conveniently as possible. Industrialisation keeps meat companies afloat.

Scientists have brainstormed techniques such as changing the cows’ feed to reduce their methane emissions. Protein-rich concentrates serve better than their usual grass diets for decreasing greenhouse gases. However, cattle still need grass to stay healthy enough for food production, which sparks some debate over animal welfare vs. environmentalism.

Crop Farming

Monocrops like rice, soy and coffee destroy soil health and fertility because farmers replant them in the same spots every year. Doing this sucks nutrients from the ground and leaves little behind for the next harvest, creating plants that are below their maximum growth potential. Agriculturists use chemical fertilisers to remedy the issue, but this releases nitrous oxide — another greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere and local waterways.

Commercial farms plant monocrops because they earn tons of money and are technically easier to raise. Planting the same crops across your farm reduces the maintenance you put in because they all require the same growing conditions. However, it also boosts the chances of pest infestations and diseases — pests that attack one plant will target the rest. Big farms treat their crops with pesticides to prevent plant death, but this whips up more pollution.

Rising Temperatures and Weather Fluctuations

Temperatures rise as climate change wears on, disrupting farmers’ efforts to raise viable crops. The planet’s surface air temperature has increased by 1.41 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. Colder regions heat up, and warm locations become even hotter, causing once-thriving plants to succumb to unfamiliar temperatures. Crop yields will inevitably decrease as these organisms struggle to survive in conditions they haven’t adapted to. Growers lose profit as a result — this can ruin the livelihood of small farmers.

Weather fluctuations across Europe have affected water availability, harvest transportation and livestock watering. Extreme weather events destroy crops before farmers can harvest them, causing revenue loss and product shortages. They make up for these losses with subsidies supplied by the EU common agricultural policy, which consists of 46% of their income. However, these payments have links to greenhouse emissions and higher rates of nutrient pollution.

There’s a loss in either scenario, whether it happens to the farmers or the environment. However, hope remains on the horizon for those willing to adopt better methods.

Sustainable Agriculture

Farmers fight against climate change in numerous ways. Many agriculturists advocate for a turn to organic, sustainable farming, shunning the use of chemicals and commercial growing methods. Industrial farms concern themselves with providing the most yield for the most money, but smaller farms prefer earth-friendly processes.

Keeping nitrogen and carbon in the ground is a major objective. Plants store carbon dioxide underground, but current agriculture methods, like tilling, release this gas back into the air. No-till farming and cover cropping keep the soil relatively undisturbed and nutrient-rich, stopping carbon release. Intercropping involves planting two or more crops in the same area, which preserves soil nutrition and biodiversity.

Other farmers have turned to integrative systems to combine livestock and crops within the same farm. Commercial industries have notoriously kept these two separate, but this only aids in creating fossil fuels. Agriculturists transport feed for cows, chickens and pigs across long distances — which is less convenient and causes air pollution. Combining farming systems produces less waste and pollution and diminishes the need for chemical fertilisers.

Stifle Global Warming With Sustainable Farming

Making the switch to organic farming will do a great deal to slow rising climate change issues. Stabilising the environment requires effort from every industry. Agriculture is ripe for innovations in producing food and goods — it’s time for more farmers to join the movement.

Megan Ray Nichols

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