Climate Change Mitigation and Agriculture
Most scientists agree: Climate change is happening and can affect all of us. It’s caused by high levels of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, building up in the atmosphere. The farmers who grow food for our balanced meals are especially affected by drought, severe weather and other impacts of climate change. These events can challenge farmers, large and small, in their efforts to have the best possible harvests.
But here’s the good news: Climate change mitigation and agriculture go hand in hand. That’s because plants have a remarkable ability to absorb carbon from the air and store it in the soil. And that’s a good place for carbon to be. There, it improves soil health and keeps greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Farmers are already putting climate change mitigation strategies to work in several ways:
In the past, almost all farmers used tillage to loosen the soil for planting and to help with managing weeds. There are two downsides to tillage: Disturbing the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere and tillage requires the use of a tractor, which burns fuel and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
One way farmers help keep carbon stored in the soil is by adopting reduced tillage practices. This is the farming practice of minimally disturbing the soil or not disturbing it at all. With less carbon making its way into the atmosphere, there is less buildup of greenhouse gases.
The National Corn Growers Association and the Soil Health Partnership, in collaboration with Monsanto, are working with growers to establish more than 100 test sites to demonstrate the highest impact cropping rotations and systems to aid in greenhouse gas emission reductions and improving soil health.
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To achieve the best harvests, farmers often need to apply nutrients like fertilizer and manure to their fields. This helps crops grow stronger. But these nutrients also release a gas called nitrous oxide. Another name for this substance is laughing gas, and your dentist may use it when working on your teeth. But when it comes to climate change, nitrous oxide is no laughing matter. It’s a potent greenhouse gas.
Today’s farmers are using data science that lets them know just how much fertilizer to use when and where, along with the precision equipment to put it there. That means greater efficiency, less waste and potentially less use overall which helps reduce the greenhouse gases that end up in the atmosphere. Plus, it saves farmers time and money.
Using Data Science:
After harvest and between primary growing seasons, farmlands often lay bare. This leaves the soil exposed to wind and rain, causing it to break apart and erode. In turn, this can release carbon that’s been stored in the soil throughout the growing season.
Today, many farmers are turning to a technique that’s actually been around for thousands of years, the planting of cover crops. Cover crops, like rye grass, are grown between primary crop seasons to protect the soil and keep carbon from being released into the atmosphere. And like all plants, they also absorb carbon dioxide from the air. It’s a win-win.
It’s going to take many small steps and contributions to combat climate change. Farmers, environmentalists and agricultural companies like Monsanto can play important roles in climate change mitigation and adaptation by working together to find and implement solutions. Learn more about our efforts to help farmers grow enough food more sustainably.