How can agriculture help mitigate climate change?
Agriculture can play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change, which is a global crisis accelerating due to rising greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. A shift in agricultural practices can transform this sector. While agriculture has traditionally been a major contributor to greenhouse gases, it has the opportunity to be a significant solution for climate change mitigation.
Altering land management practices
Agricultural land represents a significant proportion of the world’s surface, and alterations in farming practices can influence the balance of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane emissions. One of the important ways agriculture can help is through carbon sequestration. This is the process where CO2 is captured from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. Practices such as cover cropping and crop rotation increase the organic matter in the soil, acting as carbon sinks and reducing carbon emissions.
Regenerative agriculture practices, including agroforestry, livestock integrations, reduced use of synthetic inputs, cover cropping, and conservation tillage, can enhance soil health, increase crop yields, and improve water quality. Furthermore, these techniques can curb soil erosion and promote carbon sequestration, contributing to the reduction of global warming. Alongside this, these practices can bolster food security by increasing agricultural productivity, making them a win-win solution.
The use of renewable energy sources in farming activities is another promising avenue for the agricultural sector’s contribution to climate change mitigation. For example, farm equipment powered by renewable energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, can reduce the carbon footprint of agricultural production. Similarly, enhancing energy efficiency in agricultural practices can further limit GHG emissions.
A more efficient food system can also contribute to lowering greenhouse emissions. This includes addressing food waste within the supply chain, as discarded food contributes significantly to methane emissions. Furthermore, optimizing the use of synthetic fertilisers, which are responsible for substantial nitrous oxide emissions, can also be beneficial.
The global food demand is predicted to increase with population growth and a longer growing season due to higher temperatures, posing additional challenges to food security. To meet this growing population’s food supply, agricultural practices need to be resilient to the changing climate, including extreme weather events, such as heat waves and extreme heat.
Support for farmers
In this context, providing technical assistance to farmers and rural communities is crucial for climate change adaptation. Bodies like the Australian national and state-based Departments of Agriculture and local natural resource management and grower groups have roles to play in delivering this support.
Strategies like drip irrigation and precision agriculture can make more efficient use of water resources, vital in a changing climate where water availability can be uncertain. Adapting livestock production to reduce methane emissions while ensuring animal health is another important aspect. For example, changes in dairy cattle diets can help reduce the methane they produce.
Recent years have brought a growing recognition of the need for policy change to support these practices. Incentives for sustainable agriculture and land management, and support for transitions away from industrial agriculture, can foster environmental sustainability while meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
The good news is that many of these practices not only mitigate climate change impacts but also provide benefits for farmers. Improved soil health can lead to higher crop yields, while energy efficiency measures can lower operating costs.
In conclusion, while agriculture has contributed to the climate crisis, it can also be part of the solution. Through careful management, informed policy decisions, and the adoption of sustainable practices, the sector can contribute to slowing the increase in global average temperature, making a crucial difference in our long-term response to climate change.