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Climate Solution- Sustainable Ag.

Modern Farming


Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture turns farms into thriving ecological lands that produce food crops, in addition to using plants that increase farms’ biodiversity while sequestering atmospheric carbon. The health of ecosystems, including soil nutrition, on the farm, is a top priority when agriculture is managed sustainably

In most traditional farming of the past, a significant amount of nutrients are removed from the soil without being replaced. Major contributing factors to the depletion of healthy soil on farms globally are:

  • over-tilling the land
  • monoculture (just growing one type of crop on sections of farmland, not implementing crop rotation and planting a variety of crops)
  • synthetic fertilizers and pesticides

From processes like these, there is constant degradation of soil nutrients, leading to poor fertilization from year to year. On farms that use these unsustainable farming practices, there is an increase in weeds, bugs, and vermin. Basically, the farmer slowly loses control of the farm as a whole when the quality of the soil is not managed over time.

The solution to these ecological problems is sustainable agriculture. Sustainable ag. involves land-use practices that restore, protect, and maintain ecosystems and biodiversity on farms. Conventional farmlands are thus transformed into ecologically thriving carbon sinks.


Sustainable Ag. Techniques; Cover Crops, Polyculture, and more

It is important for the farmer implementing sustainable agriculture techniques to understand the relationship between all of the farm’s organisms and the farm’s environment. This understanding is needed in order to create biodiversity on the farm optimally. The sustainable farmer must focus efforts on maintaining nutrients within the farm’s soil, water, and air.

A few sustainable agriculture practices that increase soil health are:

  • seasonal use of cover crops
  • concerted efforts to maintain proper soil nutrition
  • no-till or low-till farming
  • crop rotation
  • polyculture (vs. monoculture)

Cover crops refer to a variety of crops grown on farmland during off-seasons in order to maintain soil health. Examples of cover crops include legumes like alfalfa, various grasses, and cereal crops like rye, oats, and barley, brassicas like turnips and radishes, and turnips and non-legume broadleaves like flax and spinach.

Polyculture is also a practice of introducing a variety of crops on farmland, including multiple species of plants. In the case of polyculture, crops and plants are rotated to different sections on the farmland year-round. Even if polyculture is implemented on a farm, crop rotation and low/ no-till farming should be continually practiced year-round in order to ensure the health of a farm’s ecosystems and soil.

Biodiversity of a farm’s crops, plants on the farm, and other ecosystems on the farm, as well as proper soil nutrition – deter pests. Polyculture also helps maintain a farmland’s healthy ecosystems; also reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.


Creating Carbon Sinks

Real-world examples of sustainable agriculture predominantly include farms that work to satisfy human food demand; while maintaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems on the farmland. Sustainable agriculture transforms otherwise conventional farmland into environmentally-friendly carbon sinks.

Sustainable farms enhance environmental quality and agricultural economy through the enhancement of the health of a farmland’s natural resources. For example, carbon farming is a sustainable agriculture practice that maintains healthy soils and is common practice in most organic farming. Practices to maintain soil health are found in regenerative agriculture, as well as permaculture (see the section on permaculture below, and please see Green City Times’ article on Regenerative Agriculture). 


Project Drawdown recognizes these sustainable practices as top climate solutions – all of which serve to create agricultural carbon sinks:

  • “Land is a critical component of the climate system, actively engaged in the flows of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen—essential building blocks for life. Carbon is the core of trees and grasses, mammals and birds, lichens and microbes. Linking one atom to the next, and to other elements, it’s the fundamental material of all living organisms.” FROM  –  drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
  • “Plants and healthy ecosystems have an unparalleled capacity to absorb carbon through photosynthesis and store it in living biomass. In addition, soils are, in large part, organic matter—once-living organisms, now decomposing—making them an enormous storehouse of carbon. Land can therefore be a powerful carbon sink, returning atmospheric carbon to living vegetation and soils. While the majority of heat-trapping emissions remain in the atmosphere, land sinks currently return a quarter of human-caused emissions to Earth — literally.”   FROM   –   drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
  • “Multistrata agroforestry systems mimic natural forests in structure. Multiple layers of trees and crops achieve high rates of both carbon sequestration and food production.”    FROM  –   drawdown.org/solutions/multistrata-agroforestry
  • “An agroforestry practice, silvopasture integrates trees, pasture, and forage, into a single system. Incorporating trees improves land health and significantly increases carbon sequestration.”    FROM   –   drawdown.org/solutions/silvopasture
  • “Pumping and distributing water is energy intensive. Drip and sprinkler irrigation, among other practices and technologies, make farm water use more precise and efficient.”  FROM  –   drawdown.org/solutions/farm-irrigation-efficiency
  • “Building on conservation agriculture with additional practices, regenerative annual cropping can include compost application, green manure, and organic production. It reduces emissions, increases soil organic matter, and sequesters carbon.”  FROM   –   drawdown.org/solutions/regenerative-annual-cropping

Shropshire Agroforestry Project – Shropshire, England



Soil Nutrition
The degradation of agricultural natural resources is the leading issue in depleting a farm’s soil nutrient levels and the health of farmland ecosystems. Sustainable agriculture makes efficient use of non-renewable natural resources. Synthetic pesticides, excessive tilling of the soil, and monoculture (re-planting the same crop, or same type of crop, on the same land season after season, lack of crop rotation) lead to degradation of a farm’s soil health.
A successful sustainable farm must focus a substantial amount of time year-round on healthy soil nutrition to help maintain long-term quality crop and plant growth.
Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, phosphates, and other soil nutrients, are necessary proper for good soil nutrition. A healthy soil PH level, and healthy salt content in soils, as well as proper soil nutrients; all can be enhanced in farm soil simply by optimally reusing crop leftovers, farm plant debris, or even some ‘green’ livestock manure for natural fertilization.
Other important techniques to improve soil health on farms include the implementation of polyculture, cover crops (to keep the land productive vs. barren during off-seasons), and no-till or low-till farming. These sustainable agriculture techniques not only improve the health of a farm’s ecosystems but help fight climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere; creating both healthy farmland and a healthy planet.

What are easy ways to reduce a farm’s carbon footprint?
In focusing on possible, easily overlooked, improvements in farms trying to successfully implement sustainable agriculture – issues with poor irrigation, and other water quality issues can always reduce the quality of agriculture. The use of treated, reclaimed rainwater and greywater, on a farm, are easily implemented sustainable agriculture practices; that also serve to save water resources. 
Another example of sustainable farming is the independent production of nitrogen through the Haber process; which uses hydrogen produced from natural gas or possibly created with electricity (ideally from renewable energy) via an electrolyzerThese farming techniques are a part of the emerging regenerative agriculture process.
In sustainable agriculture, it’s important to manage long-term crop rotations to improve soil nutrition. Sustainable farming still entails improving the farmer’s carbon footprint and the quality of ecosystems in their farmland. Natural fertilizer processes help with creating healthy soil. Natural resources are also an important consideration.
Farmers must manage natural resources (crops, plants, trees, rainwater, etc…), and manage the level of non-renewable energy resources used on the farm. With added efficiency on the farm, certain crops, plant and animal waste, tree, and plant croppings, etc… can also be used as sources for biomass/ biofuel production.

For information on how agricultural renewable resources (i.e. biomass) can be developed and optimally produced on farms, please see the following Green City Times’ articles: 

Cellulosic biofuel – fuel solutions

Anaerobic digestion – a proven solution to our waste problem

Renewable energy: biomass and biofuel


Besides increasing biodiversity on farms (through polyculture and agroforestry techniques, for example), maintaining healthy farm ecosystems, and a focus on soil nutrition; other critical considerations in sustainable agriculture are:

  • Managing water wisely
  • Minimizing air, water, and climate pollution
  • Rotating crops and embracing diversity. Planting a variety of crops can have many benefits, including healthier soil and improved pest control. Crop diversity practices include intercropping (growing a mix of crops in the same area) and complex multi-year crop rotations.
  • Planting cover crops. Cover crops, like clover or hairy vetch, are planted during off-season times when soils might otherwise be left bare. These crops protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients, and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides.
  • Reducing or eliminating tillage.  Traditional plowing (tillage) prepares fields for planting and prevents weed problems, but can cause a lot of soil loss. No-till or reduced till methods, which involve inserting seeds directly into undisturbed soil, can reduce erosion and improve soil health.
  • Applying integrated pest management (IPM). A range of methods, including mechanical and biological controls, can be applied systematically to keep pest populations under control while minimizing use of chemical pesticides.
  • Integrating livestock and crops. Industrial agriculture tends to keep plant and animal production separate, with animals living far from the areas where their feed is produced, and crops growing far away from abundant manure fertilizers. A growing body of evidence shows that a smart integration of crop and animal production can be a recipe for more efficient, profitable farms.  [BULLET POINTS FROM  – ucsusa.org/what-sustainable-agriculture]


[As noted above, regenerative agriculture techniques and sustainable agriculture practices are key to reversing the global effects and negative trends of unsustainable ag. practices. Sustainable agriculture practices include increasing the use of permaculture; as well as urban and community gardening.]


Permaculture



The simulation of natural ecosystems, both in agriculture and green urban planning, has the potential to help reduce man’s carbon footprint on the earth.

Some fields of permaculture and urban gardening include Ecological Design, Ecological Engineering, Environmental Design, Integrated Water Resource Management, and Sustainable Architecture. All of these professions work with nature rather than against; working toward the goal of sustaining both nature and society for future generations.

The depletion of the earth’s resources due to the processes of mass production and consumption, inefficient waste management, and the destruction wrought on nature due to fossil fuel infrastructure development are reasons for the need for permaculture and urban gardening techniques in agriculture.

The need to work with existing resources in order to save the environment, and people alike, is a goal that has many nations working toward carbon neutrality in agriculture, as well as eco-conscious techniques in agriculture to preserve biodiversity. Chemical fertilizers and other environmentally hazardous methods like pesticides are the way of the past in agriculture. The future of gardening/ agriculture lies in sustainable methods like urban gardening (techniques that can easily be applied to larger-scale agriculture/ farms).


Urban gardening

Urban gardening, or urban agriculture, includes elements of the following practices:

  • Gardening for your residence
  • Rain gardening
  • Community, school, and rooftop gardens
  • Indoor gardening
  • Vertical farming

Here is a handy guide to urban gardening:

“City gardens need not be limited to growing just a few plants on the windowsill. Whether it’s an apartment balcony garden or a rooftop garden, you can still enjoy growing all your favorite plants and veggies. In this Beginner’s Guide to Urban Gardening, you will find the basics of city gardening for beginners and tips for handling any issues you may come across along the way.”

Read more at Gardening Know How: Urban Gardening: The Ultimate Guide To City Gardening


Other sustainable solutions for the global conservationist community; carbon offsets

In addition to sustainable agriculture practices by farmers, steps that can be taken by individuals to help with environmental sustainability include: going paperless, going vegetarian (or at least eating less red meat), recycling and buying recycled products, and using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood products.

Other personal lifestyle solutions to help with global sustainability efforts include using more cloth and alternative products (like bamboo products for sustainable lifestyles), eating less fast food, and eating vegan meals as often as possible instead of meat.

Going with a more sustainable diet is a way of supporting the use of agricultural land for regenerative farming ultimately used in diet and manufacturing of consumer products. Regenerative ag. produces organic foods sold at farmer’s markets. Another easy way to support sustainability efforts is by shopping at, and supporting, farmer’s markets.

Paper products were once trees, so reducing your use of paper products in your daily life will really translate into saving trees. Additionally, meat, and fast-food restaurants, contribute to deforestation because deforested land is often land used for cattle grazing.

In many cases, carbon offsets are purchased by international companies in industries running polluting factories, using carbon-intensive fuel for energy, and manufacturing fossil fuel-intensive products; and this often includes companies involved in deforestation. However, carbon offsets can also be purchased by individuals – online, at retail outlets, gas stations, etc…


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Reforestation

Climate Solution – Forests


Deforestation and solutions; including reforestation

Deforestation of our planet, for centuries, has led to issues such as – loss of wildlife habitat; as well as land, water, and air pollution. Clearing forests results in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the practice of deforestation itself (leading to an unmitigated increase in global warming). Deforestation is also responsible for the loss of trees to help absorb GHGs and create a healthy planet; and degradation of land quality.

Humans have taken for granted products originating from forests (a vast quantity of the world’s products of mass consumption come from forests). A significant quantity of beef, soy, palm oil, and wood products either originated, or were developed as a consequence of, now degraded or deforested land. Deforestation is a consequence of the exploitation of Earth’s natural resources for mass production and consumption.


What are some of the major problems caused by deforestation?

Deforestation has been a major contributor to the current global ecological crisis of climate change. The reckless manner in which forests are cleared has resulted in the degradation of large swaths of the planet’s land. Within the past decade and to the present day, it has been calculated that global deforestation occurs at a rate of at least 18 million acres annually.

Deforestation is a top global contributor to climate change. This is partly due to the polluting fossil fuel-intensive machines used to clear forests that spew GHGs and pollution. This is also due to ‘controlled’ fires to advance the deforestation process.

Deforestation is mostly done for the mass production of carbon-intensive goods manufactured from natural resources. A big climate problem that deforestation is to blame for is land cleared simply for cattle grazing. Methane emissions from cattle grazing are the #1 source of agricultural GHGs worldwide

Project Drawdown recognizes reforestation as a top climate solution. This is due to the biodiversity and thriving ecosystems forests provide; and because forests provide needed carbon sequestration from the atmosphere in order to create Earth’s healthy biome.


Where Does Most Deforestation Happen?

The top 10 countries that hold the majority of the forest coverage of the earth; and also have among the highest global shares of deforestation, include large nations like – China, Russia, Canada, and the United States.

The greatest percentage levels of national deforestation are in countries that contain portions of the Amazon Rainforest, most notably – Brazil. The Amazon has the greatest deforestation rate of any large forest in the world. Some highly forested countries, like the Philippines and Indonesia, used to be almost completely forested; and as of today, have had over half of their forests removed; yet still – the Amazon represents the most egregious rate of deforestation.

Forests have been destroyed at an incredible rate for hundreds of years, both in the Amazon, and across the globe. Stopping deforestation is the obvious solution to the problem. Serious organizations committed to stopping deforestation in various global regions include the Canadian Forestry Association, The Rainforest Alliance, Amazon Watch, and Conservation International.


The global significance of reforestation

Reforestation represents a holistic, practical climate solution to help create a healthy biome on the planet. Reforestation has been seriously engaged in by concerned private philanthropic organizations, as well as governments, throughout the world; from individual donors to non-profit organizations, to NGOs, to sustainable corporations. One example of successful reforestation efforts is a forest started in Ontario; supported by the Canadian government, as well as private donors, called the 50 Million Tree program.

Countries, states, and provinces, around the world, should make a concerted effort to invest more in planting forests, planting trees in planned urban green spaces, and setting aside land for nature reserves. “Under the Paris Climate Agreement, India has pledged to increase its forests by a massive 95 million hectares by 2030. In 2017 around 1.5 million volunteers planted more than 66 million trees in a record-breaking 12 hours in the state of Madhya Pradesh.”  FROM – bbc.com/news

Another successful reforestation effort is forest being planted for ecological, social, and economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, just at the southern border of the Sahara, organized by Greenpop.; and supported mostly by private donors and philanthropic non-profit organizations. Greenpop’s mission is to plant trees, restore degraded forest areas, increase biodiversity, help communities across Africa meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and expand ecosystem services across Africa.

An example of an organization dedicated to reforestation, supported by philanthropic non-profits run by some of the world’s best-known corporations; including Google and Amazon – is Trees for the Future. Trees for the Future is an agroforestry organization working with local populations to improve livelihoods and restore degraded lands to sustainable productivity through tree planting; in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Trees for the Future’s efforts are aimed at stopping deforestation, engaging local communities in reforestation and sustainable agriculture; and aiding the mitigation of climate change through investments to help restore, maintain, and protect ecosystems.

Please see more information from Project Drawdown on Protecting Forests.

“Project Drawdown defines forest protection as: the legal protection of forest lands, leading to reduced deforestation rates and the safeguarding of carbon sinks. This solution replaces non-protected forest land. It is assumed that forest protection primarily happens at the government and non-governmental organization (NGO) level.

Mature, healthy forests have spent decades or centuries accumulating carbon through photosynthesis. They represent massive storehouses of carbon in soils and biomass. Yet, forests are being cleared and degraded at a rapid rate, causing carbon loss as well as negative impacts on ecosystem services like habitat, erosion control, soil-building, water regulation, water supply, and air pollution removal.

Forest protection reduces these emissions from deforestation. Emissions from tropical deforestation and forest degradation alone are estimated at 5.1-8.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year. This accounts for 14-21 percent of anthropogenic emissions…”     FROM –  drawdown.org/solutions/forest-protection


♥♥For great ideas on environmental sustainability♥♥, conservation of wildlife & their habitats, as well as global ecological conservation solutions, please see>> MONGABAY.COM. Mongabay.com also has current, worldwide examples of innovative measures implemented by non-profit organizations, NGOs, and governments. These innovative sustainability measures are put in place to protect, restore, and maintain ecosystems, global wildlife, and natural biodiversity.


The Global importance of protecting, maintaining, and restoring Ecosystems; Sustainable Ag. Techniques including Agroforestry

Forests are natural carbon sinks, sequestering carbon from Earth’s atmosphere, and providing oxygen to create healthy ecosystems on the planet; as well as creating sustainable habitats for plants, wildlife, and the biodiversity of the forest itself. Sustainable agriculture also creates carbon sinks, in the form of farmland with vibrant ecosystems and biodiversity.

In addition to reforestation, Project Drawdown also recognizes these sustainable practices, as top climate solutions:

  • Land is a critical component of the climate system, actively engaged in the flows of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen—essential building blocks for life. Carbon is the core of trees and grasses, mammals and birds, lichens and microbes. Linking one atom to the next, and to other elements, it’s the fundamental material of all living organisms. FROM  –  drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
  • Plants and healthy ecosystems have an unparalleled capacity to absorb carbon through photosynthesis and store it in living biomass. In addition, soils are, in large part, organic matter—once-living organisms, now decomposing—making them an enormous storehouse of carbon. Land can therefore be a powerful carbon sink, returning atmospheric carbon to living vegetation and soils. While the majority of heat-trapping emissions remain in the atmosphere, land sinks currently return a quarter of human-caused emissions to Earth—literally.   FROM  –  drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
  • In their biomass and soil, forests are powerful carbon storehouses. [Forest] protection prevents emissions from deforestation, shields that carbon, and enables ongoing carbon sequestration.   FROM  –  drawdown.org/solutions/forest-protection
  • Multistrata agroforestry systems mimic natural forests in structure. Multiple layers of trees and crops achieve high rates of both carbon sequestration and food production.    FROM  –  drawdown.org/solutions/multistrata-agroforestry
  • An agroforestry practice, silvopasture integrates trees, pasture, and forage, into a single system. Incorporating trees improves land health and significantly increases carbon sequestration.    FROM  –  drawdown.org/solutions/silvopasture
  • Pumping and distributing water is energy intensive. Drip and sprinkler irrigation, among other practices and technologies, make farm water use more precise and efficient.  FROM  –  drawdown.org/solutions/farm-irrigation-efficiency
  • Building on conservation agriculture with additional practices, regenerative annual cropping can include compost application, green manure, and organic production. It reduces emissions, increases soil organic matter, and sequesters carbon.  FROM  –  drawdown.org/solutions/regenerative-annual-cropping


Red Meat and Carbon Offsets

Red meat from cows makes its way to fast food restaurants (but not before millions of acres of once-pristine forest are degraded or destroyed); in addition to the waste streams of paper products fast food restaurants create (also major contributors to forest degradation). 

Fast food restaurants, globally, can help stop deforestation; as numerous corporations in different segments of the manufacturing industry have started joining global conservation efforts recently. Fast food companies, as with other companies concerned about lowering their carbon footprint, can purchase carbon offsets.

Carbon offsets help balance out global GHGs and other environmental degradation; for instance, damage to the environment wrought by companies that commit deforestation, and companies that are reliant on fossil fuels, are a partial solution to the deforestation problem.

Some offsets often formally offered in emission trading schemes (ETS) globally include: forestry projects (like planting and caring for trees; restoring, maintaining, and protecting forests and their ecosystems), as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects worldwide. These types of carbon offsets are also available for purchase by companies and individuals.

The amount of carbon offsets required for a company to purchase in an emission trading system (ETS) is proportional to the amount of pollution, GHGs, released by the company involved in the ETS. These offsets should also be measured by the deforestation that a company commits, and the subsequent effect of that behavior by the company on the environment. However, individuals and companies can purchase offsets to lower their carbon footprint – the more carbon offsets purchased, the greater the good.

In addition to reforestation measures taken by private companies, and concerned individuals, and lifestyle changes by individuals taken to help address the problem, governments can help.

Governments like Brazil, and around the world, have the ability to enact carbon emission trading systems, forcing companies, and the major industries involved in deforestation, to purchase offsets to their destructive behavior. Carbon offsets can be purchased by individuals, non-profit organizations, and private businesses of every size, from small businesses to large international companies, and even governments; in order to lower their net carbon footprint and/ or in order to support sustainability efforts worldwide

However, as of now, most ETS around the world only use the amount GHGs released by companies, not deforestation, as a metric to assess a companies’ responsibility for purchasing carbon offets. ETS, and other carbon pricing mechanisms (such as a carbon tax), can be mandated by states, provinces, and entire countries.

For more on this topic, please see Green City Times article on:

Sustainable agriculture

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Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative GREEN Land-Use


The United Nations (UN) has advised that a global shift towards plant-based food will counteract the worst effects of climate change. Is going vegan really going to help in global climate action, and help the world meet net zero emissions targets?

Well, actually…the UN says that land-use practices that favor plant growth vs. a focus on animal grazing, as well as sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices, are among top climate change mitigation solutions. Regenerative agriculture creates environmentally-friendly carbon sinks; turning farms into thriving ecosystems that sequester atmospheric carbon, while also producing crops for food.  



Sustainable and regenerative agriculture

The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with a report in August 2019, about how the global community must switch now to sustainable land use in food production. All countries and farm industries globally must adopt sustainable agriculture practices, as the world begins transitioning to more sustainable food consumption habits.

Effective global climate action depends on sustainable land-use practices as the foundation for successful action.


For more information about sustainable agriculture practices, permaculture, and reforestation, please see>>>

Sustainable agriculture

Reforestation

[A quick note about the terms in this article; all regenerative agriculture is sustainable agriculture, but not all sustainable agriculture techniques and practices are considered the same as specific practices of regenerative agriculture]


What exactly is regenerative agriculture?

A major component of regenerative agriculture is a focus on proper soil nutrition. Crop rotation of a variety of perennial crops, and no-till farming, for example, are designed to increase soil health. Conventional animal grazing is a much less sustainable land-use practice and has almost no considerations for proper soil health, versus farmland used for regenerative agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean that absolutely no animals are raised on farms for food (as an immediate global dietary shift seems to be highly unlikely).

Rather, sustainable land-use simply means that farms focus on “well-managed grazing practices [that] stimulate improved plant growth, and increased soil [health]“. However, the primary focus of regenerative agriculture remains diverse food crops, and land use dedicated to plant growth, biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems.


Regenerative agriculture focuses on farming done with the implementation of specific sustainable farming methods. Here are some key points in defining regenerative agriculture>>>

Strict regenerative agricultural practices include:

no-tillage

diverse cover crops

in-farm fertility (no external nutrients)

no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers

multiple crop rotations

polyculture

organic soil fertility


Cover crops, no-till or low-till farming, crop rotation, organic soil fertility, and polyculture (vs. monoculture) – are a few sustainable agriculture practices that increase soil health. Cover crops refer to a variety of crops grown on farmland during off-seasons in order to maintain soil health.

Polyculture is also a practice of introducing and maintaining multiple species of crops and plants on farmland. Polyculture involves the consistent year-round farming practice of creating diverse crop and farmland plant species.

Biodiversity of a farm’s crops and other ecosystems on the farm improve soil health, deter pests, and help to maintain healthy ecosystems.


Carbon farming and cover crops to improve soil health

Sustainable farms enhance environmental quality and agricultural economy through the enhancement of natural resources. For example, carbon farming is a sustainable agriculture practice that maintains healthy soils and is common practice in most organic farming.

Practices to maintain soil health are found in regenerative agriculture, as well as in permaculture. A sustainable farm must focus a substantial amount of time year-round on healthy soil nutrition to help maintain long-term soil quality.

the cover crop buckwheat shown juxtaposed to the same land without cover crops

One solution to help create more sustainable farms is for governments to simply subsidize farmers to implement sustainable farming practices.

Governments should consider legislating agricultural subsidies through increasing financial incentives, tax breaks, or direct payments, for farmers that practice sustainable ag. techniques; with the easiest practice to implement being cover cropping.

These financial incentives would be for farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices such as carbon farming and implementation of cover crops during off-seasons. Some governments worldwide already have legislation to support farmers that use sustainable agriculture practices, but more is needed.

After all, farmers that adopt sustainable agriculture practices are helping reduce global GHGs and fight climate change. Sustainable farms are carbon sinks; sequestering carbon and transforming conventional farmland into thriving, climate-saving, ecosystems.

Typically after farmland crops are harvested, and especially during wintertime, farmland just lays fallow. A few months later, when it’s time to sow seeds for a new harvest – weeds, pests, and unhealthy soil fill the land. Tillage, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers only make the problem worse. The simple remedy for this problem is cover cropping. Cover crops keep weeds and pests at bay, and maintain soil health during the off-season.

Solutions, in order to encourage farmers to implement the widespread use of cover cropping, include: providing government subsidies to farmers that practice cover cropping, proving guaranteed investment of markets for the crops, or at least making sure farmers get detailed information about cover crops.

Cover crops not only maintain farmland health but provide a source of potential income, providing useful crops to the community. Examples of cover crops include buckwheat, alfalfa, annual cereals (rye, wheat, barley, oats), clovers, winter peas, cowpeas, turnips, radish, forage grasses such as ryegrass, and warm-season grasses such as sorghum-sudan grass.

Here’s a brief snippet from an article by The Union of Concerned Scientists on sustainable agriculture:

Environmental sustainability in agriculture means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on. Among other things, this involves:

  • building and maintaining healthy soil with low till or no till farming
  • crop rotation
  • use of cover crops during off-seasons
  • polyculture vs. monoculture
  • managing water wisely
  • minimizing air, water, and climate pollution
  • promoting biodiversity

There’s a whole field of research devoted to achieving these goals: agroecology, the science of managing farms as ecosystems. By working with nature rather than against it, farms managed using agroecological principles can avoid damaging impacts without sacrificing productivity or profitability.”     FROM  –    ucsusa.org/what-sustainable-agriculture


Land-use solutions; how to reduce GHGs from agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN believes that raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” This problem is largely due to deforestation to clear land; a significant amount of which is either directly or indirectly for the global meat industry. Another major contributor to the problem is land-use designated for grazing. Land used for grazing is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than all of the world’s transport systems combined.

The world should stop the unsustainable practice of deforestation, but an immediate global climate solution is simply improving practices on existing farms. A realistic solution is for the global agriculture community to be encouraged to maintain focused efforts on regenerative farming practices.

The global transition to sustainable agriculture would be expedited if the global farming community was simply catering to a majority organic plant-based diet in the consumer food market. However, this ideal sustainable circumstance is far from realistic.

One solution that will remain politically unpopular for obvious reasons (as the vast majority of the world’s population have meat and dairy-intensive diets) – is a carbon tax on meat. It takes on average 11 times more fossil fuels to produce a calorie of animal protein than to produce a calorie of grain protein. That’s a considerable amount of GHGs released per calorie.

So much so that Chatham House, otherwise known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs, has called for a carbon tax on meat to help combat climate change. In fact, globally, raising cows for food ranks only behind the United States and China as a GHG contributing segment of the global economy. Raising cattle for food is the #1 source of GHGs from agriculture globally.

Going vegan, vegetarian, or at least eating less meat, helps reduce global GHGs by helping in the global transition to sustainable, plant-based agriculture. It helps fill the demand for a plant-based consumer diet as the global fight against climate change gains steam. It also helps to reduce your carbon footprint.


Meat & GHGs

An Oxford study published in the journal Climate Change found that the diets of meat-eaters who ate more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day – roughly the size of a pack of cards – contribute to GHGs significantly. These heavy meat eaters generate 15.8 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent each day; compared to vegetarians – 8.4 pounds, and vegans – 6.4 pounds. This is because the process of raising livestock for food on farms itself is carbon-intensive. Also, the majority of global deforestation is just to create land for cattle to graze.

The average meat-eater has a much higher carbon footprint than people who adopt a plant-based diet – 50-54% higher than vegetarians, and between 99-102% higher than vegans. Of course, there are other ways for individuals in society to contribute to lower emissions, but veganism may be a top solution. Research shows that, as Dr. Fredrik Hedenus of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden said, “reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural pollution down to safe levels.” 

Raising cattle for meat and dairy ranks close to the top of the list as a segment of the global economy contributing to GHGs (mostly in the form of methane emitted from grazing cattle). There are a variety of innovative ways to reduce methane emissions from grazing cattle.

However, transitioning to a plant-based diet now is considered one of the best ways to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, and to reduce one’s personal contribution to the problem of GHGs. A study from the University of Chicago posits that eating less meat (or none at all) is more effective at reducing one’s personal responsibility for GHGs than changing from a conventional car to a hybrid.  

According to PETA – “…the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 28 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere. The use of manure storage and of manure being used as fertilizer for crops and feed, which then generates substantial amounts of nitrous oxide, contributes greatly to the greenhouse gases affecting the global warming crisis.”

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The three most critical GHGs responsible for climate change are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – and together they cause the majority of climate change issues.

Methane is a gas that can be produced from stockpiling of animal and human sewage, manure used as fertilizer, as well animal’s personal “gas emissions [for ex. cow burps and farts]”.  Methane is a potent GHG released from livestock in dangerous quantities exacerbating climate change, and is closely followed in significance by nitrous oxide in unsustainable agriculture practices.

Nitrous oxide is roughly 300 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and methane is roughly 40 times more potent than CO2. CO2 is the most well-known GHG because it’s the longest-lasting, and most significant GHG in terms of quantity of CO2 released in the common industries tracked for GHG emissions (energy generation, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, buildings).

Agriculture is the largest man-made source of nitrous oxide, with meat, dairy, and other animal-based food industries – contributing to 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions are primarily direct emissions from fertilized agricultural stock, and manure, as well as indirect emissions from leaching of fertilizers and pesticides; which is when rainwater causes part of the nitrogen in fertilizers and pesticides to leach into groundwater and eventually into rivers. 

In basic terms, societies should begin to try and transition from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet today; and the global farming community absolutely must switch now to sustainable agriculture practices, in order for the global fight against climate change to be truly effective.

Food consumption habits greatly affect land-use/ agricultural practices. Project Drawdown ranks having the global community transition to a plant-based diet as one of the most effective climate mitigation strategies, albeit one that has gained very little global momentum (as eating meat and dairy remains very popular worldwide).

For reference, around 3% of the population in the United States is vegetarian or vegan, and the agriculture sector is responsible for 9% of GHGs from the United States. The U.K. is a lot better than the U.S. as far as the vegetarian portion of the population, with estimates that as much as a quarter of the population of the United Kingdom will be vegetarian by 2025

Dietary consumer choices directly influence land use and agriculture. One solution to the global climate crisis is to focus on changing cultural dietary choices and, in turn, help foster the transition to sustainable global land-use/ agriculture practices to effectively fight climate change.

Project Drawdown estimates that transitioning the global agriculture systems to sustainable practices can reduce global CO2 emissions by over 20 gigatons, stating that “bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers.”

Additionally, Project Drawdown ranks implementing sustainable agriculture practices, such as regenerative annual cropping, and transitioning the global community to sustainable land use turning farmland into land sinks, as top solutions in their list of most effective ways to fight climate change. Project Drawdown also ranks managed grazing as a top climate solution; offering the following key points-

Managed grazing imitates herbivores, addressing two key variables: how long livestock grazes a specific area and how long the land rests before animals return. There are three managed-grazing techniques that improve soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention, and forage productivity:

  1. Improved continuous grazing adjusts standard grazing practices and decreases the number of animals per acre.
  2. Rotational grazing moves livestock to fresh paddocks or pastures, allowing those already grazed to recover.
  3. Adaptive multi-paddock grazing shifts animals through smaller paddocks in quick succession, after which the land is given time to recover.

FROM – https://drawdown.org/solutions/managed-grazing

And here’s a snippet from World Resources Institute on governments subsidizing sustainable agriculture for farmers willing to adopt practices that actively sequester carbon on farmland (through carbon farming, cover crops, and/ or another sustainable farming practice discussed above) –

“To both feed the world and solve climate change, the world needs to produce 50% more food in 2050 compared to 2010 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. While government funding has an important role to play, a new World Bank report found that agricultural subsidies are currently doing little to achieve these goals, but have great potential for reform.

What is needed to mitigate the 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions contributed by global agriculture, including emissions from land use change? The good news is that many opportunities exist to boost agricultural productivity to provide more food on existing agricultural land while reducing emissions.

Opportunity one is to increase natural resource efficiency by producing more food per hectare, per animal and per kilogram of fertilizer and other chemicals used. Opportunity two is to put in place measures to link these productivity gains to protection of forests and other native habitats. Opportunity three is to pursue innovations, because reaching climate goals for agriculture — just like for energy use — requires new technologies and approaches.

Overall, governments around the world should redirect more agricultural funding to focus on mitigation and the synergies between reducing emissions and producing more food. A first step toward a sustainable food future is to make better use of the large financial support governments are already providing.”   FROM – wri.org/redirecting-agricultural-subsidies-sustainable-food-future