Magazine article USA TODAY

Climate-Friendly Food Production

Magazine article USA TODAY

Climate-Friendly Food Production

Article excerpt

Last summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland and, with Earth's surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69[degrees]C by 2030, global food production will become even more unpredictable, according to research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused global warming, contributing an estimated 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably, it can be an important key to mitigating climate change, write report authors Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds.

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but agriculture's strong interrelationships with climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

"The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change," explains Reynolds. "Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture's environmental footprint."

The report discusses sustainable approaches to land and water use--in rural and urban areas--that are helping farmers and other food producers mitigate or adapt to climate change, and often both. They are:

Building soil fertility. Alternatives to heavy chemical use in agriculture, such as avoiding unnecessary tilling or raising both crops and livestock on the same land, can help to reduce drastically the total amount of energy expended to produce a crop or animal, thus cutting overall emissions.

Agroforestry. Because trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, keeping them on farms whenever possible can help mitigate climate change. Agroforestry also keeps the soil healthier and more resilient by maximizing the amount of organic matter, microorganisms, and moisture held within it. Moreover, agroforestry provides shade for livestock and certain crops, and creates habitats for animals and insects, such as bees, which pollinate many crops. …

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