Free Range Conversations

Climate change is already having an impact on agriculture. For example, more warm nights decrease crop productivity. And while it presents significant challenges to the agriculture industry, it also presents opportunities. The American Farmland Trust (AFT) hosted a Free Range Conversation on August 13, 2018 to hear more about how farmers and ranchers across the nation are working and innovating to combat climate change. This is part of AFT’s Farmers Combat Climate Change Initiative.

On the call, AFT president John Piotti discussed the unique role farmland can play in putting carbon back into the soil. Piotti: “This is a special Free Range Conversation because you’ll take home a new perspective of farming. …What do you feel are the greatest threats to humanity?  At the top of the list: overpopulation and climate change – the latter is the issue that most concerns young folks today.”

Piotti talked about the important connection between agriculture and climate change. “It will be impossible to combat climate change unless we rethink agriculture. …Through farming we have a chance to change things for the better – significantly. …

“As of 2009, the total excess carbon in our atmosphere was 200 billion tons.”  The goal was to keep carbon at the “safe level” below 350 ppm in the atmosphere, but this March, CO2 levels reached 400 ppm. “A lot comes from burning fossil fuels. Some of it has been emitted from our soil.” Piotti said that land and soil degradation from agriculture since 1850 accounts for more than 50% (close to 75%) of those 200 billion tons; 155 billion tons of carbon were put into the atmosphere between 1850 and 2010.

The impact of soil degradation on climate change is that when we lose top soil, we lose carbon molecules. Much of the carbon lost from the soil can be put back in the soil with improved farming practices, like no till/low till and use of cover crops. “We need to put atmospheric carbon back into the soil. We must also actively reduce burning fossil fuels. Farming done right is a BIG part of the answer.” Piotti said.

Caller Allen commented: “We have had the answer since the Dust Bowl, from the Soil Conservation Service / NRCS, but we’re not following proper practices.”

Piotti responded that AFT shows farmers the techniques that work better for the planet, and enhance the farmers’ bottom line. Unfortunately, low till/no till practices are still being used with heavy doses of herbicides and pesticides, which do not enhance soil health. They can be done better with organic measures.

Carbon farming is done purposely to sequester carbon back into the soil where it came from. Farmers manage more than a billion acres of land in the U.S. that can act as a natural carbon ‘sink’ by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in plants and soil. Building healthy soils is a part of better farming practices. Healthy soils absorb more water during heavy rains, which reduces runoff, and offer better resilience during periods of drought. Healthy soil also is more productive and increases crop yields.

In AFT’s Climate Change Initiative, the solutions are straightforward: protect the most productive, resilient farmland and improve its soil, which benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment. Find a link to the full Climate Change Initiative report on the AFT website:

Environmentally sound farming practices should also include restoring health of planet by putting more carbon in the soil.  Farmers combating climate change are an integral part of the solution. You can listen to a recording of the conversation here:

Find more information at the AFT website:\climate  
Additional resources:
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies:
EPA has information on how Climate Action Benefits Agriculture and Forestry:
National Geographic describes the effects of climate change on crops at:
The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the U.S., particularly on agriculture at:
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions published a brief on “Agriculture’s Role In Addressing Climate Change.” Agriculture contributes approximately 7 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions, with nitrous oxide (N2O) accounting for 66 percent and methane (CH4) 34 percent of agricultural emissions. In addition to reducing these emissions, agriculture has opportunities to assist in offsetting emissions from other sectors. This paper describes how the U.S. agricultural sector could take advantage of these opportunities:

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