U.S. agriculture is becoming part of the climate-change solution as farmers continue to reduce per-unit greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Less than 10% of total U.S. emissions come from the agricultural sector, fewer than the total emissions from the transportation, electrical and industrial sectors. Agriculture’s use of modern technology to raise crops and livestock is helping reduce those emissions.
“Agriculture is not just beginning to be a solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Wilmer Stoneman, vice president of agriculture, development and innovation at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “We are a solution and always have been.”
The carbon-sequestering properties of trees and crops on farms outpace those businesses’ emissions. However, carbon emitted by all human activity is an imposing challenge, especially in densely populated areas, Stoneman said.
“When you take into consideration the carbon-sequestration efforts of farmers and ranchers, our carbon footprint, our environmental footprint, is much lower,” noted Dr. John Newton, chief economist for American Farm Bureau Federation. “Our emissions have remained relatively flat for some 30 years. And so I think it’s important to take into consideration our productivity gains. We’re producing more milk per cow, more meat on cattle and hogs, for example. So our per-unit emissions are actually going down, and we’ve been able to do so through adapting better technology in agriculture.”
The EPA’s U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2018 data is incorporated into a new AFBF Market Intel report. The report revealed per-unit methane emissions from livestock have declined since 1990 as productivity has increased.
In the past three decades, U.S. milk production has increased 71% while per-unit emissions of methane have declined by almost 25%. Beef production has increased almost 50%, while per-unit emissions dropped almost 8%. However, global agriculture still accounts for about 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
American farmers also are producing more crops on fewer acres, according to the analysis. In 1990, U.S. farmers would have needed almost 100 million additional acres to grow the same amount of corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat they harvested in 2018.