Groups outline farming’s role in offsetting climate change

More than 50 agricultural, environmental and conservation-focused groups signed off on a letter sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this month on how New York can better address climate change in 2019.

The letter outlines how farms can help mitigate climate change through better farm practices, as well as focus on not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also on re-sequestering carbon back into the soil.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report earlier this year that stated greenhouse gas emissions must be cut and carbon already emitted in the atmosphere removed by 2040 to avoid a potentially disastrous increase in the global temperature.

“It is only with this two-pronged strategy—reducing emissions and re-sequestering carbon back into the ground—that, according to the most recent IPCC report, we will avoid a climate catastrophe and stay below the 2 degree Celsius warming limit,” said Samantha Levy, New York policy manager for American Farmland Trust.

The letter to Cuomo was based on a climate study published in Science Advances that found that natural and working U.S. lands have the potential to sequester up to 21 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, if properly managed.

Recommendations include enhancing current farm practices, like planting cover crops or reducing tillage, which helps sequester carbon, increase farm resiliency to extreme weather events and also reduces the need for fertilizer and other soil inputs for farmers, according to the New York Farm Bureau.

Other recommendations include placing wind turbines or solar panel arrays on farms, but without reducing viable farmland by placing them at the edge of planted fields or on lower-quality soil.

“Renewable energy siting can be a threat to productive working farm land and valuable soils, but when done right it can also be an opportunity for farmers to become more resilient in difficult financial times by supplementing farm income,” said Elizabeth Walters, deputy director of public policy for the New York Farm Bureau.

Other practices include protecting farmland from urban development, improving fertilizer and manure management, and cattle nutrition.

Cattle produce large amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas — but dietary advancements could reduce that by 30 to 40 percent, said Tom Overton, a Cornell professor of animal sciences who focuses on dairy cattle nutrition and management.

Overton said improving dairy cattle nutrition goes “hand in hand” with improving productivity for farmers and also reducing greenhouse gas production.

“Anything we do to better formulate diets for cattle is going to improve efficiency of use,” Overton said.

The letter also recommended the creation of an Agriculture and Climate Working Group that would bring together farmers, researchers, policy makers, agricultural organizations and advocates to implement strategies.

“And perhaps the best thing is that the areas of policy outlined will not only help mitigate climate change,” Levy said, “but they also support farm viability and resiliency in the face of climate change.”

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