What Stewards of the Land Are Doing

A Farmer’s Life

The profession of farming is a challenging one. On a given day issues related to labor, equipment, animal health, a pest infestation, fuel, seed supplies, and the weather may all need to be addressed. And the wrong decision may affect the bottom line at year’s end. With a changing climate, being a farmer is only going to get more challenging and many are making the changes needed.

farmers-crops

Practicing Climate-Smart Agriculture

This approach takes a holistic view of the farm, emphasizing reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and the use of “smart” and commonsense tactics to be resilient, despite a changing climate. Examples include shifting wine grape production north to avoid excessive heat, using less water in rice paddies to reduce methane emissions, and using shade crops to keep coffee plants cool. Other solutions include the use of computer software to help optimize the use of irrigation water and monitor crop development. Climate-smart agricultural practices are of value to all farming strategies, including organic and conventional.

Photo by Chris Kitchen, courtesy of Cornell CALS

Practicing Soil Stewardship

Farmers are well aware that a healthy soil is critical to the viability of the farm. Many plant cover crops, which generally are non-marketable plants like winter rye or clover that hold and cover the soil when no commercial crop is being grown, such as during the colder months. Cover crops can also add nutrients to the soil and help sequester carbon. Farmers planted cover crops on more than 15 million ac. (6 million ha) in the US in 2017, 50% more than five years before.

Other options include conservation tillage, which minimizes soil tillage, thus retaining moisture and soil carbon, reducing erosion, and reducing fuel use and labor. Farmers practice conservation tillage on more than 65% of the soybean, corn, and wheat acreage in the US. Some are turning their attention to perennial crops, including grains. Because these don’t need to be replanted each year, the soil doesn’t need annual tilling.

Given that most agricultural soils have lost 30 to 75% of their organic carbon, we have an opportunity to make up this deficit and sequester enormous quantities of carbon.

Photo Credit: USDA NRCS

Diversifying

Farmers and ranchers are minimizing risk by diversifying the crops and animals they produce. For example, planting multiple types of vegetables and at different times of the season increases the odds that some may be lost due to severe weather, but not all.

Photo Credit: Cooperative Extension, University of Maine

Using Less Energy and Adopting Alternative Energy Sources

Some farmers are assessing their energy use and improving efficiency in farm operations, for example, by converting livestock waste to heat and power. More than 130,000 US farms were producing renewable energy with wind, solar, or geothermal in 2017, double the number in 2012.

Photo by Jason Koski, courtesy of Cornell CALS

More Scientific Research

During the coronavirus pandemic, scientists have been focusing on finding a cure—specifically, a vaccine. The same concept applies to the climate change crisis. Scientists, in partnership with others, need to develop climate-smart agricultural practices that will help farmers continue to produce the food we all need.

Given the scale and scope of the food system, global citizens will need computer models that forecast future changes in the climate. They’ll depend on new ways of enhancing soil health, managing water and novel pests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving crops through traditional means and genetic engineering, to name a few. Universities, the US Department of Agriculture, and many other national and international organizations and programs are striving to address the intensifying challenges facing our food system. The private sector’s scientific research will also be important in keeping our food supply secure.

Photo Credit: Carrie A. Koplinka-Loehr

What Stewards of the Land Are Doing

A Farmer’s Life

The profession of farming is a challenging one. On a given day issues related to labor, equipment, animal health, a pest infestation, fuel, seed supplies, and the weather may all need to be addressed. And the wrong decision may affect the bottom line at year’s end. With a changing climate, being a farmer is only going to get more challenging and many are making the changes needed.

Practicing Climate-Smart Agriculture

This approach takes a holistic view of the farm, emphasizing reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and the use of “smart” and commonsense tactics to be resilient, despite a changing climate. Examples include shifting wine grape production north to avoid excessive heat, using less water in rice paddies to reduce methane emissions, and using shade crops to keep coffee plants cool. Other solutions include the use of computer software to help optimize the use of irrigation water and monitor crop development. Climate-smart agricultural practices are of value to all farming strategies, including organic and conventional.

Photo by Chris Kitchen, courtesy of Cornell CALS

Practicing Soil Stewardship

Farmers are well aware that a healthy soil is critical to the viability of the farm. Many plant cover crops, which generally are non-marketable plants like winter rye or clover that hold and cover the soil when no commercial crop is being grown, such as during the colder months. Cover crops can also add nutrients to the soil and help sequester carbon. Farmers planted cover crops on more than 15 million ac. (6 million ha) in the US in 2017, 50% more than five years before.

Other options include conservation tillage, which minimizes soil tillage, thus retaining moisture and soil carbon, reducing erosion, and reducing fuel use and labor. Farmers practice conservation tillage on more than 65% of the soybean, corn, and wheat acreage in the US. Some are turning their attention to perennial crops, including grains. Because these don’t need to be replanted each year, the soil doesn’t need annual tilling.

Given that most agricultural soils have lost 30 to 75% of their organic carbon, we have an opportunity to make up this deficit and sequester enormous quantities of carbon.

Photo Credit: USDA NRCS

Diversifying

Farmers and ranchers are minimizing risk by diversifying the crops and animals they produce. For example, planting multiple types of vegetables and at different times of the season increases the odds that some may be lost due to severe weather, but not all.

Photo Credit: Cooperative Extension, University of Maine

Using Less Energy and Adopting Alternative Energy Sources

Some farmers are assessing their energy use and improving efficiency in farm operations, for example, by converting livestock waste to heat and power. More than 130,000 US farms were producing renewable energy with wind, solar, or geothermal in 2017, double the number in 2012.

Photo by Jason Koski, courtesy of Cornell CALS

More Scientific Research

During the corona virus pandemic, scientists have been focusing on finding a cure—specifically, a vaccine. The same concept applies to the climate change crisis. Scientists, in partnership with others, need to develop climate-smart agricultural practices that will help farmers continue to produce the food we all need.

Given the scale and scope of the food system, global citizens will need computer models that forecast future changes in the climate. They’ll depend on new ways of enhancing soil health, managing water and novel pests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving crops through traditional means and genetic engineering, to name a few. Universities, the US Department of Agriculture, and many other national and international organizations and programs are striving to address the intensifying challenges facing our food system. The private sector’s scientific research will also be important in keeping our food supply secure.

Photo Credit: Carrie A. Koplinka-Loehr

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