Farmers and climate change: what’s the beef?
by Will Roderick
What's Going On Here?
Farmers are at the forefront of climate change. The industry is one of the most susceptible to changes in our climate (temperature, rainfall, extreme weather etc), but also has the potential to shape our societies resilience in the future (see last week's curious.earth article). In the week where we learn our beloved cauliflower is in short supply due to the extreme June weather, we take a look at some of the innovative ways farmers are adapting to our ever-changing climate.
What Does This Mean?
Ever thought you’d see WALL-E tending to the fields? That’s right - robots are being developed to replace heavy diesel polluting tractors, with the hope of reducing the energy consumption in cultivation by ~90%. Drones can identify where nitrogen fertiliser is actually needed, which reduces the production of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 200-300x more potent than carbon dioxide! Simple practices such as planting more trees can prevent soil erosion, improve biodiversity and store carbon in the ground, all whilst improving profitability for farmers. In the US farmers are subsidised for planting ‘cover crops’, which are basically crops that never see your dinner plate but help suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere! Lastly but most definitely not least, selective breeding and genetics are being trialled to reduce methane emissions, such as in Scotland, where beef cattle are bred based on the amount of methane produced in their digestive system!
Why Should We Care?
Because ultimately farming is what keeps us alive - we’ve all gotta eat right? It is vital that we recognise the importance of farming not just as a contributor to climate change, but as a key tool in reversing the effects of climate change through transitioning to a sustainable agricultural system. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has set a target of net-zero emissions from UK farming by 2040, which currently accounts for 9% of the UK’s total emissions - that’s no walk in the park! It is encouraging to see some of the methods being advanced to achieve this, and it is important for recent calls for the government to reward farmers for environmental protection be acted upon.
Farmers will be critical in mitigating against climate change - why not show them some support?
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