Fears of global food scarcity push governments to prioritize agricultural development over environmental concerns. But as climates change, land feels the effects, and farmers are forced to adjust their practices. A compromise is needed to prevent environmental degradation and promote regeneration.
Here, we’ll take you through some negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, and identify how farming can reduce climate change and enhance sustainability.
Of course, agriculture greatly relies on climate. Crop and livestock cultivation, as well as energy extraction, are tied to their environments. Changes to the land and the heightening of global temperatures can accelerate the water cycle, disrupt ecosystems, and influence carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. All of these make for unpredictable or lower yields for farmers.
In some regions, higher temperatures may lengthen growing seasons and promote greater output, but only if farmers are prepared with sufficient nutrients, soil moisture, and water availability. And according to the National Climate Assessment, temperatures are projected to increase between 1.8°F and 5.4°F over the next 30 years.
On the surface, this presents a sustainable aid to feeding the world’s population; however, these temperature increases lead to far more negative implications. They would exceed the optimal growth temperature for many crops, resulting in lost investments for farmers, and further provoke the climate crisis.
The same National Climate Assessment states that “farming is more affected by available soil water during the growing season than by temperature;” however, temperature influences both moisture and CO2 levels. They’re all connected.
The hydrologic cycle, or water cycle, is responsible for life—especially crop life—as we know it. It describes how water moves around the world, from evaporation, to being transported by clouds and returning to the ground or a body of water. Changes and disruptions to this cycle can lead to flooding, drought, and forest fires.
Rising global temperatures influence the levels of precipitation and evaporation in certain areas. Where precipitation was once abundant, we could see drought; where land was dry, we could see flooding. In fact, between 1961-2013, “the annual area of drylands in drought has increased, on average by slightly more than 1% per year.” While that seems low, it’s in fact critical.
Higher air temperature means quicker evaporation rates and less moisture in the soil. Warm air holds more moisture, causing more intense precipitation in coastal communities, while farmland dries up. Higher global temperatures can also lead to rising sea levels due to melting ice, causing flooding that destroys ecosystems and manmade structures alike.
The effects of a disrupted water cycle can be devastating to farmland, forcing farmers to abandon their livelihoods and start anew. Obviously, this is not sustainable.
Climate change can also contribute to overgrowth and the migration of invasive species, new pests, weeds, and diseases, which could harm already existing and otherwise thriving (natural or not) processes.
According to a study by NASA, “by 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth's land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type — such as forest, grassland or tundra — toward another.”
When ecosystems are disrupted, their inhabitants must find suitable replacements. As populations of animal and insect life migrate to more temperate climates, farmland may experience an influx of invasive or destructive species to their crops that they had never encountered previously.
Carbon dioxide emissions are both a cause and effect of climate change. Higher carbon dioxide emissions can be good and bad for farmland.
Carbon in the ground and air feeds plants and crops, but it also feeds the competition: weeds, pests, and fungi, all of which thrive in warmer temperatures.
For farmers, this means spending more on pesticides and herbicides to avoid taking hits to their yields.
While it’s important to acknowledge these effects, more and more issues may be added to the cycle if we fail to tend to the root of these issues.
While climate change affects farming, agriculture contributes heavily to climate change. An estimated 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (2007-2016) derive from Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use.
Although there are ways to reverse the cycle, certain agricultural processes amplify the expulsion of the earth’s heat-trapping emissions, which has serious, spiraling consequences on the weather, carbon-sequestration, temperature, and precipitation.
Agriculture’s contributions to climate change come in many forms:
Despite the effects of these practices, farming and investing in sustainable agriculture are staple parts of the solution. Many farmers are already implementing innovative, greener, and more sustainable practices.
Heat-trapping emissions perpetuate the cycle between agriculture and climate change. Experts in many industries have urged an immediate reduction of these emissions to net zero. Becoming a net zero emitter means balancing “all the sources of heat-trapping emissions (such as burning fossil fuels) … with all the processes that remove heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere.”
Farmers and investors have an incredible opportunity to reduce net carbon and heat-trapping emissions. While the farming and food system has its hand in creating and accelerating a lot of the problem, there’s also a lot it can reverse “by reducing emissions at every stage of the food production and distribution process, and by building agroecosystems that can sequester (store) more carbon.”
Farmers can implement a number of sustainable practices to help balance emissions and minimize the impact of climate change on farming.
Regenerative agriculture is focused on soil health. According to Rodale Institute, regenerative agriculture “improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.” Investing in regenerative agriculture can help balance our carbon budget, while also efficiently upcycling and repurposing farmland.
Soil is one of the best absorbers of carbon dioxide, sucking more of it from the air than forests or other forms of vegetation, so there's plenty of potential for regenerative practices. Some carbon reducing and sequestering practices include:
Farmland is at the crux of the climate crisis. As a major emitter of greenhouse gases, many urge for a total rework of agricultural practices globally. However, as the world’s population increases, farmers are being challenged to do more with less land. This, in turn, is increasing the value of the land that's already being farmed.
So, how do we encourage the agricultural sector to invest in sustainable practices that will still benefit the economy, and keep everyone fed?
At FarmTogether, we recognize farmland to be a stable, long-term investment. By democratizing the ownership of farmland, we’re giving investors the opportunity to take control of farming processes.
By investing with FarmTogether, investors can help balance cropland expansion (to satisfy food demand) and the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. Achieving a balance and harnessing climate change starts by backing regenerative agricultural practices. These are the kinds of practices we support in farmers and farmland.