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The Unknown World of Agricultural Emission Reduction

Updated: Mar 31

Olivia LoDico

Agriculture produces a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emission and a tenth of America’s, yet there is little progress in the farming industry’s ability to reduce its effect on climate change. However, in attempts to mitigate these numbers, the U.S. government is spending billions of dollars into improving agricultural practices. The unfortunate reality, as we’re used to observing from Congress, is that a large chunk of this funding will likely go towards projects that will not even serve this purpose. This is due to the vast knowledge gap that exists in the agricultural realm of infrastructure.

The Environmental Working Group, an activist non-profit organization, conducted research on the projects where this federal funding is heading towards. The group concluded that the Department of Agriculture will be allocating funds to unproven practices in reducing agricultural emissions. In response, U.S.D.A spokesman Allan Rodriguez claimed that the EWG did not take the USDA’s “rigorous, science-based methodology” into account in determining the practices. However, the author of the EWG report is still waiting for the department to even release their sources and data. 

The controversy over these agricultural unproven practices are more difficult to debunk due to the complexities of the overall practice. It is not quite as straightforward (to put lightly, as nothing about sustainable development is straightforward) as examining and monitoring a large greenhouse gas emission source such as power plants. Examining the implications of practices, and furthermore proving whether or not they are effective, requires an immense amount of data and research. An example given in the Times is the minorly researched, yet widely accepted implementation of cover crops as a sustainable agricultural method. Other practices along these lines that the USDA has approved for funding include new irrigation systems and infrastructure for animal waste containment; both of which have a high potential of accomplishing just the opposite of their intention. Our implementation of lightly researched and unproven agricultural methods has and continues to occur. There are even many agricultural emission reduction methodologies contained in the Kyoto Protocol under the Clean Development Mechanism that have been contested as illegitimate

This phenomenon of integrating seemingly ignorant yet widely embraced solutions in hopes of achieving agricultural sustainability is largely due to the gap in knowledge of the field. Governmental strategy implementation is outpacing scientific discovery, but there may be no other choice for the time being. Our agricultural emission output is too detrimental to stand by and cross our fingers until reliable solutions are found. In terms of agricultural sustainability, it seems as though our current strategy is to throw anything at the ceiling and hope it sticks. However, there is hope with the climate crisis mitigation efforts included in the country’s largest energy tax credit package to date, the Inflation Reduction Act. The unprecedented investments contained in this $369 billion package have the ability to transform U.S. climate and environmental policies. In the case of sustainable agricultural development, the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be allocated to the industry have the potential to produce the research that we have been so desperately seeking. Although much of the funding will likely support pre-existing agricultural infrastructure, this is just as much an opportunity to better research and understand where we should direct future funding. We must work to seal this elusive gap in achieving the knowledge to produce meaningful, sustainable agricultural production.


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