Combating climate change: the farming industry

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Climate change is, and will be, the toughest challenge of our generation. In recent months, Coronavirus has taken centre stage on all media outlets and reports on global warming have been on the back burner. But this does not mean this issue is any less concerning or pressing. With the global temperature rising and ice caps melting at an alarming rate, we need to look at what we can do to help our planet and save it from destruction.

It comes at no surprise that the farming industry largely contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the percentage it accounts for being highly contested, in 2017 it was suggested that it contributed to approximately 20% of the global CO2 emissions. Ranking it the third biggest contributor, following transport and business. 

A recent BBC article gave recommendations on how the farming industry should change in order to reduce its current emission rates. A very common concern regarding livestock, is the amount of methane they produce. This is particularly evident in cows. Cows’ digestion process produces a significant amount of methane and massively contributes to global warming. It was suggested by BBC Scotland that this needs to fall by 30% and one way to do this is with food additives for the animals, which in turn, will limit emissions. 

Another suggestion referenced ‘multifunctional land use’, which alludes to methods such as agroforestry, where trees which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are planted in fields where livestock are kept. It is projected by 2030, all farmers have to change land use on farms where some crop land is planted with grass or trees in order to counterbalance the emissions from agriculture.

However, this BBC article dismisses our world’s best model for combating climate change; the Netherlands. Despite the country’s size, it has become an agriculture powerhouse. It has become the second largest global exporter of food (by dollar value) and the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions, whilst simultaneously reducing water usage by 90% and is projected to be carbon neutral by 2050. How has it achieved this? By using the world’s most efficient agricultural technologies. 

The Netherlands utilises a patchwork of intensely cultivated fields, a lot of which heavily rely on greenhouses. By using greenhouses, it allows farmers to closely control plants growing conditions and use fewer resources like water and fertiliser. The greenhouse complexes are extraordinary, with some covering 175 acres of land. 

In 2015 an international jury of horticultural experts named the Duijvestijns the world’s most innovative tomato growers. In 2004, they declared they were resource independent on every front. The farm produces almost all of its own energy and fertiliser. As well as this, they even produce some of the packaging materials necessary for the crop’s distribution. They utilise geothermal aquifers which allows the growing environment for the crops to be kept at optimal temperatures year-round. And in regards to water supply, the only irrigation source is rainwater. With this system, each kilogram of tomatoes requires less than four gallons of water, compared with 16 gallons for plants in open fields.

The rest of the world should be looking at the example set by the Netherlands. We need to innovate and transform our current agriculture system to meaningfully tackle the climate emergency. 

Sophie Denham

Image source: Pixnio