Farmers can help mitigate climate change with improved management techniques that promote carbon storage in their soils and reduce their contributions to carbon pollution from chemicals and manure lagoons.
Adding carbon to our nation's soils can also help us adapt to climate change, as well as benefit our wildlife, water supplies, and rural economies. Farms with healthy soils are more profitable, more sustainable and have higher yields in floods and droughts—the kind of weather we can expect more of as our climate changes.
In the 2011 report, Future Friendly Farming, NWF offers techniques that farmers and ranchers can use to increase profits, reduce carbon pollution, and protect soil, water and wildlife habitat. NWF works with stakeholders to identify barriers to adoption of climate-friendly farming practices and implement solutions at multiple levels. Our current focus for promoting climate-friendly farming includes cover crops, carbon markets, and protecting permanent grasslands.
One practice that offers clear benefits to farmers, wildlife, and climate is cover cropping. Cover crops are non-commodity crops planted in between rows or during fallow periods to prevent chemical leaching, soil erosion, or provide nutrients to feed commodity crops. NWF recently worked with a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a roadmap to increase cover crop adoption in the United States.
Currently, there is no measure of national cover crop adoption. NWF has been encouraging federal agencies to collect data on cover crop use. By surveying cover crop seed dealers, NWF discovered that less than 2% of cropland in the Mississippi River Basin is planted to cover crops. If more acres are planted to cover crops, there will be less water pollution from agricultural runoff. NWF also spoke with water utilities, watershed conservation groups, and other individuals working hard to get more cover crops on the ground in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and Maryland; read their stories in Clean Water Grows.
Permanent grasslands (native grassland that has not been cultivated or disturbed by the plow) are some of the most carbon rich ecosystems in the world, with grass roots extending up to ten feet below ground. Above ground, perennial grasses provide habitat and food for declining wildlife species.
Unfortunately, North American grasslands are the most threatened ecosystems in the world - even more than the South American rain forest. High crop prices, the rising cost of land, and many other factors have contributed to the grasslands decline. Once grassland has been plowed or converted, it releases stores of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere.
NWF supports policies to avoid conversion of grasslands and other carbon-rich ecosystems like wetlands into agricultural production. See our farm bill policy pages to learn about our work to protect grasslands in the 2014 Farm Bill. Read about the 2013 Grassland Conference, hosted by NWF and Kansas State University.