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Room to Grow

How California Agriculture Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Room to Grow

​Few business sectors in California have more to lose from the impacts of climate change than agriculture. Changed growing seasons, increased drought and limits on water supply, flooding, record temperature changes, invasive species, and pest infestations all threaten the industry’s future. But farmers and ranchers control part of their destiny: the agricultural sector is a contributor to the greenhouse gases (GHG) that cause climate change and possesses unique opportunities to reduce overall GHG emissions.

To identify barriers and solutions for reducing GHG emissions, a group of agricultural leaders, academics, policy-makers, non-governmental organization representatives, and water experts met at the UC Berkeley School of Law in September 2009. The group identified and prioritized the most critical barriers to reducing agriculture’s GHG emissions and offered recommendations for policy- makers and industry leaders to overcome these barriers. Based on that discussion, this paper identifies the immediate and longer-term actions that government leaders and key stakeholders should take to address the barriers.

In the short term, agriculture leaders can adopt immediate and cost-effective practices that will reduce GHG emissions, particularly the methane from livestock production and nitrous oxide from fertilizer usage (the two largest agricultural sources). Dairy farmers and ranchers can reduce methane emissions from livestock by exploring improvements to the animals’ diet and by lengthening the productive life of dairy cows to generate fewer emissions per unit of milk produced. Farmers can reduce nitrous oxide emissions from too much fertilizer usage by employing more precise and well-timed methods of fertilizer application.

In the long-term, policy-makers will need to assist industry efforts to generate renewable energy from agricultural byproducts and to research new and cost- effective practices and technologies to reduce GHG emissions from agricultural commodities. Government leaders should simplify the permitting process for methane digesters and biomass gasification units that turn methane from manure and agricultural biomass into renewable energy. They should also improve the feed-in tariff policy, which provides payments to producers of renewable energy, to encourage more investment in these technologies. Finally, state and federal policy-makers should steer public investment in agriculture towards research on GHG-reducing techniques for each commodity, including ways to improve methane management, fertilizer application, and water usage. Public and private sector leaders will then need to lead outreach efforts to educate farmers and ranchers about these methods.

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