If the phrase carbon neutral agriculture seems like an oxymoron to you, you are not alone. Agriculture is second only to the energy sector in emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Key tools for a farmer like fuel, fertilizer, manure and other inputs used to grow crops also release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. According to Purdue University’s Report on Climate Change “rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air will result in several direct and indirect impacts to the state’s agricultural industry.”
Fortunately, many agricultural producers are aware of carbon emissions and their role in reducing them. In an article from brinknews.com, Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana, says their anaerobic digesters make their farm 70% lower than the industry average in carbon emissions. For every ton of methane burned, they prevent the equivalent of 24 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. By using renewable biofuel in their trucks, they are replacing 2 million gallons of fossil fuel each year. The nutrient recovery from the digesters yields valuable fertilizer that would otherwise be purchased from industrial sources, which are produced using fossil fuels. Locally, Homestead Dairy is doing the same thing. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than three million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated by farms that have installed biogas recovery systems like Homestead Dairy and Fair Oaks.
Other practices being implemented by agriculture for reducing carbon emissions in our croplands are precision nutrient management, reduced tillage and planting cover crops. According to survey data, Indiana is a national leader in the use of cover crops, which helps the soil, our waters and the atmosphere.
I am encouraged and proud that more and more producers, both locally and nationally, are looking for ways to continue to grow food in sustainable ways. As Floyd Houin of Homestead Dairy said in article from 2015 “The land is important to us because we produce a crop for feeding cows. So we want to do everything we can to take care of the land and the water. We drink the same water as everyone else.”