Agriculture is one of the success stories in the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to John Newton, chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Newton, who was one of the speakers at a series of virtual workshops on farm sustainability sponsored by Indiana Farm Bureau, said that when people – including many lawmakers – consider the topic of agriculture’s contributions to greenhouse gases, they tend to focus on just one thing: emissions. But that does not tell the whole story.
“Think about the fact that we’ve lost 30 million acres of cropland over the last three decades,” he said. “But we’re producing more corn, more soybeans, we’re raising more hogs, we’re producing more milk than ever before.”
Agricultural productivity in the United States is about 140 times what it was in 1990. That means billions more bushels of corn, billions more pounds of milk and billions more pounds of pork, Newton said.
“But inputs have remained nearly unchanged, and that’s because we’ve become more efficient,” he said. “We need to change the narrative from ‘Ag emissions are up 12%,’” and instead talk about the productivity gains – and the concept of per capita emissions.
In the U.S., he explained, ag emissions per capita have dropped by 15% because agriculture is feeding more people, which means per unit emissions are going down.
“If you take ag productivity into account, ag emissions are down nearly 25%,” he said. “That’s the story we’re trying to tell.”
One of the groups Farm Bureau is working hard to communicate with is Congress, Newton said.
“We needed to go to the Hill just to do some basic education on what exactly we are doing in agriculture, what exactly we’ve done in terms of productivity gains to reduce our per unit emissions.”