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Emission drop shows ag’s progress

Dirck Steimel

It’s no surprise that a new estimate found U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions plummeted in 2020, down more than 10% to their lowest levels in more than three decades. But the reasons behind the sharp decrease may surprise some. 

Critics often point to agriculture, and especially livestock raising, as a major contributor to GHG emissions. But the numbers, including those in this new report, just don’t bear that out.

Farmers for decades have re­­duced their environmental footprint while increasing food production. Today, agriculture accounts for only 10% of the country’s GHG emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By contrast, transportation accounts for 28% and electrical generation accounts for nearly 27%.

Those numbers showed through in the 2020 report. As COVID-19 pandemic prompted Americans to drive less in 2020, GHG emissions from transportation declined by 14.7%. Likewise, reduced electrical demand lowered emissions by 10.3%.

By contrast, agriculture definitely didn’t slow down in 2020. Farmers, food processors and retailers have operated at full tilt through the pandemic to meet the demand for meats, dairy products and other healthy foods.

Agriculture, according to a re­cent report, is on a trajectory to reduce its GHG emissions by 50%. And as they adopt new technology to increase efficiency, I’ll bet farmers beat that.

It’s a good story, and one that may come as a surprise to folks with no dirt under their fingernails.


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