It’s no surprise that a recent estimate found U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions plummeted during 2020, falling more than 10 percent to their lowest levels in more than three decades. However, the reasons behind the sharp decline may come as a surprise to some. Critics often point a finger at 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 their output of food, fuel and fiber. While it spans the continent, U.S. agriculture accounts for only 10% of the country’s GHG emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By contrast, transportation accounts for 28 percent and electrical generation accounts for nearly 27 percent.
The impact of transportation and electrical production on emissions showed through in the 2020 report. As Americans drove fewer miles in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, GHG emissions from transportation fell by 14.7%. Likewise, as reduced electrical demand slowed power plants, GHG emissions from that sector declined by 10.3%.
By contrast, agriculture certainly didn’t slow down in 2020. Farmers, food processors and retailers have continued to operate at full tilt through the pandemic to produce the meats, dairy products, vegetables and other foods for Americans and people around world. That food was essential to keep people healthy and help them strengthen their immunity during the global pandemic.
Farmers are not done reducing their GHG emissions. In fact, according to a recent report, agriculture is on a trajectory to reduce its emissions by 50 percent in the coming years. And as they continually adopt new technology to increase efficiency, I’ll bet farmers beat that number.
Agriculture’s success is a very encouraging story as the world works to reduce GHG emissions. But it may be one that comes as a surprise to folks with no dirt under their fingernails.
By Dirck Steimel. Dirck Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Service manager and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.