Carbon Footprint of Agriculture by Type and Area: CSA, Regenerative, Sustainable

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | January 3, 2024

Woman looking at greenhouse gas emissions from a farm and wondering what is the carbon footprint of agriculture and how do you measure agriculture carbon emissions, what is community supported agriculture (csa) meaning, regenerative farming and sustainable farming practices?

The carbon footprint of agriculture is a tricky subject. Food production is crucial for survival, but some practice have higher emissions factors than others.

For example, people who have backyard gardens or small, self sustaining farms actually have a much lower impact than people in cities who purchase foods that have been mass produced and shipped.

So, finding ways to lower the carbon footprint of agriculture means measuring the entire process, from an industrial farm to a table.

In order to understand the real carbon footprint of agriculture practices, you have to categorize the type of farming and the area where it’s being performed. Community supported agriculture, regenerative farming and sustainable farming all all part of the larger picture.

This guide breaks down those aspects and explains how to measure the carbon footprint of the food you eat, and how you can reduce that footprint significantly by taking steps to purchase locally grown food from small farms in your area.

Causes of Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Agriculture By Type?

Agriculture is undoubtedly one of the most significant sectors of the economy, not just in the US but also in the rest of the world. There are various types of crops and animals reared in all the nations depending on the prevailing climatic conditions and several other factors, which makes agriculture an industry that people cannot live without.

First and foremost, it is the source of livelihood for both farmers and the people.

As more and more people congregate in cities, the sector is being stretched thin in a bid to be able to keep up with the high demand and satisfy the needs of the people. It may be locally on a large scale or subsistence level or internationally through the exportation of various crops to other countries.

However, there is a lot more to agriculture than the provision of food.

This is one sector that is highly lucrative in terms of the production of non-food items as well, from leather to wool and several other products. If the food supply is already straining agriculture, you can imagine what it means when the demand for these other products also rises.

But before understanding how these practices are measured for emisisons, it is important to know what is a carbon footprint.

In the simplest terms possible, the carbon footprint calculation is the measure of the total amount of greenhouse gasses that a certain activity causes.13 Basically, it is the indicator of just how much GHG a particular activity, industry, country, company, or product emits. It is usually measured in terms of tons per a certain comparison unit; it could be per year, kilometer, person, and so on.

You can get the readings from a carbon emissions calculator online, and there are several of them that measure your footprint and that of other activities.

There is the individual, household, transport, and business carbon footprint calculator that will help measure the amount of impact that you have on the environment. Now back to the main issue, the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Did you know that in 2021, the GHG from agriculture accounted for a total of 10% of the world’s emissions,15 and that came from livestock rearing and crop farming?

This is the percentage of the 6,340 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emitted in the year 2021.

Pie Chart showing percentage of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by sector with the biggest share from Transportation with 28 percent; from Electric Power sector with 25 percent; from Industry sector with 23 percent; from Commercial and Residential sectors with 13 percent; and finally, the smallest share from Agriculture with 10 percent.

It is essential to note that various activities on the farmlands contribute to the total GHG emissions as follows:

Land Use For Agriculture

Over more than 10,000 years ago, the onset of the Neolithic Revolution saw to it that the human culture transformed from nomadic lifestyles to more settled living including the start of farming.

Agriculture became one of the most important sources of livelihood for people as they cultivated crops and kept livestock.

Bit by bit, land use became more intensive, and fast forward to the modern world, it has also had a fair share of negative effects on the environment. Currently, land use is infamous for its contribution to the carbon footprint of agriculture in various ways. For starters, there is the release of methane into the atmosphere and it is all due to the growing of rice and the enteric fermentation of cattle.

As if that’s not all, land use is also somehow related to the release of carbon due to massive land clearing or deforestation.

It is easy to see that the land cover in the world has dramatically changed over the last few centuries, right; this is because more and more humans want to clear out forests for just their farming and housing needs.

It also goes without saying that this has also had a huge effect on the reuptake of carbon, the job that trees seem to do so well. It goes quite a long way to explain why the level of carbon in the atmosphere only keeps increasing and increasing and so far, it is now the most dominant greenhouse gas in the world.

Pie Chart showing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates with Carbon taking the biggest share of 79.4 percent; Methane with 11.5 percent; Nitrous Oxide with 6.2 percent; and Hydrofluorocarbons, Perfluorocarbons, and Nitrogen Trifluoride with 3 percent.

Besides the chopping down of trees, there are also several other land-related activities that increase the carbon footprint of agriculture, including the burning of biomatter which you already know directly releases harmful gasses into the air. Reports from studies carried out in the year 2020 strongly indicate that the total emissions caused by land use and other related activities accounted for about 758.9 million metric tons of carbon equivalent.16

Animal Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Keeping animals on farms also takes a toll on the environment, and it is one of the contributors to climate change,5 and there are several explanations for this. For one, you know that livestock needs massive parcels of land for grazing and other needs, and that is why farmers clear out huge pieces of land to accommodate them; the carbon footprint of land use above explains this further.

Secondly, the grazing fields of the food grown for animals to consume sometimes require heavy use of natural and synthetic fertilizers, which also, in turn, contribute to the pollution caused by nitrous oxide. And it is important to note that this gas is more than 100 times more lethal to the environment than CO2. Another notoriously poisonous chemical is methane, which is one of the byproducts caused by the keeping of livestock.

Consider the ruminants that you are more than likely to find on farms; cattle, sheep, and goats. All of them produce methane during the digestion of their food, in a process called enteric fermentation. Basically, when this happens, the microbes in their digestive systems break down the parts of the plants that they eat. In their massive stomach chamber, otherwise called the rumen.

This is the single reason why animals are able to eat raw plant parts that humans can never. Interestingly, this gas can find its way into the air even when the animals burp but the most common source is in animal manure. It doesn’t even stop there, the carbon footprint of agriculture caused by the rearing of animals also has a lot to do with their usage of water and pollution.

They need a lot of water to drink and there is more that is used during various farm processes like the watering of the fields, cleaning of the farms, and several more activities. During cleaning, when the manure pits are created to hold the waste, the pits can leak and the contents find themselves in waterways which causes a myriad of health complications for the locals.

Out of the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by the keeping of livestock, most of it is caused by the production of meat. The high carbon footprint of meat is from the fact that animals kept for their meat need more food and water to sustain them and there is a lot more that goes into their care, maintenance, and processing that leads to a high carbon footprint.

Livestock Production Emissions chart showing the carbon equivalent for every 1 kilogram production of the following: 1 kilogram of Beef equals 16.55 kilograms of carbon emissions; 1 kilogram of Lamb equals 3.2 kilograms of carbon emissions; 1 kilogram of Pork equals 2.62 kilograms of carbon emissions; 1 kilogram of Eggs equals 2.2 kilograms of carbon emissions; and 1 kilogram of Chicken equals 1.28 to 1.39 kilograms of carbon emissions.

Take a look at more details about the carbon footprint of various types of meat produced on the farm such as the carbon footprint of chicken in the graphic above.

Emissions From Crop Farming

The factors that cause emissions due to crop farming kind of intertwine with the reasons for the high carbon footprint of both land use and livestock keeping. For example, since massive land parcels are required for crop farming, natural vegetation will have to be cleared to accommodate large-scale farming.

So, what happens when the trees that are required to absorb carbon from the atmosphere are no longer there?

Simple, emissions become harder to control. On the other hand, subsistence farming is not such a huge emitter of carbon because less land is required. Besides deforestation, there is another reason why crop farming has a high carbon footprint, the heavy use of fertilizers.

Given that there is a need to meet the high demand for food production, farmers have to resort to the use of natural and artificial fertilizers to boost their yields. For one, the manufacture of these fertilizers in the industries leads to the release of greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon. And apart from that, there is also the concern that excessive use leads to pollution in the air and in waterways, and that has a detrimental effect on the people living around crop farms.

The amount of emissions usually depends on the type of crop being grown, because some have higher carbon footprints than others.

Take rice for instance. A beloved food for many around the country but did you know that paddies are infamous methane emitters? But how come rice is responsible for more emissions than virtually any other crop?

It is all due to the flooding of the paddies, you see, there are a lot of breakdowns caused by bacteria in the fields and methane is the byproduct of that.4 On the contrary, the carbon footprint of avocado and other fruits and vegetables is much lower and some of the lowest levels is the carbon footprint of timber because trees are also carbon sequesters.

Pie Chart showing Emissions from Crop Farming with Livestock and Fisheries taking the biggest share with 31 percent; Crop Production with 27 percent; Land Use with 24 percent; and Supply Chain including packaging, transportation and food processing with 18 percent.

The reports clearly indicate that when it comes to the total greenhouse gasses caused by the production of food, livestock keeping, and fisheries have the most impact.

Agriculture Greenhouse: Types of Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Agriculture

As earlier pointed out, the agricultural sector is most likely to blame for a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions, especially since there are so many activities that take place on farms.

From the clearing of land, the rearing of animals, and the growing of crops like rice. Apart from the direct emissions, there are also other indirect emissions caused by the production of fertilizer and many more.

It is critical to understand what kind of emissions are caused by these practices and what it really means for the environment.

Carbon Dioxide

This is the most dominant greenhouse gas on the entire planet, and there are so many activities that directly and indirectly lead to its production when it comes to agricultural practices. For instance, the clearing of land or deforestation to make room for more crops has a negative impact on the levels of carbon in the air, although it is sort of indirect. When trees are cut down, there is less sequestration and storage of carbon which also has devastating effects on the environment.17

The tilling of the land during the farming of crops accounts for its emissions, and so does the actual planting. The process requires a lot of water, and even more dangerous, is the use of chemicals in the form of fertilizers because they can find their way into waterways. The operating of farm machinery and the heating of farm buildings are other indirect causes of carbon emissions when they call for the use of fossil fuels.


You cannot mention emissions from agriculture without including methane and it is actually one of the top reasons why the carbon footprint of agriculture is so high. Did you know that a single cow can be able to produce 220 pounds of methane in a single year, shocking right? But not if you dig deeper to learn that methane is a byproduct of natural processes like digestion.

No thanks to enteric fermentation, which is basically the digestion of food by ruminants, methane can even come from the burping of livestock. Not to talk about methane that is produced by their manure, which is later then used during crop farming as compost. Just the storage of manure leads to emissions, even before the application.

There is no stopping methane at this point because the levels produced by farming crops like rice are yet to be accounted for. This is due to the anaerobic decomposition of the matter when the waters are stagnant, or the soils are not well draining.1 In comparison to carbon, methane actually has a shorter residence time, but it is more lethal because it can trap heat up to 20 more times.

Nitrous Oxide

The main reason why there is the release of nitrous oxide from farms is because of the fact that there is excessive use of organic and artificial fertilizers.

Graphics showing the Types of Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Agriculture mainly Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide.

Nitrogen is one of the main compounds used in the manufacture of fertilizers, and given that there is a high demand for food production, farmers can’t help but use these products all in a bid to increase the yields and make the crops grow as fast as possible.

This gas is one of the deadliest because it is more potent than methane and carbon combined. Did you know that it can trap heat by as much as 300 times more than carbon; if carbon is already lethal, you can imagine what it means if more nitrous oxide finds its way into the atmosphere. That is why it is the gas to watch out for when it comes to the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Commonly Supported Agriculture (CSA Meaning)

It is amazing how much agricultural practices have shifted over the last years and it is all in a bid to make products more accessible for the consumer while at the same time more affordable for the farmer. There is a system that is making waves all over the world called Community Supported Agriculture; it is unlike what you know about the conventional methods of farming because in this case, you as a consumer or buyer have a role to play at the very beginning stage of production.

So, what exactly is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?

CSA, as it is more commonly known, is a marketing method where the consumers or the buyers of produce buy shares in the expected harvests of a farm way in advance. If you want to be part of the process, you are able to pay a specific rate as agreed upon by the farmer, and simply with that you automatically become a CSA member. All this is supposed to happen at the very start of the season a little before the farm operations even begin.

Basically, you have two options, you can either pay virtually everything at once or settle it in more workable installments.

Usually, for most farms, the rate tends to vary, and you can find yourself paying anything between $400- $700. This can even be higher or lower in accordance with how long the season is supposed to take, the sort of products available, and the harvests that are expected at the end of it all.

By agreeing to pay at the very start, you as a consumer are able to share all the profits but at the same time, also share the risks involved.

Doing this also goes a long way to help the farmer save the time and money that would have otherwise been used for marketing in order to bring in more customers. There are a lot of positives to this because instead, the producer is able to give more attention to other more important aspects of the process in order to ensure that the products are of the best quality.

Apart from that, another upside to it is that the money collected in the form of shares comes in handy to help buy the necessary farm inputs and it is sort of an income that is vital to kick off the season.

So now that those are the benefits that go to the farmer, what about the shareholder or the consumer that is a CSA member, quite a lot.

For one, there is the advantage of being the first to get the best that the farm has to offer, now that you are a shareholder. You will be able to have access to fresh produce; you will have access to freshly picked vegetables, fruits and flowers, dairy products, meat, and so much more, that is, depending on the type of farm that you invested in. By doing so, you will be eating healthy non-processed organic food straight from the farm.

At least, in this case, you will know exactly where what you eat came from, who planted it, and how it came to be.10

You may also be lucky to be part of a CSA membership where the people come together for on-farm activities and further bond with other members of the community. CSAs can form in plenty of ways. Either the producer will call upon consumers to invest, the consumers will band together to find a farmer to work with, or sometimes various farmers will collaborate to find willing consumers.

How Does CSA Affect the Environment?

Various studies conducted go to show that there are so many reasons why CSA is an excellent idea.18 Apart from all the benefits that come to you and the farmer, there is also a ray of hope that this new farming method could be one of the answers to the high carbon footprint of agriculture. And there are several reasons for that.

For one, look at small vs. large-scale farming systems. Individually, farming on a small scale has less impact on the environment because there is less use of machinery, fertilizer, and generally lower emissions from the fewer livestock kept. But there is one problem, when there are so many small-scale farms in an area, the size that could be one massive farm, it presents a fair share of challenges.

In the case of a massive parcel of land for crop and animal farming, it is way easier to come up with more innovative and environmentally-friendlier methods of operation. Farmers can effortlessly adjust most of the operations they handle to incorporate technology and any other system that will be of great benefit to improve yields and at the same time, and even more importantly be kinder to the environment.

The reason why this is important is pretty simple. The fact that farms used in Community Supported Agriculture are usually way bigger and it is because they have to serve more people from the local community. And this has so far proven to be an excellent idea for the reason above. Using technology and much more innovative methods can be of help to farmers to reduce their carbon emissions.

They can even incorporate solar power into their farming methods and reduce the over-reliance on fossil fuels, such as solar panels.

Apart from that, there is one more thing, that you will definitely love to hear. That there is the benefit of providing locals with access to more sustainable food. The fresh meat and dairy products that literally come from these farms are way more eco-friendly in comparison to those that have to undergo so many processes.

In that case, you have an upper hand because you get the real deal and you know exactly where your food comes from, who is producing it, and which farming methods they have used.

In addition to that, you know that the carbon footprint of transportation also factors in when calculating the life-cycle emissions of agriculture. It has to account for the entire process, that is, from farming all the way until the food reaches your table. Well, the case is different when the food is locally produced via CSA, especially if the food is grown right in the neighborhood.

Buying locally has always been a perfect way to reduce the carbon footprint of food, and it is great that the “food miles” or the distance that food from the producer to the consumer is significantly reduced. Did you know that the average distance that food travels from the source to a consumer in the U.S. is roughly 4,000 miles?

In comparison, the distance covered by the food produced from CSA can be as little as 10 miles, interesting right?

One more advantage of being a member of a CSA group is the fact that you will be making a mark in the community in so many ways. You will be forming a lasting connection between you, the producers, and other CSA members while at the same time, you will be able to support the local farmers. This is all in the process of encouraging the production of local and sustainable food.12

All About Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture honestly couldn’t have come at a better time than this, when the planet needs more sustainable agricultural practices.19 The increase in the level of farming activities has been of great help to the ever-rising population, but there is a problem, in the process of striving to meet the demand, there have been a lot of devastating effects on the environment.

Some of the modern methods of farming are sort of extractive, not really mindful of the soil or the biodiversity it hosts and that is why regenerative agriculture is so important for the planet. But what does it entail? Basically, it is the blending of traditional methods of farming with modern and more innovative techniques.

Just from the name, you can tell that regenerative agriculture has a lot to do with the preservation of biodiversity, improvement of the soil, and all at the same time ensuring that the food produced is of nothing but the best quality. This farming method is a kind of evolution of traditional agriculture and calls for the use of more sustainable practices.

For instance, the method involves the reduction of the amount of water used, be it during irrigation, cleaning, or virtually any other task. Another system is the reduction in the use of farm inputs. There is less use of fertilizer and other chemicals during farming. This way, there is more focus on the soil retaining its original state and not polluting it with too much fertilizers.

There are so many benefits to this, for one, the soil is able to work on building its organic matter and can stay healthy. However, note that the regenerative farming practices do not cut across for all farmers. There have got to be specific principles that guide the activities carried out on individual farms and it all depends on the particular farm where it is actually located, the prevailing conditions in the region, and very importantly, the kind of activities that take place there.

So what are the most common principles of running a regenerative farm?

  • As little soil disturbance as possible: It is not only about minimizing the amount of farm inputs; regenerative agriculture is also all about less tilling of the land. There is a very logical reason behind this. You see, the more the land is tilled, the more it becomes vulnerable to erosion and the more it reduces its water retention abilities.
  • Plants in the field all through the year: What the farmers basically do is that they plant a whole new crop immediately after harvesting another to make sure that the soil gets healthier with time. Usually, they alternate between cover and cash crops to avoid leaving the soil bare.
  • Diversification of crops: Imagine planting the same crops in the same spots for years. You will notice that the soil will soon get ripped off its minerals and weeds, disease and pests will have a field day. On the other hand, crop rotation especially with nitrogen fixers solves all these problems and leaves the soil healthy all year round .14
  • Incorporation of livestock into the fields: Cows, chickens, goats, and other farm animals are literally bioreactors. They can easily transform the food they eat into organic manure, which is way better for the soil than harmful chemical fertilizers. Besides, instead of tilling, it is even easier to let the livestock graze on the cover crops.

What Is the Impact of Regenerative Farming on Climate Change?

Regenerative farming is a total game changer when it comes to sustainable farming methods. People are used to the conventional extractive methods where there is only one goal in mind, to increase the yields without caring what that does to the soil or the growing of the subsequent crops on the same farm.

For a while now, farming has involved heavy use of fertilizers and machinery to increase yields and make farming easier. But there are so many disadvantages to that, not even just on the quality of soil but also on the planet. These practices have led to an increase in the carbon footprint of agriculture, but not for long because regenerative farming is changing all that.

For starters, consider the effect on the soil, which is basically the most crucial carbon sink on the planet. They store an impressive amount of carbon than you know and must be looked after to avoid any losses. Thankfully, through regenerative agriculture, there are practices that effectively increase the amount of carbon inputs in the soil.

For instance, there is an emphasis on having plant cover on the farms all through the year and the farmers as much as possible avoid tiling the land. With that, the farming method is able to convert agriculture from a high-carbon emitter to a carbon sequester. Potentially, there are chances that over 10% of the carbon emissions into the environment can be drawn into the ground for the next two decades or more.

One more advantage is the fact that this method could be the solution to food shortage without affecting the soil in any way, and it is all thanks to crop rotation. The soil doesn’t remain bare, and there are crops all through the year, with minimum tilling and less use of farm inputs. This solves the problem of increased demand for food but without straining the soil or letting it lose its organic matter by excessive use of fertilizers.

Farms will reduce the amount of nitrous oxide emissions that comes from artificial fertilizers and the best part is that water use is also reduced. The carbon footprint of water will, therefore, also decrease.  All in all, there will be even more emphasis on sustainable farming, and you will be sure that the crops and animals that come from these farms don’t have that much effect on the environment.

It is also very important to point out the fact that crop rotation is one of the best natural solutions to deal with pests, diseases, and weeds that love certain crops. Instead of constantly planting the same thing all over again and affecting the health of the soil, you would rather rotate with nitrogen-fixing plants and avoid the problems above. If there are no problems with diseases, weeds, and pests and the soil stays healthy, there will be much less use of fertilizers. No more pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or heavy fertilizers.

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

Based on the facts from history, agriculture was previously not really about the environment. Farmers were not very concerned about what would become of the farms in the process or even what effect their practices have on the environment. Consider what happened during the Green Revolution that took place in the 1960s.20

So what was it all about? The better part of this era featured extremely high use of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and many other chemicals and in most cases, the emphasis was mostly on just how much a farm was able to produce. The yields were considered more important because the producers wanted to do virtually everything possible to ensure that the people’s needs were met, but the problem was that all this had to happen within the small piece of land that was available.

As a result of this, it is no wonder there were so many issues to deal with, from water pollution to soil erosion and the degradation of the quality of the land. You can imagine how all these effects became even worse when more and more agrochemicals came into the scene. This is one of the reasons why environmentalists had to come up with a working solution in the form of sustainable practices.

Well, sustainable agriculture, to put it very simply, is the process in which the crops and animals are cared for but with as little effect on the environment as possible. As much as there is a lot of emphasis on leaving the environment healthy and with high organic content, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the production quality or quantity will be affected. The production level will stay the same, but the difference is the fact that the environment is not negatively affected.

The principles of sustainable agriculture are that water must be conserved, the level of chemicals dug into the soil has to be reduced, and no matter what happens, the biodiversity of the crops must be maintained.11 Sustainable farming, as you can tell, is much more different in comparison to the conventional modern family and industrialized agriculture.

The two farming methods usually care more about production quality, and that is why there is heavy mechanization and more use of farm inputs. There are also instances where there is a lot of wastage of water during over-the-top irrigation, and most conventional farmers still tend to practice monoculture planting, which does little to no good for the soil or the quality of the harvest.

The goal is very simple really, to see to it that farming is done in such a way that the people can benefit from it in all aspects. In addition to that, the food produced is supposed to be enough to meet the ever-rising demand and, at the same time, that the population will be healthy. Given various options when it comes to sustainable farming, it is easy to point out which of the following is not a goal of sustainable agriculture.

Basically, this agricultural method puts quite a lot of emphasis on aspects like eco-conscious farming methods and the overall safety of the population. There is also way more focus on the quality and quantity of the yields, but only if it doesn’t affect the environment in any negative way. You will realize that most of the principles of sustainable farming kind of intertwine with those of regenerative and Community Supported Agriculture, in that they all have the same goal when it comes to protecting the environment.

Environmental Impact of Sustainable Agriculture

Getting rid of conventional methods and fully embracing sustainable practices is definitely the best way forward when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.[21] The best part about the method is that it encourages eco-conscious farming methods, and experts completely advocate for it as one of the ways to do away with harmful farm practices.

For example, what happens when there is less tilling of the land? Basically, reduced use of extractive farming ensures that the soil’s organic matter stays intact, and, in fact, the soil even gets better by the day and is more than ready to sequester carbon. There is nothing more important to a farmer than when the soil is perfect because it is almost certain that the crops grown will do well. Besides, if you are able to avoid tilling, then you will, of course, save money that you would have used to pay for labor or fuel. Not using fuel is also going to reduce your dependency on non-renewable energy, and the plants will thank you.

Another sustainable farming method is the planting of crop cover to ensure that there is a food supply well around the year, and this also has its upsides. For instance, you will notice that the planting of cover crops effectively reduces the need for fertilizers, which is otherwise damaging to the environment. Apart from that, rotation with other crops reduces the presence of weeds, and in turn, there will be no need for herbicides, and this goes a really long way to save you a lot of money and, in fact, increase the yield.7

It is admirable how sustainable farming places a lot of focus on the health of the soil, the crops, the people, and also the planet as a whole. By buying from farmers that use sustainable practices, you are sure to get products that are well taken care of, there are no harmful fertilizers used, and you get the healthiest and freshest of the bunch.

The plants grow in the best conditions, and so do the animals. If you are keen on only supporting the best farming systems that are mindful of the environment, what you are looking for is produce from sustainable farming. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint all across the board, you want to also consider the impact that your food choice has, and the best way to reduce your emissions is by buying from locally and sustainably produced meat and crops.

Which Countries Produce the Most Agricultural Emissions? Carbon Footprint of Agriculture By Country

The agricultural sector is a very important one for many countries, probably the most critical, because where else would people find the food that they need on a daily basis? What would economies do if there is nothing to import or export? It is clear that agriculture has a heavy impact on the people, but it also significantly affects the environment and in so many ways for that matter as already addressed in the beginning.

Here’s how various developed and still developing countries are holding up when it comes to the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Agriculture in China

China is undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing countries in the entire world. It is also one of the most populated, with over 1.4 billion people. It is clear to see from this that there is a very high demand in the matter of food production. A lot has to be done to feed such a massive population. Therefore, the country is constantly in a predicament, trying to find ways to increase agricultural production while, at the same time, reducing the levels of emissions coming from the sector.

In the year 2018, China alone was responsible for almost 650 million tons of carbon emissions,22 and that is just coming from the agricultural sector. This automatically means that it takes one of the top spots when it comes to the highest agricultural carbon emitters on the planet.

India Agriculture Carbon Footprint

Like other big shots in the industry, India is also among the top three highest emitters of greenhouse gasses across the board, and it comes in at number three only rivaled by China and the US.3 To make things even worse, India is still struggling to deal with its high population of 1.4 billion, which is only trailing behind China. In a bid to meet the demands of the exploding population, the country has to find alternative ways to increase food production, and some of these methods lead to high carbon emissions. As a testament to this, reports indicate that India matched China in terms of emissions from the agriculture sector with 650 million metric tons of emissions.

Brazil Farming

Did you know that Brazil is one of the top five countries with the highest levels of pollution on the planet? And most of these emissions come from the forestry industry, not thanks to deforestation, which amounts to more than half of the emissions. It really doesn’t come as a surprise that the country is in the same leagues as the US, China, and India in matters of total emissions from the agricultural sector.

Map illustrating locations of Countries That Produce the Most Agricultural Emissions, mainly: China, India, Brazil, United States of America, Indonesia, Ireland, and New Zealand.

As proof of this, statistics from a 2018 study placed Brazil’s carbon footprint at almost the same level as China, stating that it was responsible for the emission of about 450 million metric tons. The agricultural sector is responsible for almost 25% of the country’s emissions, and something definitely needs to be done to reduce these staggering rates.

Agriculture Emissions in the US

According to the EPA, the agricultural sector in the US is responsible for 10% of the total amount of emissions it is expected, considering how crucial the agricultural sector is not only to the local economy but there are leading exports from the country that other countries really need. Therefore, the high demand for food and animal products goes a long way to explain why the rate of emissions is so high in the region. The same study carried out in 2018 states that the US was likely responsible for at least 360 metric tons of carbon from its agricultural sector, listing it as one of the top five highest emitters.

Agriculture in Indonesia

Surprisingly, Indonesia also joins this list as one of the top carbon-emitting countries, specifically in relation to the agricultural sector. If the 2018 studies are anything to go by, then the country was responsible for around 200 metric tons of carbon just from agricultural practices. However, most of the emissions came from land use, and it was actually the number one emitter in that regard. What was responsible for this is the fact that there was a lot of peat land degradation and fires.

Agriculture in Ireland

Ireland is known to be one of the European countries that are making very slow strides when it comes to coming up with solutions to deal with climate change. But plans are underway nonetheless, and the first sector that should be addressed is agricultural emissions. Farming is said to be responsible for as much as 38% of the country’s carbon output, especially coming from belching livestock.

New Zealand Agriculture

It is shocking that agriculture in New Zealand is to blame for about 50% of the entire country’s emissions.23 Out of that number, 94% comes from lethal nitrous oxide, while 91% of the methane gasses released come from agriculture. Therefore, if the country is to meet its climate goals, it better start with agriculture first.

Agriculture Climate Change: How Climate Change Affects Agriculture Around the World

There are basically two sides to this matter of climate change.

On one hand, agricultural practices or crop farming and animal rearing are responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that the sector is partly to blame for climate change. And on the other hand, climate change has devastating effects on the agricultural sectors.

It means that, according to some scientists, farming is on both ends of the spectrum, as both the cause and is also on the receiving end.

Graphics illustrating How Climate Change Affects Agriculture through a change in precipitation patterns, changes in temperature, rise in sea levels, prolonged drought, alteration of crop and animal viability, and other new problems to deal with.

These are some of the impacts of greenhouse gas, outlined by many scientists.

#1: Change in Precipitation Patterns

Probably the biggest blow that climate change will deal to farmers is that it will alter the rainfall patterns.2

Still, regarding rainfall patterns, the frequency, and intensity are also likely to change.

What does this mean? Rainfall may end up being scarce all around the year, leading to drought in some regions or becoming too intense, causing flooding and both have dire consequences.

#2: Changes in Temperature

This is one of the most common effects that climate change has had on the planet. When the level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere increases, they reach up and form a blanket over the atmosphere, which leads to what is now called global warming because the hot air gets trapped.

Indeed, some recent models show that temperatures have not risen (or have risen and fallen frequently in the past few million years), and disagree that climate change is happening.

#3: Rise in Sea Levels

The claim of rise in sea level is also disputed.

Some claims areas like California and the Midwest will be hardest hit.

Farmers know all too well what floods can do to farms, starting with the huge losses that they would make. Apart from that, there are also issues with soil erosion, water pollution, and damage to infrastructure, from farm buildings to roads which are used for the transportation of inputs and produce.

#4: Prolonged Drought

In the same way that excessive rain is a problem for farmers, too little rain also causes devastating effects on farms.

Global warming is claimed as one of the leading causes of extensive droughts,24 and farmers know the feeling all too well of having to find alternative irrigation methods and water sources otherwise, the crops and livestock will suffer immensely. Another problem caused by prolonged drought alongside extreme heat is wildfires that also find their way to farms and homes, and the damages are beyond imaginable.

#5: Alteration of Crop and Animal Viability

Any farmer will tell you that different crops will do well in different regions, and in the same light, not all animals can survive in certain locations. This is what they call viability, and that is why farmers have to carefully choose what crops to grow, and the perfect animals to keep that will thrive in their particular region.

Unfortunately, climate change interferes with all that, and some farming methods will have to change. Farmers will then end up shifting their investments and changing their choices to find more viable options.

#6: New Problems To Deal With

At the same time when farmers are trying to shift attention to other farming options, changing the types of crops and animals they have, they will also be forced to prepare for completely new diseases, weeds, and pests that they have never dealt with before.

If the weed or pest couldn’t live in a certain region because it was cold, the rising temperatures will make the environment more conducive and welcome it back with open arms.

There is scientific data that shows when trees are removed, the ‘rivers of water’ in the atmosphere are negatively impacted.

Impacts of Agriculture on The Environment: How Does Agriculture Affect the Environment

Agriculture can impact the planet in some specific ways.

The following are some of the reasons why agriculture causes a lot of emissions.

#1: Excessive Use of Water

Farming can be pretty water intensive, requiring a lot of millions of gallons of water annually, and that is a big deal for the planet. Water is necessary not only for irrigation; animals need it, and so does the farm in order to run, that is. The high demand for water places a lot of strain on the environment and that means that the carbon footprint of water caused by farms is extremely high.9

Now, technically, the water usage for growing crops is no where near the extensive amount needed for data centers (cooling), but water use remains a part of the carbon footprint of agriculture.

#2: Release of Gasses Into the Atmosphere

This is one of the key reasons why agriculture is ranking high as the sector causing a lot of emissions. It is responsible for the release of the most harmful gasses even apart from carbon, including nitrous oxide and methane, and there are several activities that release these lethal gasses.

Take, for instance, livestock keeping. This is the largest contributor to methane release on the farm, and it comes not only from manure but also from the burping of the animals, all thanks to their natural digestive processes. This methane in manure can also leak into waterways, and that is one of the worst things that can happen to a community.

On the other hand, there is also the release of nitrous oxide from farms,25 and this is one of the most damaging, being more than 100 times more potent than even carbon. It usually comes from the use of fertilizer, releasing into the air and also reaching waterways.

Lastly:, carbon is another greenhouse gas that comes from farms, and it comes from several sources. From the use of fuel for mechanization and farm processes to its release during the burning of wastes.

#3: Land Use

Did you know that half of the land on the planet that is habitable is used for agriculture? This is land that had to be cleared from forests to create room for massive farms and homes. The planting of trees is the best solution to combat climate change, and you can imagine what this means if more of them are cut down to make room for farms.

Graphics answering the question, "How Does Agriculture Affect the Environment" by showing excessive use of water, release of gasses into the atmosphere, excessive land use, soil interference, excessive use of artificial fertilizers, and use of fossil fuels.

This contributes to the very heavy carbon footprint of land use. Apart from that, this also has a massive effect on wildlife and biodiversity because the forest that animals call home is no longer there; that is what is happening to the largest jungles in the world, like the Amazon in various countries in South America.

#4: Soil Interference

There is nothing more damaging to the soil than human interference from tilling and excessive use of fertilizer. Farmers that specialize in single crops are also to blame because they leave the soil bare and plant only one crop, which causes degradation, and the soil is not as healthy as it is supposed to be; farmers again have to add fertilizer to increase the yields.

Extractive methods of farming are also responsible for making the soil more and more vulnerable to erosion and messing with its water retention capabilities.

#5: Excessive Use of Artificial Fertilizers

There is a growing demand for food due to the increasing population, and this has encouraged more use of fertilizers to at least meet the demand. When the farm heavily relies on these chemicals, it has devastating effects on the soil and the environment as well. For instance, it interferes with the soil’s organic composition and leads to its degradation.

Fertilizers are also notoriously known to cause water pollution when they are carried by water into water bodies. And this has a massive effect not only on aquatic life but also on humans that rely on these water sources.

#6: Use of Fossil Fuels

If there is heavy farm tilling, especially in the case of massive pieces of land, farmers have no option but to resort to mechanization. This means that they have to use massive tractors, and other heavy machinery that are powered by fossil fuels, and that also has a role to play in the high carbon footprint of the energy sector. There is reliance on mining to extract the fuels that are used to run these machines, and that also causes emissions.

How To Reduce Agricultural Emissions

The agriculture sector is no doubt responsible for a lot of emissions, and it is actually one of the factors that contribute to climate change. Therefore, countries and governments have no choice but to find a way to reduce these emissions and ultimately lower the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Graphics illustrating How to Reduce Agriculture Emissions mainly by embracing renewable energy for various farm processes, proper manure management, protecting the soil, and buying and selling locally.

Otherwise, it will only get out of hand. Carbon footprint recycling and sustainable farming are some of the most effective remedies to this crisis.26

Leave alone those, there are other solutions that will most likely go a long way to reduce GHG emissions from farming.

#1: Embracing Renewable Energy for Various Farm Processes

There are quite a lot of activities that take place on the farm, and some of them have to be mechanized, even more especially when dealing with large-scale production. You know that some of these machines use fossil fuels to run, right? And this takes a toll on the environment and increases the life cycle emissions of farming.

The best and maybe the most practical solution, in this case, is to make the switch to renewable energy systems like solar, which has over the years proven to be effective; you can tell by the building of the largest solar farm to help more and more farmers get used to energy-efficient farming methods. Some are even going out of their way to start a solar greenhouse instead to reduce the overreliance on fossil fuels.

Farms are going green, and soon, most of their activities will use renewable energy systems like sun, wind, and water. Other large-scale producers are also investing in solar farms and powering their agricultural processes. This will go a long way to ease the pressure on the grid system, and the need for mining for fuels will decrease.

#2: Proper Manure Management

Manure, as you already know by now, is one of the causes of air and water pollution, releasing methane into the environment. This has to be dealt with and it can start with using only the best feed quality; this way, it will counter the level of methane that is a product of enteric fermentation.8

Farmers also have to find ways to properly handle manure to avoid causing emissions. For instance, it helps a great deal if the storage facilities stay closed to seal in the fumes, and one clever way to make use of this gas is to capture it and combust it, which can also be used for cooking.

#3: Protect the Soil

You should know that the soil is one of the best carbon reserves for the planet and as such protecting it ensures that it can do its job properly. There are certain practices that facilitate this and it all comes down to sustainable farming. For example, avoiding excessive tilling and implementing rotational grazing maintains the soil’s integrity.

In addition to that, farmers should also avoid leaving the soil bare and instead plant cover crops after harvesting to keep the soil nutrient-rich and healthy for the next season, and in so doing, there will be less need for excessive use of fertilizers.

#4: Buying and Selling Locally

Transportation is also part of the life cycle emissions caused by agriculture. Farmers have to source far and wide for consumers who want to buy their produce and that means quite a lot in terms of “food miles” but that doesn’t have to be the case because the distance can be significantly reduced if the farmers would sell locally.

They can opt to sell to people in the neighborhood or if not other states but the food miles will keep increasing the further they go and it will be even higher when produced for export because the produce will have to travel thousands of miles to other countries, which means more food miles and more emissions.27

All You Need To Know About Farming Carbon Credits To Help Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Agriculture

In the process of finding remedies to the high carbon footprint of agriculture, experts have come up with a clever solution in the name of farming carbon credits. Not many farmers know about this simply because it is a fairly new concept and if you are somehow in the dark about what it is and what it means for your farm, here is a detailed breakdown.

Basically, the concept of carbon credits is that the people who usually cause emissions have to either reduce the levels or pay farmers to do the job for them, which is literally helping to remove the carbon from the air. This payment comes in the form of carbon credits and every single credit is basically a single metric ton of carbon that is being removed.

Carbon credits are just like crops really. Take for instance what happens when a farmer wants to sell a product, there must be marketing for it and the consumer will be convinced about the various reasons why they want to buy the product, after that, they will come in and make sure that it is of the best quality before sealing the deal and buying.

The carbon credits work almost the same way, carbon credits check how much a farm is able to sequester or the amount of emissions that will be reduced. It is even better in the case of sustainable and regenerative farming where the farmers can be able to convert their farm’s carbon sequestering into money all thanks to carbon credits.

This system comes with quite a number of benefits and it is gradually becoming more and more popular. For one, landowners can be able to use it as an alternative source of income, creating an all-new revenue stream through carbon farming. Apart from that, the sector is only going to grow because more and more investors are willing to do anything it takes to help reduce their carbon footprint and counter the effects of climate change.

It is incredible how the demand for carbon credits keeps increasing and large corporations are getting on board with the idea. This goes a very long way to prove that they are much more interested in grabbing the farmers’ attention and don’t exactly care that much about how much it is going to cost. The prices of these carbon credits are not a one-size-fits-all solution because they vary in accordance with the particular type of farming that is taking place.6

However, in most cases, institutions and groups find themselves paying around $15 – $20 for each and every ton of carbon all in a bid to offset their emissions. All in due time, this rate is expected to increase significantly and could even reach as much as $70 per ton. If you are a farmer and are interested in farming carbon credits, there are a couple of things that you should know.

For one carbon credits work under the principle that lands or farms are practical carbon sinks.28 Therefore, as more farmers embrace sustainable practices like regenerative farming, the soil gradually shifts from being a cause of emissions to becoming a carbon sequester. Individuals and companies understand this all too well and that is why they opt to buy these credits to help offset their carbon footprint; it helps because, at the same time, they will be helping to support the job that farmers do.

While the concept of getting cash for what you do every day seems fascinating, it is also important to know that your farming methods are supposed to be able to sequester carbon. There are certain things that you should do to make sure that you can earn carbon credits. So what are you expected to do to fully benefit?

  • You can try to start agroforestry practices.
  • You can invest more in the restoration of peatland and actually manage it.
  • You should find ways to increase the amount of carbon in the soil.
  • Find various methods that you can manage the manure from the livestock.
  • Manage the nutrient content of the farm.

Farming is one of the most crucial economic activities on the planet, without which humanity cannot survive, literally. This is why it is important to take care of crops and livestock and the land that they stand on so that there will be a steady food supply, especially now that the population is increasing at an astonishing rate. However, in the process of providing food and livelihood for people, there is one problem. These activities have a high carbon footprint, with devastating effects on the environment and even contributing to global warming. Conventional farming activities lead to the release of harmful gasses into the atmosphere and that is why something has to be done to counter these effects.

Here is where sustainable farming comes in because it ensures that whatever happens on farms is done in a way that leaves the soil, air, and water intact.

This further explains why regenerative farming and CSA are being touted as some of the most effective ways to help reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Carbon Footprint of Agriculture

Which Country Has the Highest Agricultural Emissions?

China takes the lead due to its high population and ability to technologically find ways to meet the high food demand of its population. On the other hand, the reason why Brazil sometimes goes to number one is due to the extremely high rate of deforestation or conversion of land use for agriculture.

How Does Fertilizer Production Cause Farming Greenhouse?

You know that industries are top environmental polluters and that means that the production of fertilizer leads to carbon emissions right from the start. Fast forward to the farm where fertilizers are used and you will notice that it contributes to the release of nitrous oxide gas into the air and it is able to seep into waterways.

Which Farming Methods Are Used To Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Agriculture? 

The most effective ones and those that have been proven effective are the more sustainable farming practices like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and regenerative farming. Basically, these two methods have a lot of features in common, but above all, is the need to farm in such a way that protects the environment.


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