What can we do to prevent drought?

Climate change : How can farmers curb climate change?

When it comes to climate change, farmers are victims and perpetrators at the same time. The current drought exacerbates the question of how farmers behave when it comes to climate protection. One thing is clear: they too have to go along. When fertilizing, for example, large amounts of gases can be avoided, which turn out to be environmental pollution.

In Germany, emissions from agriculture account for a good seven percent of all emissions. According to the federal government's climate protection plan, they should fall by 31 to 34 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. That is less than the energy sector, industry or transport have to do. But it is in the nature of things. Because the problem in agriculture is the so-called process-related emissions: the cow burps methane while digesting and nitrous oxide, which is harmful to the climate, rises from artificial fertilizers and manure, without it being possible to prevent it.

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Farmers' Association has a strategy

The German Farmers' Association (DBV) has written down in its climate strategy what farmers can still do. One of the measures: waste little when fertilizing and avoid air contact with manure. "After the amendment of the fertilizer law, liquid manure has to be worked into the soil within four hours," says the head of agricultural policy at the environmental organization BUND, Christian Rehmer. In regions with a high number of animals, regulations may also be issued, according to which the liquid manure must be in the ground after an hour.

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The best method for this is the slotting process, explains Rehmer. The manure is fed directly into a slot in the earth, which is done by new types of manure cultivators. Ecological cultivation of the soil without artificial fertilizers is also associated with fewer emissions.

Digitization can also save emissions. “Today there are fertilizer spreaders that are linked to chlorophyll sensors on the front of the tractor and measure the green of the plants. Light green is then fertilized more than dark green and so the nutrients are used as efficiently as possible, ”reports DBV climate expert Gerolf Bücheler.

Largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2050

After all, more humus would have to be built up to store CO2. In Germany's largest soil inventory to date, the Thünen Institute for Agricultural Climate Protection determines how much carbon is stored in agricultural soils. It is becoming apparent that there is significantly more organic carbon in fields and meadows than in all trees that grow in Germany, the institute said.

Even if farmers implement all these good ideas in the future, agriculture will be the largest German emitter of greenhouse gases in 2050 - precisely because of the inevitable base of emissions. That is in the study “Climate Paths for Germany” by the industry association BDI. In a scenario in which agricultural emissions are reduced by 95 percent compared to 1990, the animal population would also have to become more climate-friendly. This could be achieved with a new type of feed so that ruminants emit less methane when they digest. Or the livestock would decrease because the Germans eat less meat. According to the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society, for health reasons it should only be half as much as it is today.

The Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research calls for a vision for the agriculture of the future. A social debate is absolutely necessary, says the head of the center, Frank Ewert. He asks: "How do we combine food security with more efficient use of resources and at the same time reduce negative impacts on the climate, the environment and biodiversity?"

Back to the traditions

The agriculture ministers of the 20 strongest economies in the world gave the answers in the final declaration of their meeting at the end of July. The G20 ministers agree that agriculture can help solve the climate crisis and they promise: "We will promote sustainable agriculture and the fight against climate change, involve farmers in the development of sustainable agricultural systems, and revitalize sustainable traditional agriculture."

Silvia Bender, agricultural expert at BUND, says: “In itself it is good that the G20 come to an agreement on sustainable agriculture. But so far everything has remained very vague and is too focused on the agricultural industry. ”In Bender's view, a move towards (small) peasant, ecological agriculture is long overdue. "It is more productive in terms of space and energy use and combines food security with climate protection and the preservation of the soil."

This article first appeared in "Background Energie & Klima", the digital specialist information service of the Tagesspiegel.

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