Climate Smart Agriculture Could Help Resolve Climate Concerns Associated With Farming

Photo by CIAT/CC BY-SA 2.0

Article by Arianna Efstatos

Some people might be surprised to discover that the agricultural sector is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Raising crops and livestock on hundreds of acres requires a significant input of resources and creates quite a bit of waste, affecting air, water, soil, and human health. Luckily, there is an up-and-coming solution already in the works in many locations around the globe.

One of the largest offenses associated with the farming industry is the sheer amounts of ammonia released into the atmosphere from fertilizers and manure. For larger corporate farms, ammonia contributions are far more significant. These ammonia products are often swept downwind where they come into contact with the nitrogen byproducts (such as nitrogen oxides), sulfates (SO2), and volatile organic compounds derived from vehicles and industrial sources [1].  These ammonia and nitrogen byproducts bond to form particulate matter, PM2.5, which can cause major respiratory problems and is responsible for up to 5.5 million premature deaths each year [2].

Despite the large contributions to pollution associated with the agricultural sector, populations across the globe continue to increase, and diets are evolving. Therefore, global demand for crops, meats, and other diverse food resources is increasing exponentially.  Yet, as demand increases, there have been steady reductions in crop yields due to vulnerability to hotter and shorter growing seasons, reduced rainfall, and more frequent extreme weather events [3]. With the onset of climate change, farmers are working to mitigate the predicted negative impact on their yields and the world as a whole. To do this, many farmers are adopting new improved techniques to reduce their carbon footprints and work more efficiently with less input from external resources. These techniques are part of a growing movement called Climate Smart Agriculture.

Climate Smart Agriculture, or CSA, is an approach many local and corporate farms are using to combat the challenges set forth by climate change and increasing demand.  The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United States defines CSA as “agriculture[al methods] that sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience (adaptation), reduce or remove greenhouse gases (mitigation) where possible, and enhance achievement of national food security and development goals [4].” Each agricultural system is unique in its own right. Farms exist in different locations, grow different crops, and work towards different goals. Therefore, individual farmers implement the CSA strategies that are most appropriate for their endeavors and will yield the most protection from environmental pressure without putting additional pressure on the environment.

There has been significant recent development in CSA technology.  Such an example is a hybrid greenhouse-solar Photovoltaic (PV) system, which will provide some shade to crops to combat overheating and generate excess energy that can be used or sent to the grid. LED lights can be used on indoor plants to produce greater agricultural yields under controlled environments and without using industry standard pesticides.  An additional strategy to implement is the introduction of native insect species to eliminate pests, rather than using pesticides. Also, the practice of recycling transpired water, which is significantly increasing water use efficiency, or the development of drought-tolerant seed variants can be utilized to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate larger agricultural yields [5].

CSA is already lowering agricultural emissions for many farms around the world.  Measured success varies, however, depending on which methods were used and the farm’s geographical location [6]. Growing locally is reducing costs and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation of foods from farm to table. Using lesser amounts of fertilizer can also lead to a reduction in the formation of particulate matter(s) [5].

Many large-scale companies are putting CSA practices to use. AGCO Corporation, AgJunction Inc., AG Leader Technology, and Deere & Company are among the major players operating within this market. In fact, CSA adoption is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 11.5% between 2015 and 2017 [7].

With all these benefits, both environmental and monetary, it is no wonder that farm owners are working towards CSA. Putting a green sticker on your product and claiming to be “climate smart” can sound appealing to potential customers and may even attract some additional outside funding. This can, unfortunately, encourage some farms to claim CSA compliance by adopting some CSA practices and putting a majority of them on the backburner. Steve Maximay, an agricultural scientist and lecturer at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, has found a solution to this potential problem. His Climate-Smart Agriculture Compliant (C-SAC) tool rates the degree of CSA compliance. It can be used to compare projects under five main areas of compliance: resource conservation, energy use, safety, biodiversity support, and greenhouse gas reduction. Each category is divided further into four subcategories that guide an examiner in scoring each aspect on a five-point scale. The total score out of one hundred reflects the degree of compliance [8]. Corporate farmers can no longer claim to be green without backing it up. This tool promotes safe and efficient practices in agriculture in a world that is growing to need it. By adopting CSA practices, the agricultural sector can work towards contributing to a more sustainable future.



[1] Frank, Neil “The Chemical Composition of PM2.5” The Environmental Protection Agency (June 2006) Presentation.  ttps://

[2] Stone, Maddie “The Biggest Source of Air Pollution In Your Area May Surprise You” Gizmodo (May 16, 2016)

[3] Krishna, Prabodh “Climate Smart Agriculture Holds Key To Food Security: World Bank” Businessworld (August 29, 2017)

[4] “What is climate-smart agriculture?” CSA Guide.

[5] Yeates, Will ”Can greenhouse horticulture help climate smart agriculture?” DailyPlanet (August 2017)

[6] Branca, Giacomo et al. “Climate Smart Agriculture: A Synthesis of Empirical Evidence of Food Security and Mitigation Benefits from Improved Cropland Management” ResearchGate (October 2011) file:///C:/Users/arothenberg/Downloads/Climate_Smart_Agriculture_A_Synthesis_of_Empirical.pdf

[7] Wood, Laura “Smart Agriculture Market to 2025 – Global Analysis and Forecast – Research and Markets” (August 28, 2017)—Global-Analysis

[8] “What Does Climate-Smart Agriculture Really Mean? New Tool Breaks It Down” (August 15,2017)

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