You probably know that climate change affects how we grow food, but you might not know that how food is grown also affects our climate. This interplay is at the heart of an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) project called “Soil and Air,” a concerted effort to feed the Earth’s 7.5 billion people while protecting the planet.
Farmers and ranchers produce food at the intersection of soil and air, which in turn impacts soil and air quality. For instance, warmer air creates warmer soil, leading to different compositions of bacteria and other microbes in the ecosystem and to increased moisture loss through evaporation.
Soils can also act as a “sink” by storing excess carbon from the atmosphere and, in turn, improving the soil’s ability to maintain moisture and nutrients. The same is true of air. When a farmer adds crop nutrients, some of those nutrients are oxidized and lost into the air, increasing greenhouse gas levels. More greenhouse gases mean an overall warmer climate, more variable weather, and an increased likelihood of extreme weather.