By Madison Cook
Approximately 16% of greenhouse gas emissions in VT are due to agriculture1. These greenhouse gasses (GHG) accumulate in the atmosphere and cause the phenomenon known as climate change. The whole world is affected by this, and effects can already be observed in Vermont.
Since 1900, the Earth has warmed 1.5°F. Air temperatures in Vermont have increased more than 4°F in the winter and 2°F in the summer over the past 50 years2. The state is seeing spring arriving two weeks earlier, and winter one week later compared to 19602. The temperature of Lake Champlain has increased by as much as 7°F in some areas from 1964 to 2009. Weather patterns are shifting also; annual precipitation in Vermont has increased by almost 7 inches, and the number of days with heavy precipitation (more than 1 inch) has almost doubled in the past 50 years2.
Looking into the future, this climate crisis will not improve if we stay on the same track we are currently on. The frost free season will likely increase by several weeks, with more rain and less snow, and the number of days reaching 87°F or higher are expected to increase from about 6 per year to more than 20 per year2. The state of Vermont is seeing the impacts of these GHG emissions now, and in order to change the course of the future, immediate action is needed.
Farmers have the potential to make a large impact, since a significant portion (16%) of GHG emissions come from agriculture. The two most effective ways to reduce emissions on farms is to install renewable energy, and implement regenerative agriculture. Renewable energy can come in many forms, and the most effective form could be different for each farm. Small-scale wind turbines can help power a farm, occupy very little space, and some of the best wind resources in the country are on farmland3. Solar power is another great resource for farms. Just twenty days of sunshine can provide the same amount of energy as all of the energy stored in Earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas4.
Solar heat collectors, water heaters, and photovoltaics can all provide heat and electricity to farm buildings, water pumps, and electric fences. Solar power is often less expensive than extending power lines4, and colocalized agriculture and PV panels actually have the potential to increase crop yields5.
Biomass is yet another easy way for farmers to contribute to and benefit from renewable energy. Crops and biomass wastes can be converted to energy on the farm, or farmers can sell biomass to energy companies that produce fuel for cars, tractors, heat, and power. This biomass can be produced at no extra cost to the farmer; it is simply repurposing waste6.
In addition to renewable energy, regenerative agriculture is a great way to reduce carbon emissions on farms. According to Regeneration International, the term regenerative agriculture “describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.7” The most important aspect of regenerative agriculture is no-till gardening. Other important techniques include crop rotation, using compost and local inputs, cover cropping, and the use of permanent raised beds.
One model that greatly reflects regenerative agriculture in practice is the market garden. Also known as a “Truck Farm,” a market garden is a small-scale farm, between one acre and just a few acres, which typically uses mainly hand-tools on highly concentrated beds of diverse crops8. Compared to the average VT farm, which is about 175 acres and makes about $115,000 in revenue annually9, the average market farm is about 1.5 acres and makes about $100,000-$150,000 in revenue annually8.
Market gardening is a great example of sustainable farming, and farms in the Upper Valley who are interested in improving their crop resiliency and sustainability can begin to implement some of the quintessential techniques of the market garden and regenerative agriculture. For resources on how to begin, look for future columns on this topic and see the resource list in the brochure “How to Improve Carbon Offset and Sustainability on Your Farm.” (Visit: www.sustainablewoodstock.org, view the menu under the “Our Programs” tab, and click on “Community Gardens and Food Security.”)
Dartmouth senior Madison Cook wrote this article as part of a Social Impact Practicum project with Kieran Ahern for Professor Mark Laser’s “Energy Conversion” course. The Practicum was conducted in partnership with Sustainable Woodstock.
This solar panel will complement the carbon emission reductions realized by the regenerative agriculture on this small-scale farm. Photo: Madison Cook.
- “Welcome to DEC.” Welcome to DEC | Department of Environmental Conservation, 7 Apr. 2020, dec.vermont.gov/.
- “Climate Change.” Vermont Department of Health, 22 Mar. 2019, www.healthvermont.gov/health-environment/climate-health/climate-change.
- “Union of Concerned Scientists.” The Union of Concerned Scientists, 1 Sept. 2021, www.ucsusa.org/.
- “Renewable Energy and Agriculture: A Natural Fit.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/resources/renewable-energy-and-agriculture.
- “Benefits of Agrivoltaics Across the Food-Energy-Water Nexus.” NREL.gov, www.nrel.gov/news/program/2019/benefits-of-agrivoltaics-across-the-food-energy-water-nexus.html.
- “We Work to Ensure Fair & Sustainable Food, Farm and Trade Systems.” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, www.iatp.org/.
- “Why Regenerative Agriculture?” Regeneration International, 3 Feb. 2021, regenerationinternational.org/why-regenerative-agriculture/.
- Fortier, Jean-Martin. The Market Gardener: a Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming. New Society Publishers, 2014.
- “NASS – National Agricultural Statistics Service.” USDA, www.nass.usda.gov/.