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US Ag Emissions Lowest Since 2012

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s Daniel Munch reported Tuesday that a new study from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that “U.S. agriculture represents just under 10% of total U.S. emissions when compared to other economic sectors. Overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased from 2021 to 2022 by 1.3%, though agricultural emissions dropped 1.8% – the largest decrease of any economic sector.”

The 10% of total U.S. emissions number puts agriculture behind transportation (28%), electric power (25%) and the industrial sector (23%), but ahead of the commercial sector (7%) and the residential sector (6%) for percentage of total US greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2022 report.

“The nearly 2% drop in U.S. agricultural emissions from 2021 to 2022 highlights the success and continued importance of voluntary, market- and incentive-based conservation practices that help farmers and ranchers access finances for the research and technology needed to take ever-better care of our natural resources,” Munch reported. “2022 marks the lowest U.S. agricultural greenhouse gas emissions since 2012.”

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Ben Lilliston wrote, however, that “the decline in U.S. agriculture emissions in 2022 is not surprising, given what is known about the contraction of the cattle herd, the spike in fertilizer prices and the reduction in corn acres. Unfortunately, the 2022 reductions were not part of a planned strategy to support farmers in a transition toward less emitting, more resilient agricultural systems. Instead, the reductions were the result of sudden shocks that caused enormous harm to farmers and their animals.”

Changes in emissions from 2021 to 2022. Courtesy of the US EPA.
Agriculture Emissions Details

The EPA reported in its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2022 report that agriculture’s main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 included “livestock enteric fermentation and manure management, N2O emitted from managed agricultural soils from fertilizers and other management practices, and fossil fuel combustion from agricultural equipment.”

Indirect emissions from electricity in the agricultural sector are about 5% of sector emissions,” the EPA’s report said. “In 2022, agricultural soil management was the largest source of N2O emissions, and enteric fermentation was the largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States.”

2022 Agriculture Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Courtesy of the US EPA.

“In 2022, crop cultivation emissions totaled 319 million metric tons, down 1.7%, or 6 million metric tons, from 2021 and just over 5% of total emissions,” Munch reported. “At 4.3% of total emissions, livestock emissions were 274 million metric tons, down 2.1%, or 6 million metric tons, from 2021. This is likely linked to smaller livestock inventories, particularly beef cattle, which were liquidated at higher rates in 2022 due to drought conditions. Fuel combustion utilized by the agricultural sector contributed 41 million metric tons in 2022, down 1 million metric tons, or 1.2%, from 2021, a mere 0.64% of total emissions.”

“The latest numbers demonstrate farmers’ and ranchers’ commitment to growing the food and fiber America’s families rely on while improving the land, air and water, a benefit to the farm and the climate,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall in a press release. “…The latest numbers should also serve as inspiration to lawmakers who can build on this progress by passing a farm bill, which not only provides a safety net for farmers, but also helps them meet sustainability goals.”

Scientists Question Some Conservation Practices’ Long-Term Effectiveness

While the American Farm Bureau Federation said the 2022 emissions decrease was evidence of “voluntary, market- and incentive-based conservation practices,” earlier “Reuters interviews with soil science experts and a review of U.S. Department of Agriculture research indicate doubt that the approach will be effective” in the long term at reducing substantial emissions.

“Farm practices like planting cover crops and reducing farmland tilling are key to the USDA’s plan for slashing agriculture’s 10% contribution to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as the U.S. pursues net-zero by 2050,” Reuters’ Leah Douglas reported. “Ethanol producers also hope those practices will help them secure lucrative tax credits for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) passed in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).”

“But the farming techniques, which will receive an extra funding boost from Biden’s signature climate law, may not permanently sequester much atmospheric carbon in the soil, according to five soil scientists and researchers who spoke to Reuters about the current science,” Douglas reported. “Four other soil scientists, and the USDA, said the practices can store various amounts of soil carbon, but circumstances will dictate how much and for how long.”

Ryan Hanrahan is the Farm Policy News editor and social media director for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked in local news, primarily as an agriculture journalist in the American West. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri (B.S. Science & Agricultural Journalism). He can be reached at

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