Economists estimate global crop production will need to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population. But creating more farmland often means cutting down trees that store carbon in their trunks, roots and leaves.


So University of Minnesota researcher Justin Andrew Johnson began looking for a way to minimize deforestation while increasing agricultural production.

Johnson: “Our basic research question was addressing how can we look at this trade-off between having a forest — which stores a lot of carbon and stabilizes the climate — versus a field which produces a lot of calories and feeds humans?”

Johnson identified the most fertile geographic regions, and then considered how much carbon they store. The results suggest that we can tip the balance in favor of a healthy climate. By selectively expanding farmland in very productive regions like the U.S. Corn Belt – while reducing the conversion of tropical forests to farmland – we could save up to six billion tons of carbon storage.

It has huge potential to help meet the needs of a growing population in an environmentally responsible way.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Global Agriculture and Carbon Tradeoffs
Climate Change and Agriculture in the U.S.
Agriculture and Climate Change
Farmed Out: How Will Climate Change Impact World Supplies?

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Bud Ward

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...