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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates sat down with GeekWire for an interview in early 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Bill Gates is “done with cow farts.”

So the Microsoft co-founder proclaimed in the opening line of a new blog post entitled, “We should discuss soil as much as we talk about coal.”

Gates frequently cites bovine flatulence as an example of a source of greenhouse gas emissions often overlooked in the climate change discussion, which tends to focus on electricity. But now Gates is zooming out and focusing more broadly on agriculture, an industry that accounts for 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s just one percentage point behind electricity generation.

Related: Backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Breakthrough Energy Ventures lists seven new investments

“De-carbonizing the way we generate electricity would be a huge step, but it won’t be enough if we don’t reach zero net emissions from every sector of the economy within 50 years (and make a serious dent in the next ten),” Gates writes. “That includes the agriculture, forestry, and land use sector.”

Gates believes that innovation is the key to de-carbonizing soil, which contains more carbon than the atmosphere and all plant life on earth combined, according to the blog post. He highlights five organizations with new ideas for reducing carbon in soil:

  • Pivot Bio is genetically modifying microbes to produce the nitrogen plants need without relying on fertilizer, which releases greenhouse gasses into the air.
  • Kernza has developed a new strain of wheat that grows year-round (as opposed to once a year) and has longer and denser roots as a result. Those roots absorb more carbon dioxide from the soil than traditional wheat.
  • C16 Biosciences is using fermentation to create a synthetic alternative to palm oil, a big environmental transgressor.
  • Apeel and Cambridge Crops are developing protective skins to preserve food and cut down on waste.
  • Babban Gona is a Nigerian business helping farmers go in on grain silos together, allowing them to store their crops for longer and reduce emissions from waste.

Gates is involved with some of these organizations through Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion energy innovation fund spearheaded by the tech leader. He created the fund with other business leaders to invest in companies producing innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“There will never be one silver bullet that stops climate change — but I’m hopeful that these innovations and others will chip away at agricultural emissions enough to prevent the worst from happening,” Gates writes.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that soil contains more carbon than the atmosphere and all plant life on earth combined.

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