Agroecology as Innovation

On July 3, the High Level Panel of Experts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its much-anticipated report on agroecology in Rome. The report signals the continuing shift in emphasis in the UN agency’s approach to agricultural development. As outgoing FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva has indicated, “We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer healthy and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment. Agroecology can offer several contributions to this process.”

The commissioned report, Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition, two years in the making, is clear on the urgent need for change. “Food systems are at a crossroads. Profound transformation is needed,” the summary begins. It goes on to stress the importance of ecological agriculture, which supports “diversified and resilient production systems, including mixed livestock, fish, cropping and agroforestry, that preserve and enhance biodiversity, as well as the natural resource base.”

It is not surprising, of course, that those with financial interests in the current input-intensive systems are responding to growing calls for agroecology with attacks on its efficacy as a systematic approach that can sustainably feed a growing population. What is surprising is that such responses are so ill-informed about the scientific innovations agroecology offers to small-scale farmers who are being so poorly served by “green revolution” approaches.

One recent article from a researcher associated with a pro-biotechnology institute in Uganda was downright dismissive, equating agroecology with “traditional agriculture,” a step backward toward the low-productivity practices that prevail today. “The practices that agroecology promotes are not qualitatively different from those currently in widespread use among smallholder farmers in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa more broadly,” writes Nassib Mugwanya of the Uganda Biosciences Research Center. I have come to conclude that agroecology is a dead end for Africa, for the rather obvious reason that most African agriculture already follows its principles.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the new expert report shows, and as countless ecological scientists around the world can attest, agroecology brings much-needed innovations to prevailing smallholder practices. With a long track record of achievements in widely varying environments, the approach has been shown to improve soil fertility, increase crop and diet diversity, raise total food productivity, improve resilience to climate change, and increase farmers’ food and income security while decreasing their dependence on costly inputs.

The failing policies of the present

The predominant input-intensive approach to agricultural development can hardly claim such successes, which is precisely why international institutions are actively seeking alternatives. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is the poster child for the promotion of input-intensive agriculture in Africa. At its outset 13 years ago, AGRA and its main sponsor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set the goals of doubling the productivity and incomes of 30 million smallholder households on the continent.

There is no evidence that approach will come anywhere near meeting those worthy objectives, even with many African governments spending large portions of their agricultural budgets to subsidize the purchase of green revolution inputs of commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers. National-level data, summarized in the conclusion to my book Eating Tomorrow, attests to this failure:

  • Smallholders mostly cannot afford the inputs, and the added production they see does not cover their costs.
  • Rural poverty has barely improved since AGRA’s launch; neither has rural food insecurity. Global Hunger Index scores remained in the “serious” to “alarming” category for 12 of the 13 AGRA countries.
  • Even in priority crops like maize and rice, few of AGRA’s 13 priority countries have seen sustained productivity increases.
  • Production increases such as for maize in Zambia have come as much from shifting land into subsidized maize production as from raising productivity from commercial seeds and fertilizers.
  • There is no evidence of improved soil fertility; in fact, many farmers have experienced a decline as monocropping and synthetic fertilizers have increased acidification and reduced much-needed organic matter.
  • Costly input subsidies have shifted land out of drought-tolerant, nutritious crops such as sorghum and millet in favor of commercial alternatives. Crop diversity and diet diversity have decreased as a result.

recent article in the journal Food Policy surveyed the evidence from seven countries with input subsidy programs and found little evidence of sustained—or sustainable—success. “The empirical record is increasingly clear that improved seed and fertilizer are not sufficient to achieve profitable, productive, and sustainable farming systems in most parts of Africa,” wrote the authors in the conclusion.

Agroecology: Solving farmers’ problems

Branding agroecology as a backward-looking, do-nothing approach to traditional agriculture is a defensive response to the failures of Green Revolution practices. In fact, agroecological sciences offer just the kinds of innovations small-scale farmers need to increase soil fertility, raise productivity, improve food and nutrition security, and build climate resilience.

Do these innovations sound backward looking to you?

  • Biological pest control: Scientist Hans Herren won a World Food Prize for halting the spread of a cassava pest in Africa by introducing a wasp that naturally controlled the infestation.
  • Push-pull technology: Using a scientifically proven mix of crops to push pests away from food crops and pull them out of the field, farmers have been able to reduce pesticide use while increasing productivity.
  • Participatory plant breeding: Agronomists work with farmers to identify the most productive and desirable seed varieties and improve them through careful seed selection and farm management. In the process, degraded local varieties can be improved or replaced with locally adapted alternatives.
  • Agro-forestry: A wide range of scientists has demonstrated the soil-building potential of incorporating trees and cover crops onto small-scale farms. Carefully selected tree varieties can fix nitrogen in the soil, reduce erosion, and give farmers a much-needed cash crop while restoring degraded land.
  • Small livestock: Reintroducing goats or other small livestock onto farms has been shown to provide farmers with a sustainable source of manure while adding needed protein to local diets. Science-driven production of compost can dramatically improve soil quality.

These innovations and many others are explored in depth in the new HLPE report, the full version of which will be available in English in mid-July. Those advocates of industrial agriculture would do well to read it closely so they can update their understanding of the sustainable innovations agroecological sciences offer to small-scale farmers, most of whom have seen no improvements in their farms, incomes, or food security using Green Revolution approaches. Many farmers have concluded that the Green Revolution, not agroecology, is a dead end for Africa.

Posted with permission from Food Tank

Regenerative Agriculture Hits the Mainstream

If you’re a cattle producer, you may already have heard the term “regenerative agriculture.” If you’re a grain producer, maybe not.

But that’s about to change. This spring, General Mills announced a plan to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland in the U.S. and Canada by 2030, and Cargill Canada announced its Sustainable Canola Program.

“We have been feeding families for more than 150 years and we need a strong planet to enable us to feed families for the next 150 years,” General Mills chairman and CEO Jeff Harmening said in a press release. “We recognize that our biggest opportunity to drive positive impact for the planet we all share lies within our own supply chain, and by being a catalyst to bring people together to drive broader adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.”

The Rodale Institute in the U.S. coined the term to describe a kind of organic agriculture that not only maintains soil resources but improves them by limiting soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover, increasing biodiversity, keeping living roots in the ground and integrating animals into cropping systems.

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The Green New Deal Wants Farmers to Restore the Land, Not Keep Wrecking It

By the time California rancher Doniga Markegard picks up the phone around lunchtime, she has already moved the chickens, fed the chickens, fed the pigs, cared for a new litter of 11 piglets, moved the sheep, tended to the horses, milked the cow, and completed a business advising session about the future of her family’s 10,000-acre operation. Overall, a pretty typical Monday.

“We’re good at working with the land and working with the animals, but then all of a sudden you have to add marketing and sales and inventory management,” says Markegard. Based 50 miles south of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, Markegard and her family produce grass-fed beef and lamb and pastured pork and chicken for customers in the Bay Area. If they operated in a more traditional way, they would specialize in a single product and plug neatly into the industrial agriculture system. Instead, in order to break even, they have to run the equivalent of a consumer-facing small business with a farm attached.

“We’d love to just be out on the land with the livestock, doing what we do, but that’s not practical when you really want to be fully regenerative,” she says.

Regenerative agriculture might sound at first like a subtle variation on organic. But if the term “organic” highlights what’s absent—no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides—”regenerative” goes a step further, advocating for practices like adaptive multi-paddock grazing, in which ruminants like cows and sheep are slowly rotated across a property, so they graze on and fertilize one section of the farm at a time while allowing the rest to naturally regrow and replenish. Methods like this require more hands-on planning involvement from the farmers, but they’ve been found to restore soil health, capture carbon, and help ranches thrive over the long term.

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Dr. Richard Teague: Regenerative Organic Practices “Clean Up the Act of Agriculture”

While earning his undergraduate degree, Dr. Richard Teague knew that the grassland and cropping management being taught wasn’t truly sustainable.

“Agricultural land is generally being managed in a manner that is degrading the land resource. In particular, the soil function and ecosystem biodiversity that we need working properly to provide the ecosystem services that we depend on—we have to look at it in a different way,” he tells AFN.

Now a grazing systems ecologist and professor at Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Teague grew up in Zimbabwe. His father had an ecological education, so Teague has always approached agricultural research through this lens. After obtaining a PhD in the Department of Botany and Microbiology at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, he was recruited to the United States in 1991. Then, looking to speak to farmers who had shown the highest soil carbon levels while doing well in their businesses, he contacted the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas.

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U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal Frequently Asked Questions

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Q. What is the national coalition of Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal?

A. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal is a bipartisan national coalition of rural and urban farmers and ranchers, and organizations that represent farmers and ranchers. Coalition members share a commitment and work together to advance food and agriculture policies that support organic, regenerative, agroecological and biodynamic food production and land-management practices.

Q. Why was the coalition formed?

A. The Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition was formed for the purpose of ensuring that farmers and ranchers—not just corporate agribusiness lobbyists—have a voice in future agriculture-related policy reforms. The timing of the coalition’s formation coincided with the February 7, 2019, introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution which calls for a 10-year national mobilization to enact massive policy reforms to address, among other issues, global warming, income inequality, corporate monopolies and the lack of access to clean air, water and healthy food for millions of Americans.

Q. Why is the coalition focused on food and farming policy reforms?

A. Many of America’s small- and mid-scale farmers and ranchers, struggling to make ends meet, are at risk of losing farms that have been in their families for many generations. Rural communities are in economic decline. Industrial agriculture practices have led to widespread water and air pollution, soil erosion and degradation, food deserts, and public health crises related to the reckless and excessive use of antibiotics and the mass production of nutritionally deficient food. Current agriculture policies artificially prop up this system, which externalizes the real cost of producing “cheap” food, including the system’s harmful and costly impact on climate, the environment and human health. Yet these policies prevail and persist because powerful agribusiness corporations can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress. Policies that would support family farms are closely aligned with policies that would achieve the goals laid out in the Green New Deal. For that reason, politics aside, the Green New Deal presents an unprecedented opportunity for farmers and ranchers whose practices provide social, economic and environmental benefits to demand reforms that will improve their prospects for financial success by leveling the playing field.

Q. What will members do to advance the coalition’s policy goals?

A. Coalition members will be invited to participate in any or all of these activities:

  • Help build regional lobbying teams throughout the U.S. to build support for legislation that supports farmers and ranchers engaged in or transitioning to regenerative practices.

  • Organize farm visits and training sessions for local and state lawmakers, and attend Congressional hearings and/or Capitol Hill briefings aimed at educating members of Congress about the potential of regenerative agriculture to draw down and sequester carbon, and revitalize rural economies.

  • Help educate consumers and local media about the difference between good food and cheap food, and how regenerative farmers and ranchers can play a role in improving air, water and soil quality.

  • Help build alliances with other coalition members in their regions, and with organizations in other sectors, including business, environmental, food, and climate, that also support the Green New Deal.

  • Identify and build support for a new USDA secretary of agriculture who will represent the interests of the coalition, not multinational agribusiness corporations.

Q. How does the coalition fit into the Regeneration International network?

A. One of the most urgent questions facing the Regeneration Movement is, “How can we scale up regenerative farming, ranching and land-management practices in time to address the climate emergency?” Scaling up internationally will require a combination of consumer education and demand, farmer training and policy reform. In the U.S., up until the Green New Deal Resolution was introduced, food and farming policy reform was tied to the slow and onerous process of revisiting the U.S. Farm Bill once every five years. Fortunately, the Green New Deal has sparked a national conversation around the intersection of food, farming and climate. The Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal can seize this opportunity to lead that conversation so that it results in transformational, rather than incremental, change in the U.S.

Q. In addition to Regeneration International, who else is assisting in building the coalition?

A. Regeneration International (RI) was tapped by the Sunrise Movement to anchor the Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition. RI is also working with organizations like Family Farm Action, the Institute for Ag Trade & Policy, American Sustainable Business Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and others to build and support the coalition. The coalition also benefits from input provided by a dedicated Congressional Advisory Committee comprised of members of Congress who support the coalition’s goals and have agreed to assist in reviewing proposed legislation, organizing Congressional hearings and briefings and building support for key pieces of legislation.

Q. How can interested farmers, ranchers and organizations join the coalition?

A. To get involved, farmers, ranchers and organizations should sign this letter to Congress. All letter signers will be consulted on policy questions and USDA secretary nominations, and will be invited to help in education and lobbying efforts. In an effort to fairly represent the policy needs of all farmers engaged in regenerative practices, the coalition seeks to include members from all geographic areas of the U.S., and from all sectors of food and fiber production. The coalition also strives to achieve both gender and ethnic diversity.

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

The ontology and ecology of food

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it was grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food. “

Good Food and Real Food are the basis of health .

Bad food, industrial food, fake food is the basis of disease.

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha” the medicine that cures all disease.

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Impossible Foods and Regenerative Grazers Face Off in a Carbon Farming Dust-Up

Rancher Will Harris says he was “stunned” when he got wind last week that Impossible Foods, the makers of the plant-based Impossible Burger, called regenerative grazing “the ‘clean coal’ of meat” in their 2019 Impact Report.

Speaking by phone from White Oak Pastures, his 153-year-old farm in Bluffton, Georgia, Harris said, “I think there were many mistruths in that attack.”

The feud is the latest in an ongoing discussion about whether regenerative meat production and high-tech plant-based alternatives can co-exist. And for holistically managed animal operations like Harris’s, the suggestion that all meat production should be seen as having the same impact on the environment constitutes a battle cry.

Addressing Climate Change

“We emulate nature,” Harris says in defense of the 2,500-acre farm where he raises 10 species of livestock in a vertically integrated cycle. At White Oak Pastures, Harris’s “100,000 beating hearts” are born on the farm, reared in its plentiful pastures, and slaughtered on site.

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The Climate Emergency: Regenerate or Perish

May 2019 was a turning point for climate change. The world reached a record of 415.3 parts per million of carbon dioxide (ppm CO2 ) in the atmosphere—the most in over 3 million years. The UK Parliament declared an environmental and climate emergency on May 1. Pope Francis followed this by declaring a climate emergency on June 14.

A study published in May shows that if we don’t succeed in radically reducing emissions, civilization could collapse by 2050. The authors of the report showed that we are on track to “… a world of  ‘outright chaos’ on a path to the end of human civilization and modern society as we have known it…”

The good news is that we can turn this around by scaling up regenerative agriculture.

Why regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is based on a range of food and farming systems that use the photosynthesis of plants to capture CO2 and store it in the soil. The soil holds more than double the amount of carbon than the atmosphere and biomass (forests and plants) combined.

Why is it so important to dramatically reduce the current rate of CO2 emissions?

If emissions are not reduced soon, we will be going into catastrophic climate change, that we may not be able to reverse. This is because it will take centuries to get the heat out of our oceans. Ocean heat is a significant driver of our weather. The oceans and the atmosphere are already around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the industrial revolution.

The energy needed to heat the atmosphere and the ocean by 1.8 degrees is equivalent to billions of atomic bombs. I am using this violent metaphor so that people can understand how much energy is being released into our atmosphere and oceans and why we will get more extreme weather events wreaking havoc on our communities and environment.

This extra energy is already violently fueling and disrupting our weather systems. It causing weather events to be far more intense. Winter storms are becoming colder and can be pushed further south and north than normal due to this energy, bringing damaging snowstorms and intense floods. Similarly, summer storms, especially hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical lows etc. are far more frequent and intense with deluging destructive rainfall and floods. Droughts and heat waves are more common and are resulting in more crop failures. They are also fueling damaging forest and grass fires that are burning out whole communities and changing regional ecologies due to not allowing time for recovery before the next fires.

The frequency and intensity of these types of events will only get exponentially worse when the world warms to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) which is the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement. And we are on track to shoot past this goal.

Managing climate change is a major issue that we have to deal with now

Atmospheric CO2 levels have been increasing at 2 parts per million (ppm) per year. The level of CO2 reached a new record of 400 ppm in May 2016. However, despite all the commitments countries made in Paris in December 2015, the levels of CO2 increased by 3.3 ppm in 2016 creating a record. It increased by 3.3 ppm from 2018 to set a new record of 415.3 ppm in May 2019. This is a massive 60 percent increase in emissions per year since Paris and shows the reality is that most countries are not even close to meeting their Paris reduction commitments and many must be cheating on or ignoring their obligations.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, “Geological records show that the current levels of CO2 correspond to an ‘equilibrium’ climate last observed in the mid-Pliocene (3–5 million years ago), a climate that was 2–3 °C (3.6 – 5.4 F) warmer, where the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melted and even some of the East Antarctic ice was lost, leading to sea levels that were 10–20 m (30 to 60ft) higher than those today.”

Global sea levels rises will cause the atoll island countries, large parts of Bangladesh, Netherlands, coastal USA, New York, New Orleans, Miami, London, Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Dar es Salam and other low lying areas to go under water

Even if the world transitioned to 100 percent renewable energy tomorrow, this will not stop the temperature and sea level rises because it will take more than 100 years for the CO2 levels to drop. According to latest report, sea level rises, droughts and floods will cause a huge refugee crisis for over a billion people by 2050 and throw our civilization into chaos. The world cannot cope with 2 million refugees from Syria. How do we cope hundreds of millions of climate change refugees? There will be wars over food, water, land.

The fact is we have to speed up the transition to renewable energy and we have to make a great effort to drawdown CO2 in the atmosphere.

Reversing climate change

Four hundred and fifteen ppm is way past the Paris objective of limiting the temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).  The levels need to be well below 350 ppm. The excess CO2 must be drawn down from the atmosphere to stop damaging climate change.

In order to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels, regenerative agricultural systems would have to drawdown the current emissions of 3.3 ppm of CO2 per year. Using the accepted formula that 1 ppm CO2 = 7.76 Gt CO2 means that 25.61 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 per year needs to be drawn down from the atmosphere.

Potential of best practice regenerative agriculture

BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), developed by Dr. David Johnson of New Mexico State University, produces compost with a high diversity of soil microorganisms. Multiple crops grown with BEAM have achieved very high levels of sequestration. Published research by Dr.  Johnson and colleagues show. “… a 4.5 year agricultural field study promoted annual average capture and storage of 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 while increasing soil macro-, meso- and micro-nutrient availability offering a robust, cost effective carbon sequestration mechanism within a more productive and long-term sustainable agriculture management approach.” These results have since been replicated in other trials.

These figures mean that BEAM can sequester 37,700 kilos of CO2 per hectare per year which is approximately 37,000 pounds of CO2 per acre.

BEAM can be used in all soil based food production systems including annual crops, permanent crops and grazing systems. If BEAM was extrapolated globally across agricultural lands it would sequester 185 Gt of CO2 per year.

Potential of regenerative grazing

The Savory Institute and many others have been scaling up holistic managed grazing systems on every arable continent. There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence based practices showing that these systems regenerate degraded lands, improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels.

Around 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands are used for grazing. The published evidence shows that correctly managed pastures can build up soil carbon faster than many other agricultural systems and this is stored deeper in the soil.

Research by published Machmuller et al. 2015: “In a region of extensive soil degradation in the southeastern United States, we evaluated soil C accumulation for 3 years across a 7-year chronosequence of three farms converted to management-intensive grazing. Here we show that these farms accumulated C at 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1, increasing cation exchange and water holding capacity by 95% and 34%, respectively.”

The means that they have sequestered 29,360 kilos of CO2 per hectare per year. This is approximately 29,000 pounds of CO2 per acre. If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 98.6 Gt of CO2 per year.

Ending the climate emergency

Transitioning a small proportion of global agricultural production to these two peer-reviewed, evidence based, best practice, regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate.

Ten percent of agricultural lands under BEAM could sequester 18.5 Gt of CO2 per year.

And a further 10 percent of grasslands under regenerative grazing could sequester 10 Gt of CO2 per year.

This would result in 28.5 Gt of CO2 per year being sequestered into the soil which is more than the amount of sequestration needed to drawdown the 25.61 Gt of CO2 that is currently being emitted.

These back-of-the envelope calculations are designed to show the considerable potential of scaling up proven high-performing regenerative systems. The examples are “shovel ready” solutions as they are based on existing practices. There is no need to invest in expensive, potentially dangerous and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage or geo-engineering.

We are in a climate change emergency and we need every tool in the tool box to fix this problem. We don’t have the luxury of wasting precious time on intellectual arguments about whether this is possible or to convince skeptics and land managers unwilling to change.

It is time to get on with drawing down the excess CO2 by scaling up existing regenerative agriculture practices. This is very doable and achievable. It would require minimal financial costs to fund existing institutions, training organizations and relevant NGOs to run courses and workshops.

The widespread adoption of best practice regenerative agriculture systems should be the highest priority for farmers, ranchers, governments, international organizations, elected representatives, industry, training organizations, educational institutions and climate change organizations. We owe this to future generations and to all the rich biodiversity on our precious living planet.

References/sources:

Johnson D, Ellington J and Eaton W, (2015)  Development of soil microbial communities for promoting sustainability in agriculture and a global carbon fix, PeerJ PrePrints | http://dx.doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.789v1 | CC-BY 4.0 Open Access | rec: 13 Jan 2015, publ: 13 Jan 2015

Lal R (2008). Sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in global carbon pools. Energy and Environmental Science, 1: 86–100.

McCosker, T. 2000. “Cell Grazing – The First 10 Years in Australia,” Tropical Grasslands. 34:  207-218.

Machmuller MB, Kramer MG, Cyle TK, Hill N, Hancock D & Thompson A (2014). Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter, Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6995 doi:10.1038/ncomms7995, Received 21 June 2014 Accepted 20 March 2015 Published 30 April 2015

NOAS (2017). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US)

https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/how-much-will-earth-warm-if-carbon-dioxide-doubles-pre-industrial-levels, Accessed Jan 30 2017

Spratt D and Dunlop I, 2019, Existential climate-related security risk: A scenario approach,  

Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration, Melbourne, Australia

www.breakthroughonline.org.au, May 2019 Updated 11 June 2019

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/148cb0_90dc2a2637f348edae45943a88da04d4.pdf

Tong W, Teague W R, Park C S and Bevers S, 2015, GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plains, Sustainability 2015, 7, 13500-13521; doi:10.3390/su71013500, ISSN 2071-1050, www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability

United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  FAOSTAT data on land use, retrieved December 4, 2015

The total amount of land used to produce food is 4,911,622,700 Hectares (18,963,881 square miles).

This is divided into:

Arable/Crop land: 1,396,374,300 Hectares (5,391,431 square miles)

Permanent pastures: 3,358,567,600 Hectares (12,967,502 square miles)

Permanent crops: 153,733,800 square kilometers (593,570 square miles)

BEAM calculations

A basic calculation shows the potential of scaling up this simple technology across the global agricultural lands. Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2 which means that 10.27 metric tons soil carbon = 37.7 metric tons of CO2 per hectare per year (t CO2/ha/yr). This means BEAM can sequester 37.7 tons of CO2 per hectare which is approximately 38,000 pounds of CO2 per acre.

If BEAM was extrapolated globally across agricultural lands it would sequester 185 Gt of CO2/yr.

(37.7 t CO2/ha/yr X 4,911,622,700 ha = 185,168,175,790t CO2/ha/yr)

Regenerative grazing calculations

To explain the significance of Machmuller’s figures: 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1 = 8,000 kgs of carbon being stored in the soil per hectare per year. Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2, which means that these grazing systems have sequestered 29,360 kgs (29.36 metric tons) of CO2/ha/yr. This is approximately 30,000 pounds of CO2 per acre.

If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 98.6 Gt CO2/yr.

(29.36t CO2/ha/yr X 3,358,567,600 ha = 98,607,544,736t CO2/ha/yr)

Andre Leu is international director of Regeneration International. To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

The New Plan to Remove a Trillion Tons of Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere: Bury It

Last month, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere surpassed 415 parts per million, the highest in human history. Environmental experts say the world is increasingly on a path toward a climate crisis.

The most prominent efforts to prevent that crisis involve reducing carbon emissions. But another idea is also starting to gain traction — sucking all that carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it underground.

It sounds like an idea plucked from science fiction, but the reality is that trees and plants already do it, breathing carbon dioxide and then depositing it via roots and decay into the soil. That’s why consumers and companies often “offset” their carbon emissions by planting carbon-sucking trees elsewhere in the world.

But an upstart company, ­Boston-based Indigo AG, now wants to transform farming practices so that agriculture becomes quite the opposite of what it is today — a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

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Restoring Depleted Soils with Cattle

Michael Thiele’s mission today is to acquaint more farmers and ranchers with a holistic view of agriculture.

Thiele grew up on a farm west of Dauphin, Man., just north of Riding Mountain National Park. His father had a small grain farm and a few cows.

“We were busy trying to farm and make a living and like all the other farmers around us, we were creating a monoculture of grain crops — mostly wheat, canola, oats and barley,” says Thiele.

“When I went to university, I thought soil was simply dirt,” he says. People didn’t realize how alive soil is, teeming with life and activity, and how much we depend on a healthy soil system. Now Thiele is trying to help producers understand that the way we farmed created unhealthy soil.

In his part of Manitoba there were rich, fertile soils with 10 to 14 per cent organic matter. “But those soils are now between two and four per cent. 

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