How Regenerative Land and Livestock Management Practices Can Sequester Carbon

For people who want to help address climate change through their daily choices, many media headlines point to avoiding meat as the biggest way to reduce their impact. With livestock as one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, it might seem that if we only eliminated animals in food production — cows, in particular — we’d save the planet. Meatless meat is exploding in popularity — even Burger King and White Castle have started offering meatless burgers on their menus. Still, despite good intentions, a blanket censure against cattle leaves out a big part of the story: humans. How animals are raised and managed by humans makes the difference in beef’s climate impact.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a 2017 life cycle assessment (LCA) conducted with one of EPIC Provisions’ beef suppliers, White Oak Pastures, gives evidence that regeneratively managed cows actually can help sequester carbon in the soil.

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Growing Healthier Soil, Food and Profits: Minnesota Farm Is Classroom for Upcoming Regenerative Agriculture School

REDWOOD FALLS, MN, (May 22, 2019) – While many farmers and ranchers are struggling to stay afloat in today’s turbulent agricultural economy, one Minnesota farm couple is turning the tide with a new, “regenerative” business model.

But rather than treating it as a trade secret, Redwood Falls farmers Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz are hosting a three-day Soil Health Academy school Aug. 13-15 at their 400-acre farm so others can learn how to breathe new life into their own farming operations.

Soil Health Academy schools feature instruction by Ray Archuleta, Dave Brandt, Gabe Brown, Allen Williams, Ph.D., and other technical consultants, all of whom are widely considered to be among the most preeminent pioneers, innovators and advocates in today’s soil health and regenerative agricultural movement.

“Stoney Creek Farm was chosen because Grant and Dawn have successfully implemented soil health-focused, regenerative agricultural principles on their farm for years,” said Gabe Brown, co-founder of SHA. “As a result, those practices and principles can be fully illustrated in a real-life setting throughout the students’ hands-on learning experience.”

For the Breitkreutz family, hosting the SHA school represents an opportunity to share their experiences and help other farmers make the transition to a more profitable and fulfilling farming business model.

“We have been on our regenerative path for 15-20 years now and have seen such an improvement to both our pastures and farm fields and we feel that it is vital for our neighbors to find their way to a regenerative path also,” Dawn said. “By hosting the Soil Health Academy on our farm, we hope we are opening a door to their regenerative agriculture education.”

The farming couple’s regenerative farming approach has yielded a wide range of benefits from increased
profits, to improved water infiltration and healthier soil, wildlife and livestock.

“By implementing regenerative agricultural principles on our farm, we’ve improved our bottom line by reducing input costs, including chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, and seed,” Ms. Breitkreutz said. “And our operation now includes additional species of livestock and a meat sales enterprise, which is operated by our daughter, Karlie, and her husband, Cody, through their company, Ten Creek Range. Currently they are selling to individuals in local communities with plans to add on-line sales very soon. We hope to add
pasture-raised chickens by next year,” she said.

In addition to growing better yields and profits through regenerative agricultural principles, Stoney Creek Farm is also growing life in all shapes and sizes.

“We see the increased wildlife, biological life in the soil, improved grain yields, and the improved health of our livestock,” she said. “We have eliminated erosion and improved water infiltration, which means we now keep the water where it’s supposed to be and what could be better than that?”

But one of the most important regenerative agriculture benefits cited by the farming pair, has nothing to do with economics or agronomy.

“Farming is fun, challenging, and rewarding again,” Ms. Breitkreutz said. “We wish we would have made the change sooner, which is exactly what we hear from every single person we have ever talked to who has changed to regenerative farming.”

To learn more about the Soil Health Academy School at Stoney Creek Farm, visit www.soilhealthacademy.org or call 256/996-3142.

Reposted in full with permission from Soil Health Academy

One Solution to Climate Change No One Is Talking About

It was a nightmarish Iowa blizzard in 1998 that made Seth Watkins rethink the way he farmed.

Before then, he’d operated his family business—he raises livestock alongside hay and corn crops for feed—pretty much as his parents had, utilizing practices like monocropping and unseasonal calving cycles, methods designed to cheat nature. The blizzard, which imperiled the lives of many newly born calves that year, made him realize there must be a better way to steward the land and the animals on it — methods more attuned to the natural scheme of things.

Photo credit: Pexels

In the 20 years since, Watkins has shepherded in a number of major changes—such as prairie strips, cover crops and rotational grazing—that prevent soil erosion, curb toxic nitrate and phosphorus runoff into nearby waterways, stimulate the biodiversity of the local ecosystems, and improve soil moisture and nutrient content, all the while increasing profits, he said.

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Regeneration 2019: State of the Movement

Regenerate: Formed or created again; spiritually reborn or converted; restored to a better, higher, or more worthy state. –Webster

“Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” – Vandana Shiva, Regeneration International Co-Founder

Five years ago, at the massive People’s Climate March in New York City, a small but determined band of food, farm, natural health and climate activists held a press conference at the Rodale Institute in Manhattan, where we announced the formation of a new global network: Regeneration International (RI).

Vandana Shiva, Andre Leu, Richard Teague, Ryan Zinn, Kris Nichols and myself, among others, put forth the bold, but then little-known proposition that regenerative food, farming and land-use practices, scaled up internationally, and in conjunction with a global transition to renewable energy, could not only substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming, but could actually draw down enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reverse climate change.

We pointed out that a Regeneration Revolution could also dramatically improve the environment, soil fertility, food quality, public health, biodiversity and rural economies, while revitalizing the body politic.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of media to attend our first RI press conference. But 400,000 people marching in the streets of New York did generate massive world media coverage of the impending Climate Emergency.

Five years later . . .

Five years later, our growing Regeneration Movement has come a long way. Regenerative Agriculture is rapidly becoming the most talked about new concept in food, farming and climate circles. Media coverage, both mainstream and alternative, has increased exponentially.

Leading politicians in the U.S., including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are now talking about how the combination of regenerative agriculture, natural carbon sequestration in soils, forests, and wetlands, and reducing the massive greenhouse gas emissions of industrial agriculture and factory farms can help us reach “net-zero” emissions by 2030.

The concept of regenerative food and farming was featured in the Green New Deal (GND) Resolution introduced in the U.S. House and Senate February 7. The GND has now been endorsed by more than 100 members of Congress, leading Democratic Party contenders and, according to several polls, the majority of the U.S. body politic.

The GND calls for sweeping economic reforms (jobs for all, free public education, higher wages, universal health care) as well as a transformation of our energy, infrastructure and agricultural systems, including:

. . . working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—by supporting family farming… investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health… and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food… removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution, including by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation… restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency… providing all people of the United States with access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.

As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently stated in a social media post (April 7, 2019):

Because of the Green New Deal, entirely new thinkers are now at the policy table instead of just Big Ag and Monsanto writing our public policy for us—from regenerative agriculture experts and family farmers, to indigenous leaders with intergenerational knowledge.

Media waking up to game-changing solutions

On the scientific and public education fronts, a flood of articles, videos and books are highlighting the fact that regenerative farming and ecosystem restoration practices dramatically increase soil fertility and carbon sequestration.

A recent article in Scientific American, features the work of RI member Dr. David Johnson. Johnson’s lab and field research on regenerative compost shows that high-fungal, biologically rich, semi-anaerobic compost and compost extracts produce unusually high crop yields, along with massive carbon sequestration of over four tons of carbon (15 tons of CO2e) per acre per year.

The Scientific American article points out the game-changing implications of Johnson’s compost practices, if scaled-up on the world’s four billion acres of croplands:

Johnson asserts that if his approach were used across agriculture internationally, the entire world’s carbon output from 2016 could be stored on just 22 percent of the globe’s arable land.

Johnson’s “bio-reactor” compost also eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers—inoculated soils enriched with cover crops naturally accumulate enough nitrogen for massive plant growth. Dr. Johnson’s BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management) practices mirror traditional and indigenous compost and agroecological farming practices used in India and other regions.

Potential of regenerative grazing gaining notice
 

The Savory InstituteWill Harris (co-chair of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition), Gabe Brown, the American Grassfed Association, and many others have been demonstrating the efficacy of holistic livestock management practices on every continent.

As RI International Director Andre Leu writes:

There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence-based practices showing that these (livestock) systems regenerate degraded lands, and improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels. Nearly 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands (eight billion acres) are used for grazing. The published evidence is showing that correctly managed pastures can build up SOC (Soil Organic Carbon) faster than many other agricultural systems and that the carbon is stored deeper in the soil.

Leu cites a 2015 study conducted in a region with highly degraded soil and pastures in the southeastern U.S. showing that regenerative, holistically managed grazing was able to sequester 3.24 tons of carbon per acre per year (29.36 metric tons of CO2e/hectare/year).

If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on all of the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 26 billion tons of carbon per year—that’s two-and-a-half times as much carbon as is currently being emitted by all human activities.  Even if only 10 percent of the world’s ranchers and farmers adopted regenerative practices, we could sequester more than a quarter of all current emissions.

New incentives for reforestation and ecosystem restoration

The Earth’s forests once flourished with an estimated six trillion trees growing, storing water below ground, anchoring top soil, maintaining a healthy, predictable system of rainfall and hydrological balance, sequestering vast amounts of atmospheric carbon in tree trunks, limbs, roots, and soil.

Besides these essential ecosystem services, forests also provided food and habitat for much of the world’s population, especially in the global south.

Now, after several centuries of deforestation, we’ve lost half of our trees and forest cover. And many of our remaining forests are weakened and susceptible to forest fires and pest infestations. We’re now down to an estimated total tree population of three trillion trees on 10 billion acres.

But according to a new United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), “The Trillion Tree Campaign,” global reforestation could capture 25 percent of global annual carbon emissions and create wealth in the global south.

The UN’s Trillion Tree Campaign is inspired in part by a recent study led by Dr. Thomas Crowther, Crowther and his fellow researchers, using integrated data from ground-based surveys and satellites, found that replanting the world’s forests (an additional 1.2 trillion trees) on a massive scale in the empty spaces in parks, woods, cities and degraded and abandoned land across the planet would drawdown 100 billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Crowther told the Independent:

“There’s 400 gigatons now, in the three trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere – at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out… [trees are] our most powerful weapon in the fight against climate change.”

Crowther’s figures don’t even include the massive amount of carbon drawdown and sequestration we can achieve through agroforestry and silvopasture practices, planting trees on the world’s often deforested croplands, pasturelands and rangelands.

More than 13.6 billion trees have already been planted as part of the Trillion Tree Campaign, which analyzes and projects not only where trees have been planted, but also the vast areas where forests could be restored. UNEP also emphasizes that there are “170 billion trees in imminent risk of destruction” that must be protected for crucial carbon storage and biodiversity protection. 

‘Four for 1000’ global policy initiative gaining traction

At the upcoming Global Climate Summit in Santiago, Chile, December 2-13, regenerative, carbon-sequestering, agricultural and land-use practices will be highlighted for the first time at the international level.

Countries that are having difficulties meeting their 2015 pledges in Paris to reduce their country’s greenhouse gas emissions to specific levels (most nations are) will now be able to include soil carbon sequestration (along with reforestation and landscape restoration) as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Since the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, three dozen nations and hundreds of municipalities, regions and non-governmental organizations have signed on the “4 for 1000: Soils for  Food Security and Climate Initiative.”

Governments that sign the initiative agree to augment their emissions reductions with a commitment to increase soil carbon sequestration by 4/1000% every year so as to achieve net-zero emissions (drawing down as much GHG as they are emitting) as soon as possible. Regeneration International is an active partner with the French government and others in encouraging nations, regions, municipal governments and organizations to sign-on to the 4 for 1000 Initiative.

What do we go from here?

Besides stepping up our local and individual regenerative education and farming activities, the time has come for regenerators worldwide to focus on grassroots organizing, coalition building and bold political action.

With our Climate Emergency accelerating, and current atmospheric CO2 levels soaring to 415 ppm, we no longer have time to slowly scale up renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land-use practices at our current pace. The inclusion of regenerative food and farming in the U.S. as part of the Green New Deal, amplified in the political arena by several major candidates for President in 2020, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, has opened up an unprecedented opportunity to move forward and gain mass grassroots support. Activists in the UK are now calling for the Labour Party to put forth a bold UK Green New Deal, much as the Sunrise Movement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Bernie Sanders are doing in the U.S.

The final months of 2018 will likely be remembered as the decisive moment when the global grassroots finally awakened to the life-or-death threat posed by global warming. With violent weather and climate disasters becoming the norm, and international scientists finally shedding their customary caution to report that we must drastically slash (by at least 45 percent) global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, hundreds of millions of ordinary people across the world seemed to simultaneously wake up.

People are concerned, alarmed and ready to listen to our message. Now is the time for the Regeneration Movement to step forward and help mobilize our millions of allies and would-be allies. We know what to do. The best practices and practitioners in alternative energy, infrastructure rebuilding and regenerative food and farming are already visible in our local communities. Our moral and existential imperative is to mobilize politically and scale up these practices, raising the banner of a Regenerative Green New Deal in every community, region and nation.

The hour is late. But there’s still time to turn things around. If you haven’t already, please sign the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International’s petition for a Green New Deal. If you’re a farmer or rancher, sign here If you’re an activist or a green consumer sign here.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of theRegeneration International steering committee. To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Big Food Turning to Regenerative Agriculture to Meet Sustainability Goals

Food manufacturers take commodities harvested on millions of acres around the world and put them into the products they sell. Now, a growing number of companies are looking to give back to the land through regenerative agriculture in an effort to meet consumer demand for more environmentally friendly practices. 

General Mills recently partnered with farmers and suppliers to implement these sustainable practices on 1 million acres of soil for oats, wheat, corn, dairy feed and sugar beets by 2030. 

The announcement comes as shoppers care about sustainability now more than ever, according to a survey from Nielsen. Nearly half of U.S. consumers are likely to change what they buy depending on the level of the brand’s commitment to the environment. The growth is unlikely to abate anytime soon, with the data analytics firm predicting people will spend up to $150 billion on sustainable products by 2021.

“It’s a big deal for food companies because we make food that relies on agriculture. 

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Letter from U.S. Farmers & Ranchers to Congress: We Need a Green New Deal

Are you a farmer or rancher? Or a farmer- or rancher-member organization?

Would you like to see Congress pass better food and farming legislation? Legislation that supports you in your efforts to manage your land using practices that improve soil health, contribute to clean water, and produce healthy food?

Do you want agricultural policies that will help you compete in the marketplace, by ensuring fair prices for your products and a level playing field in the marketplace?

Please sign this letter to Congress.

From Despair to Repair

I belong to an online climate discussion group that today asked three questions: what is the state of the movement, do we need climate change or system change, and do we need a meta-movement? Keying off the insights from the Earth Repair Conference, I wrote the following – and have added a post-script to include a week of research on the state of the movement for Earth Repair:

CLIMATE MOVEMENT: STATE OF PLAY

Last weekend I attended the Global Earth Repair conference and this workshop (long) where a new context clicked for me, though I’ve had all the pieces collected over all these years of low to the ground innovations.

The cumulative impact of the event revealed this: the Climate Movement is missing a crucial, essential element. It offers resistance but not repair. It is clear about the against, but largely mum on an equal scale restoration project. The anti-war movement allied with the Peace Movement had moral and spiritual power.

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The Next Regeneration

Didi Barrett, a New York state assemblymember, has visited Stone House Grain, a farm in the Hudson Valley, enough times to be a seasoned tour guide. That’s what it felt like, at least, as we drove in a Jeep down a narrow road, through fields blanketed by cover crops and perennial pastures spread out like a gold-and-brown checkerboard. It was mid-March, a time of dormancy for most plants in the region. Poplar trees, bare of any leaves, lined either side of the road. But the farm was already teeming with life.

From behind the wheel, Ben Dobson, the farm manager, explained why his farm was unseasonably busy. “The basic premise of what people are now calling ‘carbon farming’ is that the earth’s surfaces were made to photosynthesize,” he said, eyeing his fields with a relaxed confidence.

It’s all part of a natural cycle: On warm days, Dobson’s crops pull carbon dioxide from the sky and release it into the soil where it nourishes developing plants.

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Ohio Soil Health Pioneer’s Farm is Classroom for Upcoming Regenerative Agriculture School

CARROLL, Ohio (May 15, 2019) – He’s been described as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” of soil health because of his masterful, Jedi-like ability to regenerate the soil. 

His Carroll, Ohio farm now draws hundreds of researchers, farmers and conservationists from across the globe to gain insights into the principles and practices that have enabled him to restore the health and function of his soil and to invigorate his farming business.

Today, the Soil Health Academy announced that Brandt Farms will host a soil health and regenerative agriculture school, June 4-6, so other farmers can see and learn, first-hand, how 74-year-old David Brandt has transformed his soil and improved his farm’s profitability.

As more farmers struggle to stay afloat in today’s turbulent agricultural economy, Brandt said he hopes to share his successful regenerative farming model so others can learn how to improve the profitability of their own farming operations. 

“Hosting an SHA school on the farm is my way of introducing other farmers to the wide-range of regenerative agriculture benefits, including improved water infiltration, reduced use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides and improved soil health.” Brandt said. “They’ll see what can happen to their own soil through the use of no-till, cover crops and continuous cropping rotations.”

In addition to Brandt, attendees of the three-day, hands-on school will learn from world-renowned regenerative agriculture experts Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Allen Williams, Ph.D., as well as other technical consultants.

While many traditional agriculture researchers and farmers were initially skeptical of regenerative agriculture’s potential, Brandt’s success has helped usher in a new era in agriculture that focuses on farming in nature’s image—practically and profitably.

“Conventional farming wisdom says it’s impossible to achieve the kind of improvements I’ve made in soil organic matter, soil health and soil function,” he said. “But the results are real and they speak for themselves.”

Brandt describes his soil-health focused approach as “part innovation, part perspiration and part determination” and admits he’s had his share of set-backs and challenges.

“My journey has come through many trials and some failures but mainly through hands-on learning to see what can really be done to be a better steward of the land,” Brandt said. “Now I simply want to share my experience and help other farmers become even more successful in their regenerative agriculture journeys.” 

To learn more about the Soil Health Academy School at Brandt Farms, visit www.soilhealthacademy.org or call 256/996-3142.

Reposted with permission from Soil Health Academy

How Weeds Help Fight Climate Change

More than 60 years ago, when he was a child, farmer Peter Andrews saw his first dust storm. He still remembers it. “The noise was horrendous,” he says. “We hid in the house waiting for it to pass. The whole sky was dark. And the damage we saw the next day was even more terrible.”

The wind had ripped many of the trees on his family’s property completely bare. Some of their horses and cattle asphyxiated, unable to breath in the dust.

That early experience has led him to a particular calling: trying to regenerate Australia’s land, since dust storms occur in hot, arid regions where there is little vegetation to anchor the soil.

“It really led me… to thinking about how to find solutions for keeping the land in balance,” Andrews says. “Over many decades I learned from observation how to keep the land fertile, how every landscape has its own natural system. 

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