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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

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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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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A Green New Deal Must Prioritize Regenerative Agriculture

We are at a radically new stage in our fight for the planet. The Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, and hundreds of other climate justice leaders and organizations has given us a new holistic framework for tackling both the climate crisis and structural inequality.

This bold vision for the future has, in a matter of months, radically expanded what is politically possible and clarified what is morally required of us as a society. Just a year ago, the progressive movement was struggling to articulate climate solutions that were capable of meeting the severity and scale of the problem, relying instead on piecemeal reforms.

With any luck, those days are decisively behind us. The goal is no longer to slow the bleeding; it’s to heal the wound.

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New Project in Carbon Farming Launched in India

A new project will help farmers increase their income as well as store carbon in their soil. Starting with 20 farmers in two districts of Maharashtra state in India, the carbon farming project will compensate farmers for increases in soil organic carbon. These farmers follow no-till practices in growing rice and other cover crops.

The project is an initiative of Shekar Bhadsavale, a California-educated progressive farmer from Neral, and Emmanuel D’Silva, an agriculture and environment scientist from Mumbai who previously worked at the World Bank.

Bhadsavale has pioneered Saguna Rice Technique (SRT), a form of zero-till conservation agriculture, which has been accepted by over 1,000 farmers in several Indian states. D’Silva had initiated carbon credit programs through tree plantations in 44 tribal villages a decade earlier.

“The farmers we selected are mostly smallholder farmers with less than a hectare. In Karjat [area], they are mostly tribals growing rice followed by vegetables,” explains Bhadsavale who grows rice, string beans, and other cover crops.

“SRT will not only increase farm yields and income, but also improve the health of soils, thereby, storing more carbon in the process,” said Bhadsavale.

“Increasing soil organic carbon through conservation agriculture practices like SRT will benefit everyone on the planet,” observes D’Silva, the agriculture and environment scientist.

“A one-percent increase in soil organic carbon in one acre is equivalent to storing 18 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide underneath our ground. Agriculture can provide a better solution to the climate crisis than some other sectors, if done right,” notes D’Silva.

Looking back on his decade-long experiences in growing multiple types of rice, a variety of legumes, and other crops, Bhadsavale believes that a one percent increase in soil organic carbon can easily be achieved over three years, if farmers practice sustainable farming methods like SRT. He has done a lot to spread the message of SRT in India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Bhadsavale and D’Silva are not the only ones confident of agriculture providing solutions to climate change. Cornelia Rumpel and other soil scientists at CNRS Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences in France believe that increasing the carbon content of the world’s soils by just a few parts per thousand (0.4 percent) each year would remove around 3-4 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere and also boost soil health. They cite studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which show increasing soil carbon by 0.4 percent a year can enhance crop yields by 1.3 percent.

Rumpel chairs the scientific and technical committee of the 4 for 1000 initiative launched by France in 2015. The goal of the initiative is to “demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned.”

If the carbon level in the top 30-40 cm of soils were increased by 0.4 percent, the annual increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be stopped, concludes the website of the 4 for 1000 initiative.

The carbon farming pilot in Maharashtra will make a small contribution to the global goal of improving 1.5 million km2 of degraded and deforested land by 2020. If the 20 farmers participating in the pilot practice conservation agriculture on all of their land—rather than just half an acre—they should be able to store 2,000 tons of CO2 in their soil over three years, says D’Silva.

Under the project, farmers would be compensated for increases in soil carbon by contributions from individuals, private companies, and NGOs concerned about climate change.

One of the contributors is Prabhakar Tamboli, a professor of Agriculture at the University of Maryland. “This is the first baby step to find a solution to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change,” he observes. “In addition, the project will introduce environmentally sound agronomic practices in the fields of farmers and help increase their incomes.”

Initially, the ‘carbon check’ to farmers is expected to be about Rs 9,000 (US$128) over three years based on half-acre experiments. But this could change if the project is expanded after the pilot phase.

The Saguna Rural Foundation, headed by Bhadsavale, will provide technical support to farmers, collect soil samples, and distribute the carbon checks at year’s end based on increases in soil carbon. The verification and validation of the soil increases would be conducted independently by Zenith Energy Climate Foundation, Hyderabad.

The Director of the foundation, Mohan Reddy, believes that “verification and validation by a third party (such as us) would bring credibility to the process of measurement of the carbon stored in the soil and quantification of CO2 reduction.”

Reddy has participated in a number of projects requiring measurement of greenhouse gases under terms of the Kyoto Protocol, but admits that establishing baselines and measuring carbon storage in agriculture, a new activity, could be a challenge.

The farmers involved in carbon farming, however, are up to the challenge. Parshuram Agivale, a pioneer farmer who has been practicing no-till rice cultivation for six years, says SRT has changed his life. “My workload has decreased, agriculture production has increased, and income has gone up. I have been able to send my daughter to a nursing school and she is now a nurse.”

“Even though I am uneducated, I am now happy to share my experience and educate other farmers on the merits of zero till and SRT.”

Sitting under a banyan tree on his 2-acre farm, Agilve, along with other farmers participating in the project, shared ideas and excitement on being among the first to take up carbon farming. They recognized they were making a contribution not only for their children but also for the planet by storing carbon in their soils.

Reposted with permission from Food Tank

Will Soil Save Us? Carbon Sequestration Through Agriculture

When I taught kindergarten many years ago, I remember when 6-year old Flo fixed her china-blue eyes on me one morning and said she had just figured something out: “Everything in the world is alive,” she declared, “but in its own way.”

Flo’s words come to mind this spring as I get my hands into the earth. I am always awestruck in nature, but these days there’s also an undercurrent of dull grief and panic about climate change. All life, present in all of its variation and complexity, is cherished more than ever before. Every bee and butterfly that enters my garden will get the best seat at the table.

I’m also mindful of my grandfather, a Dutch immigrant who acquired land in southwestern Minnesota in the late 1800s and “broke the prairie” with a sharpened plow and a team of good horses.

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Can Soil Microbes Slow Climate Change?

With global carbon emissions hitting an all-time high in 2018, the world is on a trajectory that climate experts believe will lead to catastrophic warming by 2100 or before. Some of those experts say that to combat the threat, it is now imperative for society to use carbon farming techniques that extract carbon dioxide from the air and store it in soils. Because so much exposed soil across the planet is used for farming, the critical question is whether scientists can find ways to store more carbon while also increasing agricultural yields.

Photo credit: Pexels

David Johnson of New Mexico State University thinks they can. The recipe, he says, is to tip the soil’s fungal-to-bacterial ratio strongly toward the fungi. He has shown how that can be done. Yet it is not clear if techniques can be scaled up economically on large commercial farms everywhere.

 

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The Climate Solution Right Under Our Feet

here are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again. —Rumi

The way to stop climate change might be buried in 300 square feet of earth in the Venice neighborhood of Los ­Angeles, amid kale and potatoes. A half-dozen city youth are digging through the raised bed on a quiet side street, planting tomato seedlings between peach and lime trees. Nineteen-year-old ­Calvin sweats as he works the rake. There’s a lot at stake here. The formerly homeless youngsters are tentatively exploring farming through a community outreach program started by a California nonprofit called Kiss the Ground. More importantly, they are tending to the future of our planet.

Photo credit: Unsplash

“Soil just might save us,” filmmaker Josh Tickell says, “but we are going to have to save it first.”

 

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New Market Planned to Pay Farmers for Soil Carbon, Water Quality

General Mills, ADM, Cargill, McDonald’s, and The Nature Conservancy are among 10 companies and nonprofit organizations that are forming a national market by 2022 to incentivize the adoption of farming practices that build soil carbon and improve water conservation.

Talks for the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium were convened two years ago by the Nobel Research Institute, which has committed over $2 million to the endeavor with additional support from the General Mills Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and McKnight Foundations. The aim of the venture is to develop protocols and a market framework to issue greenhouse gas reduction credits to farmers who adopt conservation practices.

Photo credit: Unsplash

The market will work in two ways. First, farmers will receive credits for the amount of carbon they sequester in the soil or water quality they improve, giving farmers a new and potentially significant income stream; companies can then buy those credits to meet their climate or water goals.

 

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Regenerative Agriculture

Few of us are not aware of the dire statistics of our present world.  The amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere continues to increase even though we’ve made some progress in limiting some sources.  Extreme weather events, climate refugees, and species extinctions herald the arrival of climate change while exploding population growth and resource depletion exacerbate the situation.  Now, we know that we have eleven years to turn it around before we are beset with irreversible climate chaos.  Before you go out behind the house and shoot yourself, remember that we got ourselves into this mess and we certainly have the knowledge and wherewithal to get ourselves out of it.

Photo credit: Pexels

We are told that every ton of carbon we put in the atmosphere will be there for ten thousand years or more.  I don’t think that needs to be so.

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