Posts

Considerations for the Biden Administration Regarding a National Carbon Farming Program

A national carbon farming program at the USDA level would be a tremendous leap forward with regards to incentivizing agricultural practices that can help mitigate climate change. However, the current primary focus on no-till and cover cropping is narrow in scope. While cover cropping is an extremely important and impactful agricultural practice, it is merely a part of a larger system needed to regenerate healthy soils on a nationwide basis.

Designing a Whole-System, Outcome-Based Approach

Rather than focus on single farming practice benefits, designing a whole-system approach will create synergy between practices and enterprises, and bring about significant soil carbon sequestration, GHG emissions reductions, and other ecological co-benefits. Fortunately, there are myriad other management interventions that the USDA can fold into their strategy to ensure that the agriculture sector maximizes its full potential in the fight against climate change.

In order for the Biden Administration to ensure that money spent on climate-related USDA incentive programs is supporting real net impact, these programs must be spurred by practice-based incentives that are holistic in scope and supported by comprehensive outcomes-based assessments.

Furthermore, these outcomes must be quantified by a hybrid approach that includes:

  • Ground-basedmonitoring,
  • Remotesensing,
  • Process-basedmodeling

In addition, outcomes must be assessed comprehensively, within the context of whole systems, throughout supply chains, and across all GHGs (including methane and nitrous oxide) and emissions scopes.

Integrating cover crops into a row crop system can:

  • Increase levels of soil organic carbon,
  • Increasesoilwaterinfiltrationandholdingcapacity,
  • Reducetheneedforsyntheticfertilizers.

However, the system where cover crops are adopted will dictate how these benefits are achieved.

Limitations of Current Soil Carbon Measurement Standards

For example, in annual row-crop systems that use conservation tillage and chemical no-till practices, research has demonstrated that gains in soil organic carbon in the top 20-30 cm of soil in these systems can be offset by losses in deeper layers, and therefore these practices are likely not as effective as previously understood (1,2).

It is now clear that the ability to monitor and model changes in SOC deeper in the soil profile is essential to assessing real outcomes. Thus, having the right kind of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) strategy that can adequately and comprehensively assess the ecological, social, and economic impacts of a comprehensive, sector-wide incentive program is of the utmost importance.

Traditionally, carbon offset methodologies for the agriculture sector have relied solely on process-based modeling, the quantification standard in data-poor environments. However, process-based models are only as good as the ground truth data used to develop them.

The most widely used modeling tool to-date is the USDA’s COMET-Farm tool, which is designed to estimate GHG emissions and sequestration at field scale, based on management practices. While this tool has been developed over the course of decades, with data from dozens of research projects throughout the Midwest and Great Plains, it lacks the sophistication to adequately quantify outcomes.

The two most limiting factors of this particular model are its inability to estimate SOC sequestration below 20 centimeters (8 inches), and its inability to quantify the impacts of a broad spectrum of management practices related to cover cropping, grazing, and manure management (3). As a result, necessary practice and system innovation are not supported by these tools. Furthermore, there is a larger limitation with models in general, which is that their output is focused at field scale, and therefore excludes upstream and downstream impact.

In our opinion, the Biden Administration will face grave political consequences and fail to achieve its urgently needed climate goals in agriculture if it follows through with a narrowly-defined incentive program supported by inadequate quantification infrastructure.

Direct measurement of outcomes in an incentive program should be the holy grail.

The greatest challenge to direct measurement is decreasing the sampling burden enough while still capturing spatial and climatic variability. As satellite and ground-based sensor technology advances, the potential for adequately quantifying variability to support cost-effective sample stratification is significant (4,5).

In addition, as the development of process-based modeling must always be an ongoing project, satellite and ground-based sensors can continuously feed necessary ground truth to further advance the accuracy and sophistication of models, and to automate the model input process.

Proper Funding for Soil Health Measurement Technology is Key to Program Success

It is essential that the Biden Administration allocate funding to advance the state of the art of NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites, and to engage in public private partnerships with the world’s best satellite data providers, with the goal of enhancing our ability to leverage remote sensing as a means to monitor the ecological impacts of the agriculture sector. Note: Further efforts to develop and deploy earth observing satellite platforms should be focused on:

  • Advancing sensor technology,
  • Enhancing spatial and temporal resolution of satellite data,
  • Making data publicly available

This will allow for the necessary access to correlative datasets to further develop accurate monitoring platforms.

It is also essential that the USDA support the strategic deployment of sector-wide ground-based sensors, monitoring sites and stations across crop fields, CAFO facilities, and at points throughout critical watersheds facing immense pollution pressure (such as the Mississippi and Chesapeake Bay). This will serve to support the development of remote sensing and process-based modeling tools, and also to provide a critical feed-back system that can allow USDA program officials to conduct regular impact assessments based on directly-observed outcomes, and to more rapidly recalibrate the approach to management recommendations.

The current state of ground-based sensor technology, including in-situ soil and water monitoring systems, is such that national-scale monitoring can be rolled out with the necessary degree of standardization.

When considering the environmental impact of the agriculture sector in the United States, it is important to consider the extent to which agricultural enterprises have become consolidated, dis-integrated and specialized compared to a century ago. Therefore the sector as a whole should be considered as one large system, with one type of enterprise (i.e. grain) providing inputs that feed into another (i.e. livestock). In this holistic context, it is clear that the impact of a single management intervention in a certain sub-sector, such as cover-cropping, will be much less in the aggregate (or even fully offset) when measured against the impacts of other downstream sub-sectors, such as CAFO methane emissions.

Therefore, fully functioning incentive programs would be comprehensive and sector-wide, would facilitate GHG emissions reductions and atmospheric drawdown across supply chains, and would consider and quantify not only GHG emissions reductions and SOC sequestration, but also other forms of ecological impact related to water (6) and biodiversity, as well economic and social impact.

Expand and Fully Fund Conservation Programs – CRP and Regenerative Grazing

The expansion of existing USDA programs can also go a long way towards supporting a comprehensive carbon farming program, if high-level principles of regenerative organic agriculture are considered. These principles include biodiversity, tillage reduction, annual-perennial crop rotations, animal integration, aerobic manure management, natural fertility inputs, and protection of waterways.

One of the largest pieces of low-hanging fruit with regard to existing programs is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). There are two simple ways in which CRP can support carbon farming in the U.S.:

1) Expanding the CRP budget to increase enrolled acres, and

2) Developing a grazing program on enrolled CRP land that establishes a supply chain between cow-calf operations grazing on public and private land in the western U.S., and CRP grazing permittees, which will have the effect of diverting animals from feedlots to pasture, which will increase domestic production of grass-fed beef, a market for which there is significant demand in this country that we are not currently meeting domestically.

This will also significantly decrease GHG emissions associated with feedlot production and crop production. In order to support a CRP grazing program, funding for fencing and water infrastructure could be met through expanding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) budget. In addition, EQIP funding for cover crop seed and planting equipment, and composting infrastructure (7), will go a long way towards further reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions associated with crop and livestock production. Direct coordination with USDA and the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service, in the form of rangeland management and rangeland health assessments, is also essential to supporting a national carbon farming program.

Healthy rangeland is a tremendous carbon sink, and presents perhaps one of the greatest opportunities in this country to sequester carbon in soils. The USDA must work with BLM and USFS to improve rangeland health assessments using satellite and ground-based monitoring (8), and to provide technical and financial support for improved rangeland management. This kind of monitoring approach will provide a comprehensive geospatial feedback mechanism that can help pinpoint best grazing management practices and support data-driven implementation.

The Biden Administration has a tremendous opportunity to deploy a robust carbon farming program across the United States, and can leverage many existing USDA programs in support of its goals. However, pains must be taken to ensure that the scope of such a program is sector-wide. This will ensure the full spectrum of opportunities to reduce emissions and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide are on the table, so as to avoid perceptions of greenwashing and industry placation. Additional pains must be taken to include in this program the farmers and ranchers who have already taken financial risks by adopting and implementing best management practices absent any robust federal program to-date.

 

Matthew Sheffer is the Managing Director at Hudson Carbon.

References:

  1. 1.)  No-till and carbon stocks: Is deep soil sampling necessary? Insights from long-term experiments – Humberto Blanco-Canqui a, *, Charles Shapiro a, Paul Jasa b, Javed Iqbal a
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.still.2020.104840
  2. 2.)  Tillage and soil carbon sequestration—What do we really know? – John M. Baker a,b,*, Tyson E. Ochsner a,b, Rodney T. Venterea a,b, Timothy J. Griffis b
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2006.05.014
  3. 3.)  Comparison of COMET-Farm Model Outputs to Long-Term Soil Carbon Data at Stone House Farm – Matthew Sheffer, Mike Howardhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1dVx_ICmMSKeiELIR00v6JHsJoBxABLu_WDyl0Chwick/edit?usp=sharing
  4. 4.)  A New Index for Remote Sensing of Soil Organic Carbon Based Solely on Visible Wavelengths – Evan A. Thaler* ,Isaac j.Larsen, Qian Yuhttps://doi.org/10.2136/sssaj2018.09.0318
  5. 5.)  Optimizing Stratification and Allocation for Design-Based Estimation of Spatial Means Using Predictions with Error

– J. J. De Gruitjter* B. Minasny A. B. McBratney

  1. 6.)  https://doi.org/10.1093/jssam/smu024Understanding the temporal behavior of crops using Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2-like data for agricultural applications – Amanda Veloso ⁎,1, Stéphane Mermoz, Alexandre Bouvet, Thuy Le Toan, Milena Planells, Jean-François Dejoux, Eric Ceschia
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2017.07.015
  2. 7.)  Compost: Enhancing the Value of Manure; An assessment of the environmental, economic, regulatory, and policy opportunities of increasing the market for manure compost – Sustainable Conservation, 2017 https://suscon.org/pdfs/compostreport.pdf

8.) Beyond Inventories: Emergence of a New Era in Rangeland Monitoring – Matthew O. Jones , David E. Naugle , Dirac Twidwell , Daniel R. Uden , Jeremy D. Maestas , Brady W. Allreda
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2020.06.009

Why Regenerative Agriculture Must Be Measured

The natural and organic movement has been the nexus for many elevated claims, but most notably the intersection of human health and environmental impact. The data around the human health component is becoming higher resolution and more widespread. And most of the New Hope readership is probably already of the mindset that making better choices about what we eat and wear can scale up environmental impact to save the planet. But how exactly does that happen, to what degree is it occurring and is it being optimized?

Civilization, at least as we know it, is running out of time; the United Nations stated in 2014 that at current rates of soil degradation and erosion there are only 60 harvests left. Humans have an affinity for procrastination; we are in essence facing the biggest exam of our existence. The test is tomorrow morning and we have no other choice than to start cramming right now in order to get a passing grade.

Why Regenerative Agriculture is Important for the Future of our Planet

Our planet is in the middle of a climate crisis; the cause is anthropogenic carbon dioxide, the potent greenhouse gas released when fossil fuels are burned for electricity generation, industry, and transportation. The agricultural sector is also a significant contributor and, together with forestry and other land use, it is responsible for around 25% of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions.

As the global population rises, how land is used will continue to change. More forests will be felled to make way for farming and livestock, and emissions of powerful greenhouse gases released through our current agricultural practices will rise.

A recent study found that unless farming methods change, rising emissions from human land use will jeopardize the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement. Poorer countries (Latin America, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa) have had the greatest increase in land-use change emissions due to population expansion; developed nations (Europe, North America) had negative land-use change, but still extensive farm-originated pollution.

KEEP READING ON AZO CLEAN TECH

Why Healthy Soil Means A Healthier Planet

Dirt, it turns out, has been underestimated. Healthy soil is perhaps the most essential part of a thriving ecosystem. In the face of climate change, farmers and scientists are working to better understand how soil supports a healthy planet. It turns out that without it, the rest of an ecosystem suffers.

Soil is composed of various materials, including sand, silt, stone and water. Depending on the geographic location, it can be sandy, dense, rocky or porous. Soil is a living thing and composed of millions of tiny organisms that help keep it healthy. Different types of insects, bacteria and fungi all work together to keep things in balance. Fungal networks, known as mycelium, play a vital role in helping dirt communicate with plant roots. In fact, the largest known organism in the world is a fungus that covers 4 square miles of forest in the Pacific Northwest.

Modern farming practices, land development and pollution are threatening the health of our planet.

KEEP READING ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL MAGAZINE

Unlocking the Potential of Soil Can Help Farmers Beat Climate Change

Farmers are the stewards of our planet’s precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

The threat to food security

Farming is capital-intensive and farmers are at the mercy of volatile global commodity markets, trade disputes, regulatory changes, weather, pests, and disease. Factor in climate change and you can include droughts, floods and temperature shifts.

We need to change how we grow our food because:

  • climate change will increasingly impact farm yields
  • how we farm can help mitigate climate change
  • helping our farmers unlock the full potential of soil will help them meet growing food demands while remaining profitable
  • restoring the carbon-holding potential of our soil combats climate change.

Soil and climate change

The last few years have been among the hottest on record. As of May 2020, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2)​​​​​​​ in our atmosphere has been the highest it’s been in human history.

‘Carbon Farming’ Could Make US Agriculture Truly Green

ON A FARM in north-central Indiana, Brent Bible raises 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans that go into producing ethanol fuel, food additives and seeds. In Napa Valley, California, Kristin Belair picks the best grapes from 50 acres of vineyards to create high-end cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc wines. Both are part of a growing number of “carbon farmers” who are reducing planet-warming greenhouse gases by taking better care of the soil that sustains their farms. That means making changes like plowing fields less often, covering soil with composted mulch and year-round cover crops, and turning drainage ditches into rows of trees.

Now Congress is considering legislation that would make these green practices eligible for a growing international carbon trading marketplace that would also reward farmers with cash.

This morning, Bible is scheduled to testify at a Capitol Hill hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee that is considering the carbon farming legislation.

KEEP READING ON WIRED

Organizaciones regenerativas continuarán con los eventos agendados en torno a la COP25 en Chile, y también enviarán delegaciones a Madrid

Regeneration International, Savory Institute, Organic Consumers Association y muchas otras organizaciones comprometidas a apoyar el movimiento regenerativo en América Latina

Contacto:

América Latina: Ercilia Sahores, ercilia@regenerationinternational.org, +52 (55) 6257 7901

Estados Unidos: Katherine Paul, katherine@regenerationinternational.org; 207-653-3090

SANTIAGO, Chile – 7 de noviembre de 2019 – En una demostración clara de solidaridad con el creciente movimiento regenerativo en Chile y en América Latina, Regeneration International anunció que llevará a cabo la asamblea anual de la red y participará de otras instancias claves y estratégicas sobre el clima y la agricultura en Chile y regiones, a pesar de la decisión del gobierno de Chile de no ser anfitrión de la Conferencia climática COP25.

Regeneration International y aliados claves también enviarán delegaciones a la COP25 oficial, que ahora tendrá lugar en Madrid. 

“Este es un momento histórico de profundo simbolismo para Chile,” afirmó Ercilia Sahores, Directora para América Latina de Regeneration International. “Nuestra decisión de continuar con las reuniones que hemos organizado durante meses junto con otras organizaciones de la sociedad civil, refleja nuestro compromiso de asegurar que las voces ciudadanas, no solo las institucionales, puedan unir fuerzas y tener una plataforma en la COP25. Creemos que el Movimiento Regenerativo ofrece una esperanza que se traduce en soluciones políticas, ambientales y socio-económicas prácticas ante la crisis sistémica que se está viviendo en este momento en Chile y otras partes del mundo.”

“Regeneration International está inspirado y con nuevas fuerzas por el surgimiento de resistencia de base y por la regeneración que se está contagiando en todo el planeta, declaró Ronnie Cummins, co-fundador y miembro de la junta de Regeneration International.” Los levantamientos que hemos visto en Chile, Hong Kong, Moscú, el Líbano y otras naciones y el rápido crecimiento de Extinction Rebellion en Europa y el movimiento Sunrise en Estados Unidos, son claros llamados para que el sistema cambie como condición clave para enfrentar la crisis climática y la crisis social, política y económica que están claramente relacionadas. Desde Regeneration International y en conjunto con organizaciones aliadas estamos esperando con ansias ir a Santiago en diciembre para, junto con nuestros colegas en América Latina y Chile, construir un movimiento fuerte a través de América y lograr un Nuevo Acuerdo Verde transcontinental con un fuerte foco en la reforestación, la agricultura y la alimentación regenerativa, así como la restauración de ecosistemas..” 

“La hora esperada ha llegado, luego de años de practicar y capacitarnos activamente en la regeneración eco-social en nuestras manos, mentes y corazones,” compartió Javiera Carrión, co-fundadora de El Manzano Permacultura, organización afiliada a Regeneration International. “El contexto ha cambiado de una manera rápida y violenta en Chile, y lo mismo está ocurriendo en otras partes del mundo“. Estos son tiempos interesantes y de gran incertidumbre. Es también el momento adecuado para que el Movimiento Regenerativo se reúna y vuelva a pensar su estrategia. Tenemos mucho trabajo por hacer y estamos muy agradecidos del apoyo de Regeneration International en este momento crítico.”

” En Savory nos llena de entusiasmo unir fuerzas con Regeneration International para esta COP25,  tanto en Chile como en España” señaló Daniela Howell, CEO del Savory Institute,” Los líderes de nuestros Hubs en Sudamérica y en Europa se unirán para expresar el apoyo y el compromiso hacia el movimiento regenerativo en esta región y de manera global. Queremos participar como un frente unido en sesiones claves para apoyar la promoción de la agricultura orgánica y la iniciativa global  4×1000, compartiendo también tiempo para inspirarnos, conectarnos y generar amistades.”

Regeneration International llevará a cabo su Asamblea General en Santiago el 9 y 10 de diciembre.

Regeneration International es una organización sin fines de lucro 501 (c) (3) dedicada a promover, facilitar y acelerar la transición global a la alimentación, la agricultura y la gestión de la tierra regenerativas con el propósito de restaurar la estabilidad climática, poner fin al hambre en el mundo y reconstruir los sistemas sociales, ecológicos y económicos deteriorados. Visite https://regenerationinternational.org/.

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.

KEEP READING ON RESILIENCE

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. 

KEEP READING ON BBC NEWS