Carbon Farming Isn’t Worth It for Farmers. Two Blockchain Companies Want to Change That

Can the tech that powers cryptocurrency spark a regenerative ag revolution?

Author: Jessica McKenzie | Published: June 4, 2018

When the price of Bitcoin skyrocketed at the end of 2017, analysts crunched the numbers and concluded that the cryptocurrency was set to consume the entire global energy supply by the end of 2020. “Mining” Bitcoin involves solving increasingly complex mathematical equations that secure the network in exchange for newly-minted cryptocurrency—which incidentally requires lots of energy. Huge server farms have popped up around the world for the express purpose of generating the virtual cash, from China to upstate New York, where one town put a moratorium on new commercial cryptocurrency mining operations to protect “the City’s natural, historic, cultural and electrical resources.”

But in spite of Bitcoin’s eco-unfriendly reputation, some organizations propose using blockchain, the technology that makes the cryptocurrency possible, to power a regenerative agricultural revolution. The ultimate goal is to reverse the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere until atmospheric levels fall to a degree that scientists agree will stabilize the climate.

Regenerative agriculture describes a range of farming practices that prioritize soil health and biodiversity over short-term gains that can be derived from tilling and weeding, heavy pesticide use, or artificial fertilizers. Advocates of regenerative agriculture have long argued that holistic land management is better for the farmer and for the earth, but the movement has recently gotten a boost from interest in one of its other benefits: carbon sequestration.


Farmers Can Save the Planet Before They Destroy It, Australian Climate Scientist Says

Author: Amy Bickel | Published: May 29, 2018

In a room full of regenerative agriculture faithfuls, Australian climate scientist and microbiologist Walter Jehne started the conversation.

Will farmers save the planet before they destroy it?

How the future plays out depends on how well the industry understands, respects and regenerates soils, he said.

Healthy biosystems across the world’s farmland provide stable hydrology, weather, economy and communities, he said during the annual Fuller Field School in Emporia last month. But the current picture of feeding a swelling population with limited resources isn’t rosy.

Jehne noted the growing extremes in global weather patterns, such as droughts, floods and wildfires. Moreover, he said, farmers have borrowed money on the concept to produce as much as they can from the land they have.

“It is really the unpredictability of growing a crop and the gamble of “will I have the season as expected to let me grow that crop, harvest that crop and avoid the diseases on that crop,” said Jehne, who is also the director of Healthy Soils Australia.


Can Organic Soil Help Mitigate Climate Change?

Author: Ana-Christina Gaeta | Published: May 2018

study published in the journal Advances in Agronomy released findings about the powerful role that organic soil may play in combating climate change.

A collaboration between the National Soil Project at Northeastern University and The Organic Center sought out to compare the carbon sequestering potential of both organic and conventional farming. The study engaged more than 1,000 farmers from across the United States. Organic farmers provided 659 organic soil samples from 39 different states. Conventional farmers provided 728 conventional soil samples from 48 states for testing. The team measured the humic substance of the samples, which is essentially a mixture of naturally occurring decaying organic matter which nurtures the soil. Humic substances are made up of fulvic and humic acids. According to Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs of The Organic Center, the study “looked at humic substances, which are one of the best measures of long-term carbon sequestration in the soils because they resist degradation and can remain in the soil for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.”


A Well-Balanced Agro-Ecological System Is Needed

Author: Bryan Simon, Land Stewardship Project | Published: May 22, 2018

It’s not the cow or the sow, but the how. I hate to break it to all the conscientious consumers who have bought into the idea that completely avoiding meat is the answer to our planet’s environmental woes, but they’ve been misled. That’s right, I’m calling you out, Beyonce, Brad Pitt, Al Gore and others who are coaching fans to become vegan to save the planet. Such a message, while well-intentioned, misses the mark. Animals are not the problem; the problem is how they are managed.

Animals provide valuable goods and services, like nutrient cycling, habitat diversity, clean water and soil health, but only when integrated with the land.

Unfortunately, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have removed animals from the land, and the consequences are evident: a rapidly changing climate, polluted water, soil loss, rampant pest problems, and barren landscapes devoid of wildlife. Then there are the social costs: CAFOs are highly extractive and exploitative. They put small- and mid-sized farms out of business, and leave rural communities diminished.


Gardening Etcetera: Climate Change and the Backyard Gardener

Author: Lynne Nemeth | Published: May 19, 2018

As a gardener, naturalist, and Director of The Arboretum, I pay close attention to weather and water, particularly since we live in the arid southwest. During the entire 12 years my husband and I have lived here, Arizona has been in drought. Yes, we’ve had some wetter winters and monsoons, but overall, our state has suffered for 21 years. It’s warmer now, too. While I know that 12 years (or even 21 years) of weather observation doesn’t constitute a climatic trend, we are indeed experiencing the effects of climate change. Trees and flowers are leafing out and blooming earlier and earlier, potentially disrupting life cycles of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife species. And animals are moving northward. Whoever thought we’d see denizens of the desert, javelina and coati, in Flagstaff?

We at The Arboretum face climate change issues every day. Irrigation needs, wildfire danger, and endangered plant survival are top of mind. We’ve developed climate science curricula, and host an outdoor interactive Climate Change Center and phenology garden. We are also involved in the Northern Arizona Climate Change Alliance, and offer talks about our changing landscape through that organization.


Healthy, ‘Climate-Beneficial’ Soil Is the Next Supply Chain Frontier

Armed with millions of dollars and a new understanding of sustainable agriculture, Sallie Calhoun is activating a new frontline in the fight against climate change: regenerative soil.

Author: Risa Blumlien | Published: April 20, 2018

Investor and carbon farmer Sallie Calhoun is on a mission: to change our relationship to the earth beneath our feet. After selling her tech company in 2001, she quickly became the proud owner of 7,600 acres of California grassland called Paicines Ranch — plus enough money to leverage some serious change. Now, along with impact investing guru Esther Park, she co-manages a soil-health portfolio called Cienega Capital with $20 million deployed to-date, and has recently co-founded the No Regrets Initiative to build momentum toward climate-beneficial communities. Why is Calhoun so committed to turning dollars into dirt? We sat down with her to learn more and find out.

Why is regenerative soil important?

In a closed environment (like our planet), matter is neither created nor destroyed. So as atmospheric carbon steadily increases (in December 2017, it passed 410 parts per million for the first time in millions of years), carbon levels must steadily decrease somewhere else — and that somewhere else is our global soils. To reverse climate change, carbon in the atmosphere must return to the soil, a process that green, photosynthesizing plants are already perfectly designed to execute.


California Is Turning Farms Into Carbon-Sucking Factories

Author: Nathanael Johnson | Published: May 11, 2018

In a grand experiment, California switched on a fleet of high-tech greenhouse gas removal machines last month. Funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program, they’re designed to reverse climate change by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These wonderfully complex machines are more high-tech than anything humans have designed. They’re called plants.

Seriously, though: Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. They break open the tough CO2 molecule and use the carbon to build their leaves and roots. In the process, they deposit carbon into the ground. For years people have excitedly discussed the possibility of stashing carbon in the soil while growing food. Now, for the first time, California is using cap-and-trade money to pay farmers to do it on a large scale. It’s called the California Healthy Soils Initiative.

In April, trucks full of fertilizer trundled into Doug Lo’s almond orchards near Gustine, California, and spread composted manure around his trees. He then planted clover to cover the ground between the trunks. In theory, these techniques will pull 1,088 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year. Lo’s is one of about fifty farms getting money from the state of California to pull greenhouse gas from the air. California is paying him $50,000 to try it out.


Regenerative Farming: Single Solution to a World of Problems?

Published: May 1, 2018

What if there were one solution that could fix a lot of the world’s problems?

That’s how organic farmer Ben Dobson began his TEDxHudson talk a few years ago. “Appropriate organic farming techniques and properly planned grazing can reverse climate change,” Dobson told his audience.

Dobson has been a farmer his entire life. But it wasn’t until six years ago that he made the connection between agriculture and climate change.

“We emit carbon dioxide in many more ways than just out of our exhaust pipes, out of coal plants, out of factories. We emit potentially more from our soils and by cutting down trees. Carbon is the skeleton of what’s under our feet and we’ve been taking that skeleton out of the ground bone by bone and putting it in the atmosphere.”

In Dobson’s opinion, photosynthesis is another word for carbon sequestration.

“Photosynthesis is the process by which plants breathe in carbon dioxide. They keep the carbon and they breathe the oxygen back out. The carbon then becomes the stock of the plant, the leaves, the roots. The extra carbon goes out of the roots into the soil—and in a proper farming system, it stay there.”

Dobson, who spent time farming in Maine, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in addition to his family’s land in Hillsdale, New York, now works at Stone House Farm in Livingston, New York. He joined the 2,200-acre farm when the owners were planning to completely transition from conventional corn and soy production to a diversified organic farm.

Today, Stone House Farm is a model for regenerative organic agriculture that uses holistic management and long-term crop rotation to rebuild healthy soil and minimize the use of inputs from outside the farm.

And, Dobson says in his talk, “We’re really making it organic. We’re taking carbon dioxide from the air and putting it in the soil.”

How do they do that? After a crop is harvested, they grow cover crops, using crops that will live through the winter. They never leave the soil bare, so they are photosynthesizing all year long, bringing carbon out of the air and putting it in the soil.

“Having more carbon in the soil gives a better home for all the microbes in the soil to live in. They then can make more nitrogen available to plants naturally. That’s right nitrogen, that $40-billion industry that they pollute a lot to make and it’s ruining our oceans with runoff. That can be made naturally with bacteria under our feet while we’re sequestering carbon dioxide.”

Dobson is referring to the $40-billion fertilizer industry, responsible for the widespread nitrate-contamination of U.S. and global waterways and water supplies.

Stone House Farm has figured out “how to grow major commodity crops without chemicals, without pesticides and come close to conventional production targets while sequestering carbon dioxide,” the young pioneer said.

And grow major commodity crops is exactly what Stone House Farm is doing. The farm sells certified organic, non-GMO grains, seeds and animal feeds to local farms and food businesses. It also grazes black angus cattle, which are 100% grass-fed and free of growth hormones or antibiotics.

Ronnie Cummins, international director of Organic Consumers Association, and Steve Rye, CEO of Mercola Health Resources, visited Stone House Farms last month.

“I’ve been steadily visiting organic, biodynamic and regenerative or transition-to-regenerative farms and ranches across North America for the past several years,” Cummins said. “I must say that the several-thousand-acre Stone House Farm is the most impressive biodynamic and regenerative farm and grazing operation (and research center on carbon and methane sequestration) that I’ve ever seen. Ben Dobson is an agronomic genius and a true leader in the U.S. regeneration movement. Watch this TEDx Talk and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Rye was most impressed with Dobson’s ability to combine historical best practices and modern technology on a large scale:

“Accelerating soil improvements needs to happen quickly. Along with other innovative farmers like Will Harris, Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin, Ben is proving there’s reason to be optimistic.”

Dobson hopes that everyone listening to his TEDx Talk can understand the point he is trying to make:

“This one solution I’m talking about can make more money for farmers, produce the food we need and treat the earth in such a way that we can hold more water in it.

“We can sequester our carbon dioxide. We can reinvigorate local economies by taking corporate suppliers of chemicals, too much equipment and herbicides off the table and keep that money local where we can trade seeds. We can trade manure. We can sell crops locally to bakers who need it, to local farms who want food with no GMOs in it. This is what can be done. This is what we’re doing.”

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.

Can Responsible Grazing Make Beef Climate-Neutral?

New research found that the greenhouse gases sequestered in one grass-fed system balanced out those emitted by the cows, but some meatless advocates are skeptical.

Author: Valerie Brown | Published: April 10, 2018

There’s no denying Americans eat a lot of meat. In fact, the average U.S. citizen eats about 55 pounds of beef a year, including an estimated three hamburgers a week, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects that amount to increase by about 3 percent by 2025. This heavy reliance on animal protein carries a big environmental footprint—livestock production contributes about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with beef constituting 41 percent of that figure, thanks to the methane cattle produce in the digestion process and the fact that overgrazing can release carbon stored in soils.

Though most livestock production impacts the climate, the regenerative agriculture movementrecognizes many benefits to properly managed livestock grazing, including carbon sequestration, restoring topsoil, improving ecosystem biodiversity, reducing pesticide and fertilizer inputs, and producing more nutritious food.

Yet despite the benefits of careful grazing, the question remains: Can cattle be raised, fed, and slaughtered in a way that reduces their greenhouse gas emissions to a tolerable level?


How Crushed Volcanic Rock in Farm Soil Could Help Slow Global Warming — and Boost Crops

Author: Georgina Gustin | Published: February 20, 2018

Pulverizing volcanic rock and spreading the dust like fertilizer on farm soils could suck billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere and boost crop yields on a warming planet with a growing population.

In a paper published this week in the scientific journal Nature Plants, an international team of researchers lays out the prospects for “enhanced rock weathering”—a process that uses pulverized silicate rocks, like basalt, to speed the ability of minerals to store carbon in soil.

The team, led by the University of Sheffield in the UK and including U.S. climate scientist James Hansen, says the technique of enhanced weathering on swaths of the world’s cropland could potentially offset a meaningful chunk of global carbon emissions.