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Cultivo en pastos: el innovador sistema “no matar, no labrar” desarrollado por agricultores australiano

La agricultura regenerativa es una revolución agrícola global que ha tenido una rápida aceptación e interés en todo el mundo. Hace cinco años, casi nadie había oído hablar de ella. Ahora aparece en las noticias casi todos los días. Esta revolución agrícola ha sido liderada por agricultores innovadores en lugar de científicos, investigadores y gobiernos. Se está aplicando a todos los sectores agrícolas, incluidos el cultivo, el pastoreo y la horticultura perenne.

En artículos anteriores hemos descrito cómo la agricultura regenerativa maximiza la fotosíntesis de las plantas para capturar el dióxido de carbono de la atmósfera y aumentar la materia orgánica del suelo. La materia orgánica del suelo es un buen indicador de la salud del suelo, ya que es importante para mejorar la fertilidad y la captura de agua en los suelos, mejorando así la productividad y la rentabilidad en la agricultura.

Muchos agricultores regenerativos siembran sus campos con mezclas de plantas solo para capturar dióxido de carbono y mejorar los niveles de materia orgánica del suelo. Estos se denominan cultivos de cobertura y son distintos de los cultivos comerciales. El cultivo de cobertura aumenta la fertilidad del suelo. El cultivo comercial genera ingresos.

Cultivo de pastos: el sistema “no matar, no labrar”

Australia tiene muchos agricultores regenerativos innovadores. Los dos agricultores que les presentamos a continuación son pioneros de un sistema de cultivo de cobertura llamado cultivo de pastos (CCPP) o pasture cropping. Bajo este método, el cultivo comercial se planta en pastos perennes en lugar de sobre el suelo desnudo. No es necesario arar las especies de pastos como las malezas o matarlas con herbicidas antes de plantar el cultivo comercial. El pasto perenne se convierte en un cultivo de cobertura.

Esta técnica fue desarrollada por primera vez por Colin Seis en Nueva Gales del Sur, Australia, y se basa en el sólido principio ecológico de que las plantas anuales crecen en sistemas perennes. La clave es adaptar este principio al sistema de gestión apropiado para los cultivos comerciales y el clima específicos.

Primero se pasta o se corta el pasto para asegurarse que esté  muy corto. Esto agrega materia orgánica en forma de estiércol, pasto cortado y raíces al suelo de manera que aumenta su fertilidad y se reduce la competencia de raíces del pasto. El cultivo comercial, por ejemplo la avena, se planta directamente en el pasto.

Aquí está la descripción del propio Colin Seis del cultivo en pastos:

Imagen cortesía de Colin Seis

“Una cosecha de avena de 20 hectáreas (50 acres) que se sembró y cosechó en 2003. . . El rendimiento de este cultivo fue de 4,3 toneladas / hectárea. Este rendimiento es al menos igual al promedio del distrito, donde se utilizan métodos de cultivo que alteran el suelo por completo”. 

“Este beneficio no incluye el valor del pastoreo adicional. En Winona, la granja de Colin Seis, cuesta entre 50 y 60 dólares por hectárea porque los pastos se pastan hasta el momento de la siembra. Cuando se usan prácticas de cultivo tradicionales en las que se utilizan métodos de preparación del suelo y control de malezas durante períodos de cuatro a hasta seis meses antes de sembrar el cultivo, no se puede lograr un pastoreo de calidad”.

“También se aprendió que sembrar un cultivo de esta manera estimulaba a las plántulas de pasto perenne a crecer en número y diversidad, de manera que se conseguía más toneladas / hectárea de crecimiento vegetal. Esto produce más alimento para ganado después de la cosecha y elimina totalmente la necesidad de volver a sembrar pastos en las áreas cultivadas. Los métodos de cultivo utilizados en el pasado requieren que se elimine toda la vegetación antes de sembrar el cultivo y mientras el cultivo está creciendo”.

Imagen cortesía de Colin Seis

“Desde el punto de vista económico de la granja, hay un enorme potencial de generar buenos ingresos porque el costo de cultivar de esta manera es una fracción del del cultivo convencional. El beneficio adicional en el caso de una granja mixta es que se logra hasta seis meses más de pastoreo con este método en comparación con la pérdida de pastoreo debido a la preparación del suelo y el control de malezas requerido en los métodos de cultivo tradicionales. Como regla general, un principio subyacente del éxito de este método es el 100% de cobertura del suelo el 100% del tiempo”.

 

Otros beneficios son más difíciles de cuantificar, como la gran mejora en el número de plantas perennes y la diversidad de los pastos después del cultivo. Esto significa que no hay necesidad de volver a sembrar pastos, que pueden costar más de 150 dólares por hectárea, y considerablemente más si se utilizan contratistas para el establecimiento de los pastos.

Estudios independientes en Winona sobre el cultivo de pastos realizados por el Departamento de Tierras y Agua han encontrado que el cultivo de pastos es un 27% más rentable que la agricultura convencional; esto va unido a grandes beneficios medioambientales que mejorarán el suelo y regenerarán nuestros paisajes.

El cultivo de pastos es una de las mejores formas de aumentar la materia orgánica del suelo. Los campos están cubiertos de hojas fotosintetizadoras durante todo el año, que capturan CO2, y que son enterradas profundamente en el suelo por las raíces de los cultivos de cobertura perennes. La Dra. Christine Jones ha realizado una investigación en la propiedad de Colin Seis que muestra que se secuestraron 168,5 toneladas de CO2 por hectárea (170.000 libras / acre) en el transcurso de diez años. La tasa de secuestro en 2009-2010 fue de 33 toneladas de CO2 por hectárea por año.

Esta gran adición de materia orgánica del suelo ha estimulado el microbioma del suelo para que libere los minerales encerrados en el material del suelo ya existente, aumentando drásticamente la fertilidad del suelo. Los siguientes aumentos en la fertilidad de los minerales del suelo se han producido en diez años con solo la adición de una pequeña cantidad de fósforo:

Una comparación de suelos entre la granja de Colin Seis (Winona) y una finca cercana muestra niveles de carbono del suelo significativamente mejores en áreas que han sido cultivadas con pastos. 10 cm = 4 pulgadas. Imagen cortesía de la Dra. Christine Jones.

Calcio 277%

Magnesio 138%

Potasio 146%

Azufre 157%

Fósforo 151%

Zinc 186%

Hierro 122%

Cobre 202%

Boro 156%

Molibdeno 151%

Cobalto 179%

Selenio 117%

 

 

 

El sistema Soil Kee 

Un excelente ejemplo del desarrollo del cultivo en pastos / “no matar, no labrar” es Soil Kee, diseñado por Neils Olsen.

Primero, la cobertura del suelo / pastos se pasta o se cubre con mantillo para reducir la competencia de raíces y luz. Luego, Soil Kee rompe la masa de raíces, levanta y airea el suelo, cubre la cubierta del suelo / pastos en franjas estrechas y planta semillas, todo con una alteración mínima del suelo. Las semillas de los cultivos de cobertura / comerciales se plantan y simultáneamente se alimentan con un nutriente orgánico como el guano. Cuanto más rápido germina y crece la semilla, mayor es el rendimiento. Es fundamental llevar la biología y la nutrición a la semilla en el momento de la germinación y eliminar la competencia de las raíces.

Un pastizal perenne unos días después del Soil Kee se usó para romper la masa de raíces y plantar las semillas del cultivo de cobertura.

Un pastizal perenne unos días después del Soil Kee se usó para romper la masa de raíces y plantar las semillas del cultivo de cobertura.

El cultivo de pastos es excelente para aumentar la materia orgánica del suelo / el carbono del suelo. A Neils Olsen le pagaron por secuestrar 11 toneladas de CO2 por hectárea (11.000 libras / acre) por año, bajo el Programa de Agricultura de Carbono del gobierno australiano en 2019. En 2020, le pagaron por 13 toneladas de CO2 por hectárea (13.000 por acre) por año. Es el primer agricultor del mundo al que se le paga por secuestrar carbono del suelo bajo un sistema regulado por el gobierno. 

 

Niels Olsen con un cultivo de cobertura multiespecie para el ganado a base de leguminosas, pastos y cereales. Esta mezcla crece con fuerza a mediados de invierno. Se pueden plantar cereales, legumbres y otros cultivos comerciales en los pastos y así producir cultivos comerciales de alto valor.

Los sistemas agrícolas regenerativos, como los cultivos de cobertura y los pastizales, están cambiando radicalmente el enfoque convencional del manejo de malezas. Han demostrado que la creencia de que cualquier planta que no sea nuestro cultivo comercial es una maleza y necesita ser destruida ya no es correcta. El hecho es que la diversidad vegetal genera resiliencia y aumenta los rendimientos, no al revés. La clave es desarrollar sistemas de manejo que cambien la competencia de otras plantas en mutualismo y simbiosis que beneficien al cultivo comercial.

 

Los cultivos de cobertura de múltiples especies producen más biomasa y nutrientes que los monocultivos de una sola especie. En el ejemplo del sistema Soil Kee, la cantidad de alimento para ganado que se consigue es más del doble de los pastos perennes o anuales habituales en el distrito.

 

Se están desarrollando variaciones de estos sistemas todo el tiempo y se están utilizando con mucho éxito en la horticultura, el pastoreo y la agricultura a gran escala. Para citar a Colin Seis, “como regla general, un principio subyacente del éxito de este método es el 100% de cobertura del suelo el 100% de las veces”.

 

Andre Leu es el Director Internacional de Regeneration International

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Pasture Cropping—The Innovative No-kill, No-till System Developed by Australian Farmers

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Regenerative agriculture is a global farming revolution with rapid uptake and interest around the world. Five years ago hardly anyone had heard about it. It is in the news nearly everyday now. This  agricultural revolution has been led by innovative farmers rather than scientists, researchers and governments. It is being applied to all agricultural sectors including cropping, grazing and perennial horticulture.

In previous articles we have described how regenerative agriculture maximizes the photosynthesis of plants to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to increase soil organic matter. Soil organic matter is a good proxy for soil health, as it is important for improving fertility and water capture in soils, thus improving productivity and profitability in farming.

Many regenerative farmers sow their fields with mixtures of plants just to capture carbon dioxide to improve the levels of soil organic matter. These are called cover crops and are distinct from the cash crop. The cover crop builds soil fertility. The cash crop earns an income. 

Pasture Cropping—the No-kill, No-till System

Australia has many innovative regenerative farmers. The two farmers below are pioneers of a cover cropping system called pasture cropping. This is where the cash crop is planted into a perennial pasture instead of into bare soil. There is no need to plough out the pasture species as weeds or kill them with herbicides before planting the cash crop. The perennial pasture becomes the cover crop.

This was first developed by Colin Seis in New South Wales. The principle is based on the sound ecological fact that annual plants grow in perennial systems. The key is to adapt this principle to the appropriate management system for the specific cash crops and climate.

The pasture is first grazed or slashed to ensure that it is very short. This adds organic matter in the form of manure, cut grass, and shed roots into the soil to build soil fertility and to reduce root competition from the pasture. The cash crop such as oats is directly planted into the pasture.

Image courtesy of Colin Seis

Heres Colin Seiss own description of pasture cropping:      

 A 20-hectare (50 acre) crop of echidna oats that was sown and harvested in 2003 . . . This crops yield was 4.3 tonnes/hectare (31 bushels/acre). This yield is at least equal to the district average, where full ground-disturbance cropping methods were used.” 

This profit does not include the value of the extra grazing. On Winona, Colin Seis’s farm, it is between $50–60/hectare because the pasture is grazed up to the point of sowing. When using traditional cropping practices where ground preparation and weed control methods are utilized for periods of up to four to six months before the crop is sown, no quality grazing can be achieved.” 

“It was also learnt that sowing a crop in this manner stimulated perennial grass seedlings to grow in numbers and diversity, giving considerably more tonnes/hectare of plant growth. This produces more stock feed after the crop is harvested and totally eliminates the need to re-sow pastures into the cropped areas. Cropping methods used in the past require that all vegetation is killed prior to sowing the crop and while the crop is growing.” 

Image courtesy of Colin Seis

“From a farm economic point of view, the potential for good profit is excellent because the cost of growing crops in this manner is a fraction of conventional cropping. The added benefit in a mixed farm situation is that up to six months extra grazing is achieved with this method compared with the loss of grazing due to ground preparation and weed control required in traditional cropping methods. As a general rule, an underlying principle of the success of this method is 100 percent ground cover 100 percent of the time.” 

 

Other benefits are more difficult to quantify. These are the vast improvement in perennial plant numbers and diversity of the pasture following the crop. This means that there is no need to re-sow pastures, which can cost in excess of $150 per hectare, and considerably more should contractors be used for pasture establishment.

Independent studies at Winona on pasture cropping by the Department of Land and Water have found that pasture cropping is 27 percent more profitable than conventional agriculture; this is coupled with great environment benefits that will improve the soil and regenerate our landscapes.  

Pasture cropping is one of the best ways to increase soil organic matter. The fields are covered with photosynthesizing leaves all year, capturing CO2, which are deposited deep into the soil by the roots of perennial cover crops. Dr. Christine Jones has conducted research at Colin Siess property showing that 168.5 tons of CO2 per hectare (170,000 pounds/acre) were sequestered over the course of ten years. The sequestration rate in 2009–2010 was 33 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.

This huge addition of soil organic matter has stimulated the soil microbiome to release the minerals locked up in the parent material of the soil, dramatically increasing soil fertility. The following increases in soil mineral fertility have occurred in ten years with only the addition of a small amount of phosphorus:

A soil comparison between Colin Seis’s farm (Winona) and a nearby property shows significantly improved soil carbon levels in areas that have been pasture cropped. 10cm = 4 inches. Image courtesy of Dr. Christine Jones.

 

Calcium       277%

Magnesium 138%

Potassium   146%

Sulphur       157%

Phosphorus 151%

Zinc             186%

Iron              122%

Copper        202%

Boron          156%

Molybdenum   151%

Cobalt         179%

Selenium     117%

 

The Soil Kee System

An excellent example of the development of pasture cropping / no-till no-kill is the Soil Kee, which was designed by Neils Olsen.

First the ground cover/pasture is grazed or mulched to reduce root and light competition. Then the Soil Kee breaks up root mass, lifts and aerates the soil, top-dresses the ground cover/pasture in narrow strips, and plants seeds, all with minimal soil disturbance. The seeds of the cover/cash crops are planted and simultaneously fed an organic nutrient such as guano. The faster the seed germinates and grows, the greater the yield. It is critical to get the biology and nutrition to the seed at germination and to remove root competition.

 

 

A perennial pasture a few days after the Soil Kee was used to break up the root mass and plant the seeds of the cover crop.

Pasture cropping is excellent at increasing soil organic matter/soil carbon. Neils Olsen has been paid for sequestering 11 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (11,000 pounds/acre) per year, under the Australian governments Carbon Farming Scheme in 2019. In 2020, he was paid for 13 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (13,000 per acre) per year. He is the first farmer in the world to be paid for sequestering soil carbon under a government regulated system.

Niels Olsen with a multispecies cover crop of legumes, grasses, and grains for livestock. This mix grows strongly in mid-winter. Cereals, pulses, and other cash crops can be planted into the pasture to produce high-value cash crops.

Regenerative agricultural systems such as cover cropping and pasture cropping are radically changing the conventional approach to weed management. They have shown that the belief that any plant that is not our cash crop is a weed and needs to be destroyed is no longer correct. The fact is that plant diversity builds resilience and increases yields, not the other way around. The key  is developing management systems that change competition from other plants into mutualism and symbiosis that benefit the cash crop.

 Multispecies cover crops produce more biomass and nutrients than single-species monocultures. In the example of the Soil Kee system, the amount of stock feed is more than double the usual perennial or annual pastures in the district.

Variations of these systems are being developed all the time and are being used very successfully in horticulture, grazing and broadacre agriculture. To quote Colin Seis, “as a general rule, an underlying principle of the success of this method is 100 percent ground cover 100 percent of the time.”

 

Andre Leu is the International Director for Regeneration International. To sign up for RI’s email newsletter, click here.

Best Practices: How Regenerative & Organic Agriculture and Land Use Can Reverse Global Warming

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Summary 

  • The earth’s soils, along with trees and plants, are the largest sink or depository for carbon after the oceans.
  • Regenerative organic agricultural practices sequester CO2 and store it in the soil and above ground as organic matter. Perennial polycultures, agroforestry, and reforestation can sustain and increase both above ground and below ground carbon.
  • Scaling up a small percentage (5-10%) of best practice regenerative and organic systems will result in billions of tons (Gt) of CO2 per year being sequestered into the soil and into continuous, perennial above ground biomass. The identification, funding, and deployment of these best practices on 5-10% or more of the world’s total croplands (4 billion acres), rangelands (8 billion acres), and forestlands (10 billion acres) will be more than enough to draw down and cancel out all the current CO2 and greenhouse gases (43 Gt of CO2) that are currently being emitted, without putting any more CO2 into the atmosphere or the oceans.
  • Currently when carbon dioxide CO2 is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels or destructive agriculture or land use practices (currently 43 Gt of CO2 emissions per year), approximately 50% of these 43 Gt of CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere (21.5 Gt of CO2 annually), while 25% is absorbed by land, plants, and trees (10.75 Gt CO2), and the remainder 25% (10.75 Gt CO2) is absorbed into the ocean. Therefore, we need to begin to draw down 32.25 Gt CO2 (and eventually more) of current total emissions (in conjunction with the conversion to alternative energy and energy conservation), in order to reach net zero emissions (eliminate or cancel out all the emissions going into the atmosphere and the oceans). We will need a net drawdown of 32.75 Gt as soon as possible since 10.75 Gt is already being sequestered by our soils and forests. Once we stop putting more CO2 into the oceans (and the atmosphere), while continuing down the path of alternative energy and regenerative agriculture and land use, the oceans, soils, and biota will be able to draw down evermore significant amounts of the legacy (excess) carbon in the atmosphere, which, in turn, will begin to steadily reduce global warming.
  • Regeneration International, a global regenerative and organic agriculture network, with 354 partner organizations in 69 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, North America and Europe has begun to help publicize global best practices and coordinate the deployment, funding, and scaling up of these systems.

 

Introduction

Hardly anyone had heard of regenerative agriculture before September 2014, when Regeneration International was founded by a small group of international leaders in the organic, agroecology, holistic management, environment, and natural health movements with the goal of changing the global conversation on climate, farming, and land use.  Now the topic of regenerative agriculture is in the news everyday all around the world.

The concept of a coordinated global regeneration movement was initially put forth at the massive Climate Change March in New York, September 22, 2014, at a press conference in the Rodale Institute headquarters. The press conference brought together a global network of like-minded farmers, ranchers, land managers, consumer, and climate activists.

RI’s first General Assembly was held in Costa Rica in 2015 with participants from every continent.  In five years Regeneration International has grown with 354 partner organizations in 69 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, North America and Europe. RI and our allies have been successful in promoting the concept of regenerative agriculture as a game-changing system for ecosystem restoration and sequestering carbon dioxide on a scale and timeline appropriate to our current Climate Emergency.

Why Regenerative Agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is based on a range of farming, livestock management, and land use practices that utilize the photosynthesis of plants and trees to capture CO2 and store it in the soil and above ground. Regenerative agriculture is now being used as a generic term for the many farming systems that use techniques such as longer rotations, cover crops, green manures, legumes, compost, organic fertilizers, holistic livestock management, and agroforestry. However, Regeneration International believes that true regenerative agriculture must be both organic and regenerative.

Other terms describing regenerative agriculture Include: organic agriculture, agroforestry, agroecology, permaculture, holistic grazing, silvopasture, syntropic farming, pasture cropping and other agricultural systems that can increase soil organic matter/carbon. Soil organic matter is an important proxy for soil health—as soils with low levels are not healthy.

The soil holds almost three times the amount of carbon as the atmosphere and biomass (forests and plants) combined. Long term research shows that soil carbon can be stable for more than 100 years, while appropriate forestry and agroforestry practices can store carbon aboveground on a continuous basis.

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. Despite the global economic shut down as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CO2 levels still set a new record of 417.2 ppm in May 2020. This is a massive increase in emissions per year since the Paris Agreement and shows the reality is that most countries are not even close to meeting their Paris reduction commitments.

Reversing Climate Change

417 ppm far exceeds the Paris objective of limiting the earth’s temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.

In order to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels, regenerative agricultural systems will have to drawdown the current increase of emissions of 3.3 ppm of CO2 per year. Using the accepted formula that 1 ppm CO2 = 7.76 Gt CO2 means that, at a minimum, 25.61 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 per year needs to be drawn down from the atmosphere. But in reality we need to drawdown 31.25 Gt of CO2 or more if we want to stop more CO2 from heating up our already overheated oceans and begin to drawdown the legacy 417 ppm CO2 lodged in the atmosphere.

The Potential of “Best Practices” of Regenerative Agriculture

There are numerous regenerative farming systems that can sequester CO2 from the atmosphere through enhanced plant photosynthesis and turn this CO2 into soil organic matter through the actions of the roots and soil biology – the soil microbiome. Others can increase above ground carbon storage through regenerative forest and agroforestry/silvopasture practices. We don’t have time to waste on farming or land use systems that only sequester small amounts of CO2. We need to concentrate on qualitatively scaling up and expanding systems that can achieve high levels of carbon sequestration and ecosystem restoration, systems that are appropriate and scalable for different countries, regions, cultures, and ecosystems.

The simple back of the envelope calculations used for the examples below are a good exercise to show the world-changing potential of these best practice regenerative systems to address the climate emergency and actually start to reverse global warming.

Agave Agroforestry System

The “Billion Agave Project” is a game-changing ecosystem regeneration strategy recently adopted by a growing number of innovative Mexican farms in the high-desert region of Guanajuato, now spreading across Mexico.

This agroforestry system combines the dense cultivation (800 per acre, 2,000 per hectare) of agave plants and nitrogen-fixing companion tree species (such as mesquite), with holistic rotational grazing of livestock. The result is a high-biomass, high forage-yielding system that works well even on degraded, semi-arid lands.

The system produces large amounts of agave leaf and root stem or piña. When chopped and fermented in closed containers, this plant material produces an excellent, inexpensive silage as animal fodder.

Having a large quantity of fermented animal forage on hand reduces the pressure to overgraze brittle rangelands and improves soil health, water retention, and animal health, while drawing down and storing massive amounts of atmospheric CO2 (270 tons of CO2 stored above ground per hectare on a continuous annual basis after 3-10 years.)

The agave agroforestry system can be scaled up across much of the arid and semi-arid regions of the world using native legume trees and grasses, to form highly productive biodiverse agro-forestry systems that are based on the native species of each region. The chopping and fermentation of the legume tree seed pods, such as mesquite (which fix nitrogen and nutrients into the soil), added to the fermented agave, produce a high protein animal fodder superior to alfalfa and at a fraction of the cost, all without the need for any irrigation or synthetic chemicals whatsoever.

Recent research by Hudson Carbon shows that this agave agroforestry system can sequester 270 tons of CO2 per hectare (109 tons per acre) above ground per year on a continuous basis, without counting below ground sequestration nor the amount of carbon sequestered by the (200 per acre) companion trees.

According to the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) approximately 40 per cent of the world’s land (4 billion hectares, 10 billion acres) is composed of deserts and drylands, mainly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These areas sustain over two billion people and supply about 60 per cent of the world’s food production. If the organic and regenerative agave agroforestry system was deployed globally on 10% (400 million hectares) of these 4 billion hectares of arid and semi-arid drylands, it would sequester 10.8 Gt of CO2 per year. This represents approximately 1/3 of the amount of CO2 that needs to be sequestered every year to reverse climate change.

BEAM

BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), developed by Dr. David Johnson of New Mexico State University, produces organic compost with a high diversity of soil microorganisms, especially fungal material. Multiple crops grown with BEAM have achieved very high levels of sequestration and yields. Research published 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 are currently being replicated in other trials.

These figures mean that BEAM can sequester 37,700 kilos (37.7 tons) of CO2 per hectare per year which is approximately 15.3 tons of CO2 per acre.

BEAM can be used in all soil based food production systems including annual crops, permanent crops and grazing systems, including arid and semi-arid regions. If BEAM was deployed globally on just 5 % of all (2.5 billion hectares or 12 billion acres) agricultural lands, it would sequester 9.18 Gt of CO2 per year.

Potential of “No Kill No Till” Bio-intensive Organic

Singing Frogs Farm, located just north of San Francisco, California, is a highly productive No Kill No Till richly biodiverse organic, agroecological horticulture farm on 3 acres. The key to their no till system is to cover the planting beds with mulch and compost instead of plowing them, or using herbicides, and planting directly into the compost, along with a high biodiversity of cash and cover crops that are continuously rotated to break weed, disease and pest cycles.

According to Chico State University they have increased the soil organic matter (SOM) levels by 400% in six years. The Kaisers, the owner/operators of Singing Frogs Farm, have increased their SOM from 2.4% to an optimal 7-8% with an average increase of about 3/4 of a percentage point per year. This farming system is applicable to more than 80% of farms around the world as the majority of farmers have less than 2 hectares (5 acres). If the Singing Frogs farm was extrapolated globally across 5% of arable and permanent crop lands it would sequester 8.9 Gt of CO2/yr.

Potential of Regenerative Grazing

There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence based practices showing that regenerative grazing systems can sequester more greenhouse gases than they emit, making them a major solution for reversing climate change.

As well as sequestering CO2, these systems regenerate degraded pasture and rangelands, improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels.

Around 68% 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 10 % the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 9.86 Gt of CO2 per year.

Pasture Cropping

Pasture cropping is where the cash crop is planted into a perennial pasture instead of into bare soil. There is no need to plough out the pasture species as weeds or kill them with herbicides before planting the cash crop. The perennial pasture becomes the cover crop.

This was first developed by Colin Seis in New South Wales. The principle is based on the sound ecological fact that annual plants grow in perennial systems. The key is to adapt this principle to the appropriate management system for the specific cash crops and climate.

An excellent example of the development of pasture cropping / no-till no-kill is the Soil Kee, which was designed by Neils Olsen.

First the ground cover/pasture is grazed or mulched to reduce root and light competition. Then the Soil Kee breaks up root mass, lifts and aerates the soil, top-dresses the ground cover/pasture in narrow strips, and plants seeds, all with minimal soil disturbance. The seeds of the cover/cash crops are planted and simultaneously fed an organic nutrient such as guano. The faster the seed germinates and grows, the greater the yield. It is critical to get the biology and nutrition to the seed at germination and to remove root competition.

Pasture cropping is excellent at increasing soil organic matter/soil carbon. Neils Olsen has been paid for sequestering 11 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year, under the Australian government’s Carbon Farming Scheme in 2019. He was paid for 13 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year in 2020. He is the first farmer in the world to be paid for sequestering soil carbon under a government regulated system.

If this system were deployed on 10% of all agricultural lands it would sequester 6.38 Gt of CO2 per year.

Global Reforestation

In addition to re-carbonizing and regenerating agricultural lands, a major part of regenerating the Earth and reversing climate change will be to preserve, restore, and expand the world’s 10 billion acres of forests and wetlands.  This reforestation and afforestation will include planting up to a trillion tress in deforested areas, as well as several hundred billion trees and perennials back into the world’s four billion acres of cropland (agroforestry) and eight billion acres of pasturelands or rangeland (silvopasture).

The global tree population, which covers 30% of the Earth’s land area, is estimated to be three trillion trees, with 15 billion trees cut down every year. Since humans began farming, 10,000 years ago, approximately half of the trees on Earth have been cut down and not replanted. The Earth’s forests and wetlands now sequester over 700 billion tons of carbon, and currently draw down, even with massive deforestation and forest fires taken into account, an additional “net sink” of 1.2 gigatons of carbon. (White, Biosequestration and Biological Diversity, p.101) The net sink or carbon sequestration power of today’s forests amounts to approximately 12% of all current human emissions.

If “net deforestation” (more tress being cut down, clear-cut, or burned than the amount of healthy and new tree growth) could be halted in forested areas, especially in tropical areas where the trees grow faster and store the most carbon, and forests worldwide could be managed to increase photosynthesis and biomass through massive reforestation (and by thinning out crowded forest areas with thousands of trees per acre to hundreds of the healthiest and largest trees per acre), the world’s forests could net sequester four billion tons or more of atmospheric carbon a year, a full 40% of all current human emissions.  Along with renewable energy and carbon farming, If we stop deforestation and reforest the Earth with an a trillion, species-appropriate trees, and then maintain these trees, we can literally reverse global warming. 

The United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP) has now announced a new goal for global reforestation and carbon sequestration called the “Trillion Tree Campaign.” The UN points out that there is enough deforested or empty space in rural and urban areas to plant a trillion trees on the planet of which 600 billion mature trees can be expected to survive. And this trillion tree planting campaign does not include the additional 100 billion-plus trees that could and should be planted on the Earth’s 12 billion acres of croplands and pastures utilizing the tried-and-proven carbon sequestering, livestock friendly, fertility-enhancing techniques of agroforestry and silvopasture. UNEP warns however that there are “170 billion trees in imminent risk of destruction,” that must be protected for crucial carbon storage and biodiversity protection.

According to UNEP, “Global reforestation could capture 25 percent of global annual carbon emissions and create wealth in the global south.” 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.

The UN’s Trillion Tree Campaign is inspired in part by a recent study by Dr. Thomas Crowther and others, integrating data from ground-based surveys and satellites, that found that replanting the world’s forests (an additional 1.2 trillion trees) on a massive scale in the empty spaces in forests, deforested areas, and degraded and abandoned land across the planet would draw down 100 billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere.

According to Crowther: “There’s 400 gigatons now, in the 3 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,” he said.

And Crowther’s projections (10 years or 450 Gt of CO2 emissions that can be sequestered via global reforestation) do not include the massive amount of carbon drawdown and sequestration we can achieve through agroforestry and silvopasture practices, planting trees, if only a few trees per acre, on the US and the world’s often deforested 4 billion acres of croplands and 8 billion acres of pasturelands, rangelands, and pastures.

Ending the Climate Emergency- Scaling Up

Regeneration International has 354 partner organizations in 69 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, North America and Europe. This gives us the ability work with our partner organizations on every arable continent to develop and scale up appropriate regenerative agricultural solutions for multiple countries and regions.

Transitioning a small proportion (10%) of global agricultural production to these evidence based, best-practice, regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate, especially in conjunction with an aggressive global reforestation program such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

If the RI-sponsored organic and regenerative agave agroforestry system is deployed globally on 10% (400 million hectares) of arid and semi-arid drylands, it will sequester 10.8 Gt of CO2 per year.

Five percent of global agricultural lands regenerated by the BEAM organic compost system can sequester 9.18 Gt of CO2 per year.

Five percent of small holder farms across arable and permanent crop lands using Singing Frogs Farm’s biointensive organic No Kill No Till systems could sequester 8.9 Gt of CO2/yr.

Ten percent of grasslands under regenerative grazing could sequester 9.86 Gt of CO2 per year.

10% of agricultural lands using pasture cropping could sequester 6.38 Gt of CO2 per year.

The deployment of all of these regenerative and organic best practices across the world on 5-10% of all agricultural lands (including arid and semi-arid lands where raising crops and grazing animals are increasingly problematic) would result in 45.12  Gt of CO2 per year being sequestered into the soil, and stored aboveground on a continuous basis, which is 50% more than the amount of sequestration needed to drawdown the 31.25 Gt of CO2 that is currently being released into the atmosphere and the oceans. And this does not include the massive CO2 sequestration that is possible under the Trillion Tree Campaign.

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.

Aiming to achieve 5-10% adoption rates for these regenerative and organic practices across the globe is realistic and achievable. The critical priorities are to educate consumers and build market demand, identify and promote regenerative best practices in all the countries and regions of the world, change public policies wherever possible (from the local to the international level) and then fund (through private and public money), expand, and scale up these regenerative and organic systems to restore ecosystems, sequester carbon, regenerate public health and eliminate rural poverty.

It is time to get on with restoring global ecosystems and drawing down excess CO2  by scaling up the existing “best practices” regenerative agriculture, livestock management, forest practices, and land use. All of this is very doable and achievable. It will require substantial investment in natural capital from existing private and public funders and national and international institutions, but it is obviously “worth the cost” compared to the business as usual of our current “suicide economy.” It will require training organizations and relevant NGOs to run courses and workshops from Main Street to the Middle East and beyond, scaled up through grassroots-powered farmer to farmer training systems, and supported by urban consumers across the world. The hour is late. But there is still time to turn things around.

The widespread adoption of best practice regenerative and organic practices 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

Jones C, (2009) Adapting farming to climate variability, Amazing Carbon, www.amazingcarbon.com

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

Kulp SA & Strauss BH (2019), New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding, Nature Communications, (2019)10:4844,  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12808-z, www.nature.com/naturecommunications

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

Rohling EJ, K. Grant, M. Bolshaw, A. P. Roberts, M. Siddall, Ch. Hemleben and M. Kucera (2009) Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles, Nature Geoscience, advance online publication,  www.nature.com/naturegeoscience

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

UNCCD, 2017, The Global Land Outlook 2017, Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Platz der Vereinten Nationen 153113 Bonn, Germany

https://knowledge.unccd.int/sites/default/files/2018-06/GLO%20English_Full_Report_rev1.pdf

Global Agricultural Land Figures

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 Hectares (593,570 square miles)

The Billion Agave Project Calculations

According to the UNCCD The Global Land Outlook 2017, almost 45 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is located on drylands, mainly in Africa and Asia.

45% of croplands (4,911,622,700 ha x 45%) = 2.2 billion Hectares

2.2 x 270 tons of CO2 per ha = 594 Gt of CO2 per year

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)

Singing Frogs Farm Calculations

The Kaisers have managed to increase their soil organic matter from 2.4% to an optimal 7-8% in just six years, an average increase of about 3/4 of a percentage point per year (Elizabeth Kaiser Pers. Com. 2018 and Chico State University https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/demos/singing-frogs.shtml

“An increase of 1% in the level of soil carbon in the 0-30cm soil profile equates to sequestration of 154 tCO2/ha if an average bulk density of 1.4 g/cm3” (Jones C. 2009)

3/4 % OM = 115.5 metric tons of CO2 per hectare (115,500 pounds an acre per year)

This system can be used on arable and permanent crop lands. Arable/Crop land: 1,396,374,300 Hectares plus Permanent crops: 153,733,800 Hectares = 1,550,108,100 Hectares

Extrapolated globally across arable and permanent crop lands it would sequester 179 Gt of CO2/yr (1,550,108,100 Hectares x 115.5 metric tons of CO2 per hectare = 179,037,485,550 metric tons)

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)

Pasture Cropping Calculations

Agricultural lands 4,911,622,700 ha x 13t CO2/ha/yr = 63.8 Gt of CO2 per year

Global Reforestation Calculations

The Trillion Tree Project

 

Andre Leu is the International Director for Regeneration International. To sign up for RI’s email newsletter, click here.

Ronnie Cummins is co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration International. To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Soil Health: How to Take a Seemingly Impossible Path to Healthy Soil

The road to soil health can be difficult, and the knowledge attained during the initial steps may be based on very different systems and practices than a producer is used to. This often leaves producers to take what they’ve learned from other systems and apply it to their operations.  This was the case for two farmers in a high disturbance potato and sugar beet rotation for whom the notion of soil health just ten years ago was considered impossible.

We sat down with Brian Kossman from Paul, Idaho, and Luke Adams from Rupert, Idaho, who have been innovators in cover cropping and limiting disturbance.

How to Introduce No Till into a Sugar Beet and Potato Operation

Much of what Brian and Luke knew about farming and soil health was based on non-irrigated, Midwestern corn-soybean applications. They had to figure out how to take the principles they learned and apply them in a vastly different, high desert operation.

KEEP READING ON FARMERS.GOV

The Soil-Keeping Approach to Regenerative Justice: 7 Principles

In this critical moment in our shared history, the call for transformational change is growing louder. But what exactly does this involve? Transformational change emerges from deep beneath that which we can see. Our beliefs shape our identities, just as soil health shapes plant life and paradigms shape social systems. Realizing the promise of a just society requires us to remediate inequities embedded in our soils, societies, and selves. However, “systems change” work often stops short of including all of these nested domains, hindering our ability to cultivate conditions conducive to life.

Many people trace the origins of injustice and need for transformational change back to colonization. Looking at the root of this term can help us understand these complexities and devise new healing pathways. The word “colonization” comes from the Latin colere, the noun form of which, colonus, originally signified a tiller of the earth.

Western imagination tends to associate tilling by mechanical plows as the hallmark of industrial progress and evidence of cultural superiority.

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No-till Practices in Vulnerable Areas Significantly Reduce Soil Erosion

URBANA, IL. – Soil erosion is a major challenge in agricultural production. It affects soil quality and carries nutrient sediments that pollute waterways. While soil erosion is a naturally occurring process, agricultural activities such as conventional tilling exacerbate it. Farmers implementing no-till practices can significantly reduce soil erosion rates, a new University of Illinois study shows.

Completely shifting to no-till would reduce soil loss and sediment yield by more than 70%, says Sanghyun Lee, doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at U of I and lead author on the study, published in Journal of Environmental Management.

But even a partial change in tilling practices could have significant results, he adds.

“If we focus on the most vulnerable area in terms of soil erosion, then only 40% no-till shows almost the same reduction as 100% no-till implementation,” Lee says.

The study used physical data and computer modeling to estimate soil erosion in the Drummer Creek watershed, which is part of the Upper Sangamon River watershed in Central Illinois.

KEEP READING ON FARMERS ADVANCE

Should No-Till Farming Be Adopted by All to Help the Earth?

Farmers around the world are looking for innovative methods to save water, reduce costs and produce higher yields. No-till farming is a popular practice to improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Instead of using a plow to disturb soil before planning, it employs a drill or alternative equipment to grow crops without breaking the ground.

Is no-till growing as great as it’s made out to be? Should it be adopted by all to help the Earth? The answer is yes and no. What it really comes down to is the type of no-till farming, and whether it is being used in collaboration with other environmental conservation practices.

In the United States, most no-till cultivation is conventional and uses a drill to plant monocultures like corn and soybeans. This method actually requires more herbicides than regular tillage.

However, there is another type of no-till farming that depends more on supporting the natural ecosystem and minimizing disruption to the soil. Regenerative agriculture is all about returning carbon to the ground instead of farming it out.

KEEP READING ON RESILIENCE

Archuleta’s Message Inspires: Get the Ecology Right, the Money Will Follow

Author: Gillian Pomplun | Published: August 8, 2018

Nationally-known soil scientist Ray Archuleta presented a practical road map for restoration of farm profitability to about 200 farmers gathered at the Tainter Creek Watershed Council’s ‘Reducing Costs and Flood Impacts on the Farm’ events.

The program was held Wednesday, July 25 and Thursday, July 26 at Woodhill Farms in rural Vernon County. Tainter Creek Watershed Council members Brian and Laura McCulloh own Woodhill Farms, located in Franklin Township.

The retired 32-year career soil scientist with USDA-NRCS with an ag school background had a straightforward message for the assembled farmers.

“We got it all wrong,” Archuleta was quick to say.  “In our western scientific tradition, we utilize the principle of ‘reductionism,’ which is breaking things down into parts to study them.

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What is No-Till Farming?

The Earth loses roughly 23 billion tons of fertile soil every year. At this rate, all fertile soil will be gone within 150 years, unless farmers convert to practices that restore and build soil organic matter, an essential component of soil fertility.

Many industrial agricultural practices are lethal to soil fertility, including deforestation and burning, and excessive use of synthetic fertilizers and other toxic chemicals. One of the biggest contributors to soil degradation is the common practice of soil tilling. Fortunately, a growing number of farmers realize the importance of preserving and improving their soil by adopting no-till practices.

Young soybean plants thrive in the resiue of a wheat crop. This form of no till farming provides good protection for the soil from erosion and helps retain moisture for the new crop. Photo credit: USDA NRCS Photo Gallery

The invention of the plow—progress or problem?

No-till farming is nothing new. It was used as far back as 10,000 years ago. But as plow designs and production methods improved during Europe’s Agricultural Revolution in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tilling became increasingly popular. Farmers adopted the method because it allowed them to plant more seeds while expending less effort.

Tilling involves turning over the first 6 – 10 inches of soil before planting new crops. This practice works surface crop residues, animal manure and weeds deep into the field, blending it into the soil. It also aerates and warms the soil. Sounds like a good thing, right? Unfortunately, in the long run, tilling does more harm than good. Here’s why.

Tillage loosens and removes any plant matter covering the soil, leaving it bare. Bare soil, especially soil that is deficient in rich organic matter, is more likely to be eroded by wind and water. Think of it this way: Undisturbed soil resembles a sponge, held together by an intricate structure of different soil particles and channels created by roots and soil organisms. When the soil is disturbed by tilling, its structure becomes less able to absorb and infiltrate water and nutrients.

Tilling also displaces and/or kills off the millions of microbes and insects that form healthy soil biology. The long-term use of deep tillage can convert healthy soil into a lifeless growing medium dependent on chemical inputs for productivity.

The case for a no-till farming future

From a soil perspective, the benefits of no-till farming far outnumber those of tillage-based systems. No-till practices allow the soil structure to stay intact and also protect the soil by leaving crop residue on the soil surface. Improved soil structure and soil cover increase the soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and runoff and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources.

No-till practices also slow evaporation, which not only means better absorption of rainwater, but it also increases irrigation efficiency, ultimately leading to higher yields, especially during hot and dry weather.

Soil microorganisms, fungi and bacteria, critical to soil health, also benefit from no-till practices. When soil is left undisturbed, beneficial soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off of the soil’s organic matter. A healthy soil biome is important for nutrient cycling and suppressing plant diseases. As soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.

It’s clear that adopting no-till practices is good for the soil. But what’s in it for the farmer? Remember, tilling became popular because it meant farmers could plant more seeds, faster. Modern no-till tractor implements allow farmers to sow seeds faster and cheaper than if they tilled their fields. Conventional tillage practices require the farmer to make several passes over the field, first tilling the soil and then returning to plant seeds. No-till removes the step of tilling the soil and therefore saves the farmer time and money. According to a report published in Scientific America, this decreases the fuel expense by 50 to 80 percent and the labor by 30 to 50 percent.

Conventional vs. organic no-till farming

One of the common misconceptions about no-till farming is that farmers can use this practice only if they grow genetically engineered (GMO) crops, which require the use of herbicides. To clear up this confusion, it’s important to understand that there are two types of no-till farming: conventional and organic.

In conventional no-till farming, farmers use herbicides to manage the weeds before and after sowing the seeds. The amount of herbicides used in this approach is even higher than the amount used in tillage-based farming, which causes a threat to the environment and human health.

Organic no-till farming uses a variety of methods to manage weeds and reduce or eliminate tillage without resorting to the use of chemical herbicides. These methods include cover crops, crop rotation, free-range livestock and tractor implements such as the roller crimper, which farmers can use to lay down a weed-suppressing mat that can be planted through in one pass.

Organic no-till farming on its own isn’t an all-cure solution to the world’s soil crisis. But it’s one of the many important practices that move us toward a regenerative agriculture model that is better for human health and the environment.

How no-till farming fits into the bigger climate solution

Until recently, the “how do we solve global warming” conversation focused almost exclusively on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s absolutely critical that we do that, and that we do it fast.

But it’s equally, if not more critical, that we figure out how to draw down the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. Thankfully, climate scientists now recognize that healthy soil plays an essential role in drawing down and sequestering carbon.

According to Rodale Institute, adopting regenerative agricultural practices across the globe could sequester global annual greenhouse gas emissions, which is roughly 52 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

Where does no-till farming fit into the carbon sequestration story?

Soil naturally stores carbon. When soil is plowed under, carbon, in the form of organic material such as plant roots and microorganisms, rises to the soil’s surface. This temporarily provides nutrients for crops. But as the soil carbon is exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere, it transforms into carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.

No-till farming minimizes soil disturbance, which helps keep carbon in the soil. It also enriches soil biodiversity, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers that emit greenhouse gases. Studies have shown that organic no-till practices, when combined with cover cropping and organic management, help increase soil organic carbon by up to 9 percent after two years and 21 percent after six years.

No-till practices, when combined with other regenerative methods, such as cover cropping, agroforestry and the rotation of multispecies livestock, can help establish truly regenerative and climate-resilient farms.

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

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Seeds: Regenerative Gold Medal Winner

Author: Kerry Hoffschneider | Published: June 5, 2018

Colleen Fulton won a gold medal in the Public Speaking Competition at both the Nebraska District FFA and State FFA Convention competitions this year. Her speech was entitled, “Regenerative Agriculture.” However, long before Colleen achieved these awards, her father Kevin Fulton, a farmer and rancher near Litchfield, Neb., went on a journey through agriculture that led him to change to the regenerative approach that has had a lasting impact on all his children – Colleen, Cami and Timothy.

Kevin attended High School in Loup City and assumed leadership roles at a very young age – everything from FFA president, captain of the football team to president of National Honor Society. He then went to college at Kansas State University to achieve a bachelor’s degree in animal science. He later went on to graduate school where he earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology and spent 27 years in competitive weightlifting – all over the country and world. That led him to a career as the Head Strength and Conditioning coach at the University of Massachusetts.

KEEP READING ON THE YORK NEWS TIMES