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Regenerative Food and Farming: Survival and Revival

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

Regenerative agriculture and holistic livestock management represent the next, crucial stage of organic food and farming, not only avoiding toxic pesticides, fertilizers, sewage sludge, GMO seeds, and excessive greenhouse gas emissions, but regenerating soil fertility, water retention, carbon sequestration, and rural livelihoods as well.

Regeneration has now become the hottest topic in the natural and organic food sector. At the same time, climate activists regularly discuss the role of organic and regenerative practices in reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering excess atmospheric carbon dioxide in soils and agricultural landscapes.

Inside Regeneration International, which now includes 400 affiliates in more than 60 countries, our primary focus is  moving beyond the basics of Regeneration to identifying regenerative and organic “best practices” around the globe and figuring out how to utilize farmer innovation, marketplace demand, policy reform, and public and private investing to qualitatively spread and scale these best practices up so that organic and regenerative becomes the norm, rather than just the alternative, for the planet’s now degenerative multitrillion-dollar food, farming and land use system.

Either we move beyond merely treating the symptoms of our planetary degeneration and build instead a new system based upon regenerative food, farming and land use, coupled with renewable energy practices and global cooperation instead of superpower competition and belligerence, or we will soon pass the point of no return.

In 2010 Olaf Christen stated, “Regenerative agriculture is an approach in agriculture that rejects pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and is intended to improve the regeneration of the topsoil, biodiversity and the water cycle.”

This corresponds almost exactly with the stated principles of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) or Organics International.

Since 2014, the Rodale Institute, IFOAM, Dr. Bronner’s, Dr. Mercola, Patagonia, the Real Organic Project, the Biodynamic Movement, the Organic Consumers Association, Regeneration International, Navdanya and others have also been discussing and implementing organic standards, practices and certification, which incorporate regenerative principles.

Changing the Conversation: Regenerative Food and Farming

In September 2014 a group of food, natural health and climate activists, including Vandana Shiva, Andre Leu, Will Allen, Steve Rye, Alexis Baden-Meyer and staff from Dr. Bronner’s, Dr. Mercola, Organic Consumers Association and the Rodale Institute, organized a press conference at the massive climate march in New York City to announce the formation of Regeneration International and to set for ourselves a simple, but what seemed like then ambitious, goal.

We all pledged to change the conversation on the climate crisis in the U.S. and around the world — then narrowly focused on renewable energy and energy conservation — so as to incorporate regenerative and organic food, farming and land use as a major solution to global warming, given its proven ability to drawdown and sequester massive amounts of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, trees, and plants.

Now, seven years later, it appears that our growing Regeneration Movement has achieved this goal. Regeneration is now the hottest topic in the natural and organic food and farming sector, while climate activists including the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion regularly talk about the role of organic and regenerative practices in reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

More and more people now understand that we can achieve, through enhanced photosynthesis and drawdown, “Net Zero” emissions by 2030, a figure will be necessary if we are to avoid runaway global warming and climate catastrophe.

Identifying Regenerative and Organic ‘Best Practices’

Inside Regeneration International, which now includes 400 affiliates in more than 60 countries, our conversation has shifted from promoting a basic discussion about organic and regenerative food, farming, and land-use to identifying regenerative and organic “best practices” around the globe.

Our discussions and strategizing are not just an academic exercise. As most of us now realize, our very survival as a civilization and a species is threatened by a systemic crisis that has degraded climate stability, our food and our environment, along with every major aspect of modern life.

This mega-crisis cannot be resolved by piecemeal reforms or minor adjustments such as slightly cutting our current levels of fossil fuel use, reducing global deforestation, soil degradation and military spending.

Either we move beyond merely treating the symptoms of our planetary degeneration and build instead a new system based upon regenerative food, farming and land use, coupled with renewable energy practices and global cooperation instead of belligerence, or we will soon (likely within 25 years) pass the point of no return.

A big challenge is how do we describe the crisis of global warming and severe climate change in such a way that everyday people understand the problem and grasp the solution that we’re proposing, i.e., renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land use?

Enhanced Photosynthesis Is All-Important

The bottom line is that humans have put too much CO2 and other greenhouse gases (especially methane and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere (from burning fossil fuels and destructive land use), trapping the sun’s heat from radiating back into space and heating up the planet.

And, unfortunately, because of the destructive food, farming and forestry practices that have degraded a major portion of the Earth’s landscape, we’re not drawing down enough of these CO2 emissions through plant photosynthesis, soil carbon sequestration, and perennial above ground carbon storage in biomass (forest, grass, and plants) to cool things off.

In a word, there’s too much CO2 and greenhouse gas pollution blanketing the sky (and saturating the oceans) and not enough life-giving carbon in the ground and in our living plants, trees, pastures, and rangelands.

Increasing plant and forest photosynthesis (accomplished via enhanced soil fertility and biological life, as well as an adequate amount of water and minerals) is the only practical way that we can draw down a significant amount of the excess CO2 and greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that are heating up the Earth and disrupting our climate.

Through photosynthesis, plants and trees utilize solar energy to break down CO2 from the atmosphere, release oxygen, and transform the remaining carbon into plant biomass and liquid carbon.

Photosynthesis basically enables plants to grow above ground and produce biomass, but also stimulates growth below ground as plants transfer a portion of the liquid carbon they produce through photosynthesis into their root systems to feed the soil microorganisms that in turn feed the plant.

From the standpoint of drawing down enough CO2 and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and sequestering them in our soils and biota to reverse global warming, qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis is all-important.

Agave Power: Greening the Desert

As RI, OCA, and our Mexico affiliate Via Organica’s contribution to the global expansion of regenerative and organic food and farming practices, we have spent the last several years working with Mexican farmers and ranchers, the Hudson Carbon Project, consumer organizations, elected political officials (mainly at the local and state level), and socially and environmentally-concerned “impact investors.”

Our goal is to develop a native agave agroforestry and livestock management system that we believe can be a game-changer for much of the 40% of the world’s pasturelands and rangelands that are arid and semi-arid, areas where it is now nearly impossible to grow food crops without irrigation, and where the land is too overgrazed and degraded for proper livestock grazing.

We call this Mexico-based agave and agroforestry/livestock management system Agave Power: Greening the Desert, and are happy to report that its ideas and practices are now starting to spread from the high desert plateau of Guanajuato across much of arid and semi-arid Mexico.

We now are receiving inquiries and requests for information about this agave-based, polyculture/perennial system from desert and semi-desert areas all over the world, including Central America, the Southwestern U.S., Argentina, Chile, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, Lebanon, and Oman.

You can learn more about this Agave Power system on the websites of Regeneration International and the Organic Consumers Association.

Primary Drivers of Regeneration and Degeneration

What I and others have learned “on the ground” trying to expand and scale-up regenerative and organic best practices is that there are four basic drivers of regenerative (or conversely degenerative) food, farming and land use.

The first driver is consumer awareness and market demand. Without an army of conscious consumers and widespread market demand, regenerative practices are unlikely to reach critical mass. The second driver is farmer, rancher and land stewardship innovation, including the development of value-added products and ecosystem restoration services.

The third driver is policy change, starting at the local and regional level. And last, but not least is regenerative finance — large-scale investing on the part of the public and private sector, what is now commonly known as “impact investing.”

In order to qualitatively expand organic and regenerative best practices and achieve critical mass sufficient to transform our currently degenerative systems, we need all four of these drivers to be activated and working in synergy.

Let’s look now at four contemporary drivers of degeneration, degenerative food, farming and land use, in order to understand what the forces or drivers are that are holding us back from moving forward to regeneration.

 

1-Degenerated grassroots consciousness and morale — When literally billions of people, a critical mass of the 99%, are hungry, malnourished, and/or stuffed and supersized with ultraprocessed foods and empty calories, revolution is all but impossible. When billions are scared and divided, struggling to survive with justice and dignity… when the majority of the global body politic are threatened and assaulted by a toxic environment and food system; when hundreds of millions are overwhelmed by economic stress due to low wages and the high cost of living; when hundreds of millions are weakened by chronic health problems, or battered by floods, droughts and weather extremes, regenerative change — Big Change — will not come easily.

Neither will it happen if we continue to allow endless wars and land grabs for water, land and strategic resources to spiral out of control, or fail to organize and resist on a mass scale while indentured politicians, corporations, Big Tech, and the mass media manipulate crises such as COVID-19 to stamp out freedom of expression and participatory democracy in order to force a “Business-as-Usual” or “Great Reset” paradigm down our throats.

Disempowered, exploited people, overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday survival, usually don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots between the issues that are pressing down on them and focusing on the Big Picture.

It’s the job of regenerators to connect the dots between the climate crisis, COVID-19, elite control and people’s everyday concerns including food, natural health, jobs, and economic justice, to globalize awareness, political mobilization and, most of all, to globalize hope.

It’s the job of regenerators to make the connections between personal and public health and planetary health, to expose the truth about the origins, nature, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and chronic disease, and to mobilize the public to reject a so-called Great Reset disguised as fundamental reform, but actually a Trojan Horse for a 21st Century Technocracy that is profoundly antidemocratic and authoritarian.

Regenerators have to be able to make the connections between different issues and concerns, identify and support best practitioners and policies and build synergy between social forces, effectively lobby governments (starting at the local level), businesses and investors for change, all the while educating and organizing grassroots alliances and campaigns across communities, constituencies and even national borders.

But of course this long-overdue Regeneration Revolution will not be easy, nor will it take place overnight. Our profoundly destructive, degenerative, climate-destabilizing food and farming system, primarily based upon industrial agriculture inputs and practices, is held together by a multibillion-dollar system of marketing and advertising that has misled or literally brainwashed a global army of consumers into believing that cheap, ultra-processed, artificially flavored, “fast food” is not only acceptable, but “normal” and “natural.”

After decades of consuming sugar, salt, carbohydrate-rich and “bad fat”-laden foods from industrial farms, animal factories and chemical manufacturing plants, many consumers have literally become addicted to the artificial flavors and aromas that make super-processed foods and “food-like substances” so popular.

2-Degenerate “conventional” farms, farming and livestock management  

Compounding the lack of nutritional education, choice, poverty, inertia and apathy of a large segment of consumers, other major factors driving our degenerative food and farming system include the routine and deeply institutionalized practices of industrial and chemical-intensive farming and land use (mono-cropping, heavy plowing, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, GMOs, factory farms, deforestation, wetlands destruction) today.

These soil-, climate-, health- and environmentally-destructive practices are especially prevalent on the world’s 50 million large farms, which, in part, are kept in place by global government subsidies totaling $500 billion a year.

Meanwhile, there are few or no subsidies for organic or regenerative farmers, especially small farmers (80% of the world’s farmers are small farmers), nor for farmers and ranchers who seek to make this transition.

Reinforcing these multibillion-dollar subsidies for bad farming practices are a global network of chemical- and agribusiness-controlled agricultural research and teaching institutions, focused on producing cheap food and beverages (no matter what the cost to the environment, climate and public health) and agro-export agricultural commodities (often pesticide-intensive GMO grains).

What we need instead are subsidies for organic and regenerative practices, research and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to produce healthy, organic and regenerative food for local, regional and domestic markets, rewarding farmers with a fair price for producing healthy food and being a steward, rather than a destroyer, of the environment.

3-Monopoly Control — Another driver of degeneration, holding back farmer adoption of regenerative practices and determining the type of food and crops that are produced, is the monopoly or near-monopoly control by giant agribusiness corporations over much of the food system, especially in industrialized countries, as well as the monopoly or near-monopoly control by giant retail chains such as Walmart and internet giants like Amazon.

The out-of-control “Foodopoly” that dominates our food system is designed to maximize short-term profits and exports for the large transnational corporations, preserve patents and monopoly control over seeds, and uphold international trade agreements (NAFTA, WTO) that favor corporate agribusiness and large farms over small farms; factory farms over traditional grazing and animal husbandry; and agro- exports instead of production for local and regional markets.

Food and farming is the largest industry in the world with consumers spending an estimated $7.5 trillion a year on food. In addition, the largely unacknowledged social, environmental and health costs (i.e., collateral damage) of the industrial food chain amounts to an additional $4.8 trillion a year. https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/etc-whowillfeedus.pdf

4-Degenerate public policy and public and private investments  

Agriculture is the largest employer in the world with 570 million farmers and farm laborers supporting 3.5 billion people in rural households and communities. https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/etc-whowillfeedus.pdf In addition to workers on the farm, food chain workers in processing, distribution and retail make up hundreds of millions of other jobs in the world, with over 20 million food chain workers in the U.S. alone (17.5% of the total workforce).

This makes public policy relating to food, farming and land use very important. Unfortunately, thousands of laws and regulations are passed every year, in every country and locality, that basically prop up conventional (i.e., industrial, factory farm, export-oriented, GMO) food and farming, while there is very little legislation passed or resources geared toward promoting organic and regenerative food and farming.

Trillions of dollars have been, and continue to be, invested in the so-called “conventional” food and farming sector, including trillions from the savings and pension funds of many conscious consumers, who would no doubt prefer their savings to be invested in a different manner, if they knew how to do this.

Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of public or private investment is currently going toward organic, grass fed, free-range and other healthy foods produced by small and medium-sized farms and ranches for local and regional consumption.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy climate, healthy societies — our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, are directly connected to the soil, biodiversity and the health and fertility of our food and farming systems. Regenerative organic farming and land use can move us back into balance, back to a stable climate and a life-supporting environment.

It’s time to move beyond degenerate ethics, farming, land use, energy policies, politics and economics. It’s time to move beyond “too little, too late” mitigation and sustainability strategies. It’s time to inspire and mobilize a mighty global army of Regenerators, before it’s too late.

 

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.

A World of Hurt: 2021 Climate Disasters Raise Alarm over Food Security

  • Human-driven climate change is fueling weather extremes — from record drought to massive floods — that are hammering key agricultural regions around the world.
  • From the grain heartland of Argentina to the tomato belt of California to the pork hub of China, extreme weather events have driven down output and driven up global commodity prices.
  • Shortages of water and food have, in turn, prompted political and social strife in 2021, including food protests in Iran and hunger in Madagascar, and threaten to bring escalating misery, civil unrest and war in coming years.
  • Experts warn the problem will only intensify, even in regions currently unaffected by, or thriving from the high prices caused by scarcity. Global transformational change is urgently needed in agricultural production and consumption patterns, say experts.

In July, a video went viral on social media in Argentina showing people walking across what looks like a desert. But it isn’t a desert. This is the bed of the Paraná River, part of the second-largest river system in South America. Normally the stream rises in Brazil and reaches the sea via the River Plate, draining a vast watershed covering all of Paraguay, southern Brazil and northern Argentina. Normally the water volume flowing to the Atlantic roughly equals that of the Mississippi River.

What’s happening now is not normal. The drying up of large stretches of river comes as the most severe drought since 1944 afflicts the region. No relief is expected in the short term. According to forecasts from Argentina’s Ministry of Public Works, the lack of rain will last for at least another three months.

Besides damaging crops, the drought also means barge-hauled grains can’t get to market cheaply, forcing Argentina to support commodities transport with $10.4 million, and costing the nation’s grain farmers and exporters $315 million. It’s likely consumers will ultimately foot the bill.

The Paraná region is experiencing “a veritable environmental holocaust,” says Rafael Colombo, a member of the Argentinian Association of Environmental Lawyers.

The multiple causes, he states, include “a complex and diversified series of anthropomorphic interventions, associated with the expansion of agro-industrial, ranching, forest, river and mining extractivism over the last 50 years.” Add to that the impact of global human-caused climate change.

Due to lack of rain at the source of the São Francisco River, Brazil’s Sobradinho reservoir is experiencing the worst drought in its history. Image by Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil (CC BY 3.0 BR).

A world of hurt

Extreme weather impacts can be expected to dot various parts of the planet every year, but the Paraná watershed drought isn’t an outlier in 2021. Instead, it represents the new normal as major regional bread baskets around the globe are assaulted by unusually high temperatures that exacerbate simultaneous record droughts, bringing disastrous wildfires. Floods, too, are unprecedented this year: While the Paraná endured record drought, the neighboring Amazon watershed in Manaus, Brazil, was battered by unprecedented June deluges.

These planet-wide events all combined are having a detrimental impact on crops and livestock, and though it is too early to calculate the full cost, the world will likely see significant price hikes in coming months on everything from tomatoes to bread to beef.

“Unprecedented” looks to be the theme best describing 2021’s extreme weather events: In mid-July, China’s Henan province, one of the country’s most populous regions, was hit by a year’s worth of rain — 640 millimeters (more than 2 feet) — in just three days, a phenomenon “unseen in the last 1,000 years.”

At least 71 people died and 1.4 million people fled the floods, even as China braces for more heavy rain. The deluge also impacted 972,000 hectares (2.4 million acres) of cropland, and — while much of that region’s grain crop had been harvested previously — processing, storage and transportation of summer grains could be affected, with floodwaters damaging flour factories.

China isn’t alone. In late July, parts of India saw 594 mm (23 inches) of rain in just days, while Manila and outlying provinces in the Philippines were inundated by torrential rains, causing mass evacuations and crop damage.

Extreme heat waves and drought have smashed records across the U.S. West, from southern California to Nevada and Oregon. As the unprecedented mega drought deepens, California’s water regulators this week took a highly unusual step: forbidding thousands of farmers from extracting water from major rivers and streams for irrigation. The drought is surely going to be bad news for spaghetti lovers: California grows more than 90% of America’s canned tomatoes and a third of the world’s supply. Expect much higher prices and “cue the tomato hoarding.”

Don Pedro Reservoir in California (the brown areas should be covered in water). The deepening unprecedented mega drought there means thousands of farmers who annually extract water from rivers and streams for irrigation will be unable to tap those sources this year. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
As mega fires again burn across the U.S. West in 2021, firefighting resources are being stretched to the limit. Forest Service NW via Twitter.

Meanwhile, 91 wildfires are currently raging across the U.S., devastating ecosystems and infrastructure. Three million acres have burned so far this year, with the fire season far from over, while during the same period last year only 2.1 million acres burned. Western U.S. climate change-induced mega fires are also having adverse agricultural commodities impacts, with farmers and ranchers now saddled with skyrocketing fire insurance rates, often increasing by tens of thousands of dollars. “[T]he trend has sent shock waves through California’s agricultural regions,” says online environmental news service Grist. Those exorbitant insurance rates could push some farms out of business, or make agriculture too risky to insure.

Farther east, in Colorado and Utah, cattle ranchers are feeling the pain too. As their drought worsens, many have reluctantly decided to cull their herds. “Everyone is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it, while the price is up, before the market gets flooded,” said Buzz Bates, a rancher from Oab, Utah.

The West’s drought has also created ideal conditions for grasshopper eggs to hatch, leading to widespread infestation and crop loss. “I can only describe grasshoppers in expletives,” said one Oregon farmer. “They are a scourge of the Earth … They just destroy the land, destroy the crops.”

Locust in Indonesia. Major infestations hit Africa last year and the U.S. this year. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The specter of global hunger

Drought this year is exacerbating hunger in some of Earth’s poorest countries. Southern Madagascar is experiencing its worst drought in four decades. Maliha, 38 years old and a single mother of eight, told Reliefweb: “Since the rain stopped, the children are not eating regularly. I give them whatever I can find, like cactus leaves. With this diet, they have diarrhea and nausea, but we have no choice. At least it doesn’t kill them.”

According to World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, the food crisis in Madagascar has been building for years: “There have been back-to-back droughts which have pushed communities right to the very edge of starvation.” More than 1 million Madagascans have been left “food insecure,” without access to “sufficient, safe and nutritious food,” he said.

He’s emphatic as to the reason: “This is not because of war or conflict; this is because of climate change.”

As disaster follows disaster, some evoke tales of the 10 plagues found in the Old Testament, sent by God to punish humanity for its evil. Not even the plague of locusts is missing: Just a year ago, the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen suffered the largest desert locust outbreak in 25 years, triggered by record rains. In Ethiopia alone more than 356,000 tons of cereals were lost, leaving almost 1 million people food insecure.

Women wait to receive emergency hot meals for their malnourished children in the village of Sihanamaro, Androy region, southern Madagascar. Image courtesy of WFP/Krystyna Kovalenko.
Children eat food distributed by the World Food Programme in the village of Sihanamaro, Androy region, southern Madagascar. Image courtesy of WFP/Krystyna Kovalenko.

Commodities impacted planetwide

Extreme weather continues slamming crops across the world at a time when food prices are already near the highest in a decade. The list goes on: Flooding in China’s key pork-producing region has raised the threat of animal disease. Devastating rains in the EU are raising fears of widespread fungal diseases in grains. And in the High Plains along the U.S.-Canada border, grains and livestock are at risk as predicted deepening drought keeps commodities brokers and farmers on edge. Russia, another global bread basket, is also hot and dry, and wheat crop expectations have fallen.

Brazil is one of the most important agricultural exporters in the world. But prolonged drought there is causing concerns for 2021’s second corn crop. Drought and rare freezing weather are hurting coffee-growing regions too, which are suffering some of their coldest weather in 25 years. On July 29, a wide area of Brazil even saw snow. (Climate chaos, while it produces substantially more heat records, also sometimes generates extreme cold.) The coffee harvest will be damaged. World coffee prices are rising.

Other crops could be impacted, as Brazil is the planet’s biggest exporter of sugar, orange juice and soybeans. “There’s no other country in the world that has that kind of influence on the world market conditions — what happens in Brazil affects everyone,” Michael Sheridan, director of sourcing and shared value at Intelligentsia Coffee, a Chicago-based roaster and retailer, told Bloomberg.

Flooded area in the town of Qingshanqiao in Ningxiang, Hunan, China in 2017. The country is again seeing terrible flooding in 2021 — the future is almost surely to be worse unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed quickly. Image by Huangdan2060 via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).
Drought in parts of India left farmers and livestock owners in desperate conditions for most of this year. Such events did occur in the past, but are now becoming increasingly more frequent, stressing communities and entire nations. Image by srinivasa krishna via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Feast or famine: Profiting from disaster

As elsewhere, Brazil’s climate disasters are regionalized, only damaging harvests in some places, but not others. In unaffected areas, farmers are doing well, even better than expected because world commodity prices have climbed, partly because of droughts around the planet. And as is so often the case in the commodities market, one farmer benefits from another’s disaster, though the big commodities traders have the versatility and economic power to weather whiplash weather — at least for now.

The Brazilian government’s statistics authority, IBGE, is expecting a “record-breaking harvest of grains, cereals and oilseeds in 2021.” Agribusiness outside the drought-affected Paraná region is jubilant. Maurilio Biagi Filho, whose family owns vast sugar plantations, says that it is “very rare” for high agricultural prices to coincide with record production. “When that happens, it’s extraordinary,” he adds.

A similar phenomenon is evident in the U.S., where the fortunes of two very different corn belts have emerged. The U.S. Southeast is experiencing “great summer weather” (cool and wet), while the Northwest is facing “a terrible drought” (hot/dry weather). “The crux of the matter is the crop is being damaged in the West, and improving in the East,” comments one farming media source.

Maurílio Biagi Filho, one of Brazil’s largest agribusiness magnates, is expecting a big boost in income this year due to a hike in world commodity prices caused by the nation’s droughts. Image courtesy of JornalCana.

This mixed economic picture comes with a caveat: As 2021 unfolds and the global climate crisis deepens year-on-year, forecasts say fewer and fewer farmers may benefit, with extreme weather disasters and failed harvests proliferating.

In the 1990s, a Woods Hole Research Center scientist, describing impending climate chaos, put it this way: “Think of a pot of cool water on the stove. Add heat to the pot and keep adding it. The water will start to move, swirling in increasingly erratic and intensifying patterns. Small bubbles arise, then bigger bubbles appear as you add energy to the system, until you’re at a rolling boil. That’s a good metaphor for global climate change: as emissions rise, extreme weather events pop up more often, randomly and unpredictably everywhere.”

Climate chaos breeds food insecurity and political instability

The downside to the current hike in commodity prices is already becoming clear for many: With millions of poor people hit by climate disasters, governments in financially strapped countries are having to provide food relief. “Food inflation is the last thing governments need right now,” Carlos Mera, an analyst at Rabobank, told the Financial Times.

Higher food prices often generate political unrest, even in countries where dissent is firmly repressed. In early July, protesters took to the streets in southwestern Iran, chanting anti-regime slogans and demanding greater access to water for drinking, for farmlands and their cattle.

But the climate crisis shows no sign of easing: On June 22, Nuwaiseeb, Kuwait, recorded temperatures of 53.2° Celsius (127.7° Fahrenheit). In neighboring Iraq and Iran, temperatures didn’t lag far behind. All-time records were broken in Turkey too (where wildfires are incinerating farm animals), and in both Northern Ireland and northern Japan. Moscow was hit by a historic heat wave in June, with temperatures soaring to 34°C (93°F), a 120-year record. These heat waves are bad news for global food supplies and prices — and for national security.

High food prices, caused partly by climate change-driven drought, are believed to have been a key factor behind the unrest that spread across a swath of the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, generating the Arab Spring.

Prescient journalist Ross Gelbspan, writing in 1997, warned the world of the perpetual “coming state of emergency,” a deepening and disruptive climate change abyss — an extreme weather maelstrom into which food production systems, whole populations, governments and countries would fall and fail, bringing hunger, human misery, civil unrest and war.

Carlos Mera, a senior analyst at Rabobank, a Dutch banking and financial services company, on a trip to Brazil to analyze the coffee harvest, dialing in to a teleconference in 2019. Image via Twitter.

Climate breakdown

The consensus is growing: Today, almost all scientists and policymakers (besides the politicians aligned with fossil fuel interests) agree that the underlying cause of the current climate crisis is a hundred years — less than a nanosecond in the planet’s history — of human activity, pumping billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Recently, a draft report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scheduled to be published at the beginning of next year, was obtained by the AFP news agency. AFP says the report reads as “by far, the most comprehensive catalogue ever assembled of how climate change is upending our world.” The IPCC warns that the devastating impacts of global warming will be painfully obvious before a child born today turns 30.

Just like Rafael Colombo, the Argentine environmental lawyer, the IPCC points to a witch’s brew of anthropomorphic influences: greenhouse gas emissions, degradation of land under intensive agriculture, deforestation, overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, overgrazing, and over extraction of water for farming and other uses. But still, emissions rise along with population and the reckless use of resources.

Soy plantation abutting tropical forest in Brazil. Deforestation and land degradation due to aggressive agribusiness expansion are among anthropomorphic impacts in the Amazon region — impacts that also include increasing drought brought by climate change. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Global droughts are undermining centuries of human progress, denying water for crops, livelihoods, and for survival. Image courtesy Petterik Wiggers / UN WFP.

An urgent need for ‘transformational change’

The draft IPCC report states: “We need transformational change operating on processes and behaviors at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments. We must redefine our way of life and consumption.”

Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, says vastly improved farming techniques are the way forward. He told Mongabay there must be “greater investments in R&D and ‘climate-smart’ agriculture … to compensate for the climate change ‘headwind.’” He emphasized, “These investments need to be done now — or yesterday.” Generating higher output from “climate-smart plants” would allow humanity to “sustain historical growth rates in [crop] production without having to increase inputs.”

Colleen Doherty, an associate professor of biochemistry at North Carolina University, takes a similar approach, suggesting that “climate-smart” agriculture could be achieved partly by creating far more resilient plants. “We have to breed crops for conditions that we don’t even know right now what they are going to be. Things are changing so rapidly that we need to be able to anticipate what the problems are before they happen,” she said, adding with cautious optimism: “We’ve barely touched the potential of plants.”

If such an approach is to work, it must deliver much more than improved technology has achieved in the last couple of decades. A recent paper, “Anthropogenic climate change has slowed global agricultural productivity growth,” shows that climate change has wiped out seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years. Ortiz-Bobea, the paper’s lead author, said that “the slowdown effect” may well intensify, as “global agriculture is growing increasingly vulnerable to climate change” and “global warming is accelerating.”

A very different method for confronting the crisis is laid out by the regenerative agriculture movement. Its proponents are skeptical of scientists’ capacity to breed more resilient plants. “Despite billions of dollars being spent on research and media hype there is not one major crop that has benefited from genetically engineered modifications to make them significantly more resilient to drought,” André Leu, international director of Regeneration International, told Mongabay, though biotechnology companies and researchers do claim some progress in that field of development.

Woman stands outside her home destroyed by floods in Kenya. Image © Greenpeace.
Aerial view of flooded villages and farmland in Kenya. In May, 40,000 people were displaced, hundreds of lives lost, crops destroyed and livestock drowned. Extreme weather events, including floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and more intense as the climate crisis deepens. With the current COVID-19 crisis and locusts invasion, flooding exacerbates the food security situation in the country. Image © Greenpeace.

Answers will not emerge from laboratories, he argues, but by working with rural communities who have acquired an unrivaled knowledge of local ecosystems through centuries of experience. “There are numerous published studies showing that increasing agro-biodiversity through a mix of crop species and varieties, along with farmer-led participatory breeding, increases drought and extreme climate weather resilience,” he said. “These systems are now working globally on every arable continent.” Moreover, advocates say regenerative agriculture can “substantially mitigate climate change” by sequestering significant greenhouse gas emissions.

As yet, neither approach is translating into the “transformational change” that the draft IPCC report calls for, largely because governments worldwide have yet to act aggressively to address the scale of the catastrophe unfolding planetwide at breakneck speed. And few analysts hold out much hope this will change at the vital COP26 climate summit this November in Scotland.

Meanwhile, the situation continues to deteriorate: Forecasts released this month by the International Energy Agency predict the world will record “the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history” this year.

Many scientists and policymakers fear that the very survival of the human species is now at risk. The draft IPCC report warns: “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems. Humans cannot.”

Dried-out rice fields in the Anosy region of southern Madagascar. As food insecurity worsens globally, national security could be threatened in many countries. Image courtesy of Daniel Wood/SEED Madagascar.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

El gran informe científico sobre cambio climático responsabiliza a la humanidad del aumento de fenómenos extremos

Ya no se trata de algo más o menos probable, sino de un hecho. El último gran informe de situación del IPCC, el panel de expertos vinculados a la ONU que lleva más de tres décadas sentando las bases sobre el cambio climático, fulmina al negacionismo y considera como algo “inequívoco” que la humanidad “ha calentado la atmósfera, el océano y la tierra”, lo que ha generado “cambios generalizados y rápidos” en el planeta. La anterior edición de este estudio data de 2013 y desde entonces las evidencias se han multiplicado, al igual que los artículos y análisis científicos que muestran las consecuencias de una crisis que ya ha generado cambios en el clima “sin precedentes” en los últimos miles de años y que en algunos casos serán “irreversibles” durante siglos o milenios. Entre las consecuencias directas, además de la subida de las temperaturas medias, figuran los fenómenos meteorológicos extremos. Se trata de eventos similares a las olas de calor o las lluvias torrenciales que se están viviendo en las últimas semanas por distintas partes del globo y que ya han aumentado en intensidad y frecuencia debido al calentamiento generado por el ser humano, según confirma el informe.

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Our Global Regeneration Revolution: Organic 3.0 to Regenerative and Organic Agriculture

“Regenerative agriculture and animal husbandry is the next and higher stage of organic food and farming, not only free from toxic pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilizers, and factory farm production, and therefore good for human health; but also regenerative in terms of the health of the soil.” Ronnie Cummins

Regeneration is a Global Revolution

Hardly anyone had heard of regenerative agriculture before 2014. Now it is in the news everyday all around the world. A small group of leaders of the organic, agroecology, holistic management, environment and natural health movements started Regeneration International as a truly inclusive and representative umbrella organization.

The concept was initially formed at the United Nations Climate Change Meeting in New York in October 2014, at a meeting in the Rodale headquarters. The aim was to set up a global network of like minded agricultural, environmental and social organizations.

The initial steering committee meetings included Dr Vandana Shiva from Navdanya, Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association, Dr Hans Herren from The Millennium Institute, Steve Rye from Mercola and myself, André Leu from IFOAM-Organics International. It was soon expanded to include Precious Phiri from the Africa Savory Hub, Ercilia Sahores from Via Organica in Mexico, Renate Künaste from the German Green Party, John Liu the China based filmmaker and Tom Newmark and Larry Kopald from the Carbon Underground.

Our founding meeting was held on a biodynamic farm in Costa Rica in 2015. We deliberately chose to hold it in the global south rather than in North America or Europe and include women and men from every continent to send a message that regeneration was about equity, fairness and inclusiveness. Ronnie Cummins raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the travel, accommodation, food and other expenses for all the representatives from the global south. It was a truly global and inclusive start.

The meeting agreed to form Regeneration International to promote a holistic concept of regeneration. The following consensus Mission and Vision Statements came out of this consultative and inclusive event.

OUR MISSION

To promote, facilitate and accelerate the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability, ending world hunger and rebuilding deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems.

OUR VISION

A healthy global ecosystem in which practitioners of regenerative agriculture and land use, in concert with consumers, educators, business leaders and policymakers, cool the planet, nourish the world and restore public health, prosperity and peace on a global scale.

In six years Regeneration International has grown to more than 360 partner organizations in 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, North America and Europe.

Organic 3.0 the third phase of the Organic sector

The need to form an international regeneration movement was inspired in part by the development of Organic 3.0 by IFOAM – Organics International. Organic 3.0 was conceived as an ongoing process of enabling organic agriculture actively engage with social and environmental issues and been seen as a positive agent of change.

Organic 3.0 has six main features. The fourth feature was the “Inclusiveness of wider sustainability interests, through alliances with the many movements and organizations that have complementary approaches to truly sustainable food and farming.”

One aim of Organic 3.0 was to work with like minded organizations, movements and similar farming systems with the aim of making all of agriculture more sustainable. The concept was to have organic agriculture as a positive lighthouse of change to improve the sustainability of mainstream agriculture systems, as seen in the following diagram.

Move beyond Sustainable

Many people in the organic, agroecology and environmental movements were not happy with the term sustainable for a number of reasons, not the least that it has been completely greenwashed and was seen as meaningless.

“Sustainable means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Unfortunately, this definition of sustainable has led to concept of Sustainable Intensification – where more inputs are used in the same area of land to lower negative environmental footprints. This concept has been used in sustainable agriculture to justify GMOs, synthetic toxic pesticides and water soluble chemical fertilizers to produce more commodities per hectare/acre. This was presented as better for the environment than “low yielding” organic agriculture and agroecological systems that need more land to produce the same level of commodities. Sustainable Intensification is used to justify the destruction of tropical forests for the industrial scale farming of commodities such as GMO corn and soy that are shipped to large scale animal feedlots in Europe and China, on the basis that less land is needed to produce animal products compared to extensive rangeland systems or organic systems. These Sustainable Intensification systems meet the above definition of sustainable compared to organic, agroecological and holistically managed pasture based systems.

Companies like Bayer/Monsanto were branding themselves as the largest sustainable agriculture companies in the world. Many of us believed it was time to move past sustainable.

In this era of the Anthropocene, in which human activities are the dominant forces that negatively affect the environment, the world is facing multiple environmental, social, and economic crises. These include the climate crisis, food insecurity, an epidemic of non-contagious chronic diseases, new pandemics of contagious diseases, wars, migration crises, ocean acidification, the collapse of whole ecosystems, the continuous extraction of resources, and the greatest extinction event in geological history.

Do we want to sustain the current status quo or do we want to improve and rejuvenate it? Simply being sustainable is not enough. Regeneration, by definition, improves systems.

The Hijacking of Organic Standards       

Another driver towards regeneration were the widespread concerns about the hijacking of organic standards and production systems by corporate agribusiness.

The neglect of the primacy of soil health and soil organic matter and allowing inappropriate plowing methods were raised as major criticisms.

The organic pioneers started concept of soil health. Jerome Rodale who popularized the term Organic Farming in the 1940s used the term specifically in relation to farming systems that improved soil health by recycling and increasing soil organic matter. Consequently most organic standards start with this, however certifiers rarely check this – if ever these days. The introduction of certified organic hydroponics as soilless organic systems, was been seen by many as the ultimate sell out and loss of credibility for certified organic systems.

Major concerns and criticisms about the hijacking of certified organic by industrial agriculture were raised by allies in the agroecology and holistic management movements. These included large scale, industrial, organic monocultures and organic Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs).  These CAFOS go against the important principles of no cruelty and the need to allow animals to naturally express their behaviors, that are found in most organic standards. The use of synthetic supplements in certified organic CAFOs was seen as undermining the very basis of the credibility of certified organic systems. The lack of enforcement was seen as a major issue. These issues were and still are areas of major dispute and contention within global and national organic sectors.

Many people wanted a way forward and saw the concept of ‘Regenerative Organic Agriculture’, put forward by Robert Rodale, son of the organic pioneer Jerome Rodale, as a way to resolve this. Bob Rodale, used the term regenerative organic agriculture to promote farming practices that go beyond sustainable.

Dealing with Greenwashing

The term regenerative agriculture is now being widely used, to the point that in some cases it can be seen as greenwashing and as a buzz word used by industrial agricultural systems to increase profits.

Those of us who formed Regeneration International were very aware of the way the large agribusiness corporations hijacked the term sustainable to the point is was meaningless. We were also aware of how they are trying to hijack the term of agroecology, especially through the United Nations systems and in some parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America where a little biodiversity is sprinkled as greenwash over agricultural systems that still use toxic synthetic pesticides and water soluble chemical fertilizers.

Similarly we have been concerned about the way organic agriculture standards and systems have been hijacked by industrial agribusiness as previously stated in the above section.

The critical issue is how do we engage with agribusiness in a way that can change their systems in a positive way as proposed in Organic 3.0? Many of the corporations that are adopting regenerative systems are improving their soil organic matter levels using systems such as cover crops. They are also implementing programs that reduce toxic chemical inputs and improving environmental outcomes. These actions should be seen as positive changes in the right direction. They are a start – not an end point. They need to be seen as part of an ongoing process to become fully regenerative.

There are also corporations that are rebranding their herbicide sprayed GMO no-till systems as regenerative. These corporations and systems are being called out as Degenerative because they are not Regenerative.

The Concept of Degeneration to call out Greenwashing

The opposite of regenerative is degenerative. By definition, agricultural systems that are using degenerative practices and inputs that damage the environment, soil, and health, such as synthetic toxic pesticides, synthetic water soluble fertilizers, and destructive tillage systems, cannot be considered regenerative, and should not use the term. They must be called out as degenerative.

Regenerative and Organic based on Agroecology – the path forward

From the perspective Regeneration International, all agricultural systems should be regenerative and organic using the science of agroecology.

Bob Rodale observed that an ecosystem will naturally regenerate once the disturbance stops. Consequently, regenerative agriculture, working with nature, not only maintains resources, it improves them.

Regeneration should be seen as a way to determine how to improve systems and to determine what practices are acceptable and what are degenerative and therefore unacceptable. The criteria to analyze this must be based on the Four Principles of Organic Agriculture. These principles are clear and effective ways to decide what practices are regenerative and what are degenerative.

Consequently, the four principles of organic agriculture are seen as consistent and applicable to Regenerative Agriculture.

Health

Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

Ecology

Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

Fairness

Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

Care

Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Why focus on Regenerative Agriculture?

The majority of the world’s population are directly or indirectly dependant on agriculture. Agricultural producers are amongst the most exploited, food and health insecure, least educated and poorest people on our planet, despite producing most of the food we eat.

Agriculture in its various forms has the most significant effect on land use on the planet. Industrial agriculture is responsible for most of the environmental degradation, forest destruction, toxic chemicals in our food and environment and a significant contributor, up to 50%, to the climate crisis. The degenerative forms of agriculture are an existential threat to us and most other species on our planet. We have to regenerate agriculture for social, environmental, economic and cultural reasons.

Why focus on the Soil and Soil Organic Matter?

The soil is fundamental to all terrestrial life of this planet. Our food and biodiversity start with the soil. The soil is not dirt – it is living, breathing and teeming with life. The soil microbiome is the most complex and richest area of biodiversity on our planet. The area with the greatest biodiversity is the rhizosphere, the region around roots of plants.

Plants feed the soil microbiome with the molecules of life that they create through photosynthesis. These molecules are the basis of organic matter – carbon based molecules  – that all life on earth depends on. Organic matter is fundamental to all life and soil organic matter is fundamental to life in the soil.

Farming practices that increase soil organic matter (SOM) increase soil fertility, water holding capacity, pest and disease resilience and thus the productivity of agricultural systems. Because SOM comes from carbon dioxide fixed through photosynthesis, increasing SOM can have a significant impact in reversing the climate crisis by drawing down this greenhouse gas.

The fact is our health and wealth comes from the soil.

Regenerative agriculture is now being used as an umbrella term for the many farming systems that use techniques such as longer rotations, cover crops, green manures, legumes, compost and organic fertilizers to increase SOM. These include: organic agriculture, agroforestry, agroecology, permaculture, holistic grazing, sylvopasture, syntropic farming and many other agricultural systems that can increase SOM. SOM is an important proxy for soil health – as soils with low levels are not healthy.

However, our global regeneration movement is far more than this.

Regenerating our Degenerated Planet and Societies – Our Regeneration Revolution

We have a lot of work to do. We are currently living well beyond our planetary boundaries and extracting far more than our planet can provide. As Dr Vandana Shiva puts it: “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy.”

According to Bob Rodale, regenerative organic agriculture systems are those that improve the resources they use, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to farming that encourages continual innovation for environmental, social, economic, and spiritual wellbeing.

We must reverse the Climate Crisis, Migration Crisis, Biodiversity Crisis, Health Crisis, Food Crisis, Gender Crisis, Media Crisis, War Crisis, Land Grabbing Crisis, Racism Crisis, Democracy Crisis and Planetary Boundary Crisis so that we can regenerate our planet and our descendants can have a better and fairer world.

The vast majority of the destruction of biodiversity, the greenhouse gases, pesticides, endocrine disrupters, plastics, poverty, hunger, poor nutrition are directly caused by the billionaire corporate cartels and their obscene greed aided by their morally corrupt cronies. We need to continue to call them out for their degenerative practices.

More importantly; we need to build the new regenerative system that will replace the current degenerate system.

We have more than enough resources for everyone to live a life of wellbeing. The world produces around 3 times more food than we need. We have unfair, exploitative and wasteful systems that need to be transformed and regenerated.

We need to regenerate our societies so we must be proactive in ensuring that others have access to land, education, healthcare, income, the commons, participation, inclusion and empowerment. This must include women, men and youths across all ethnic and racial groups.

We must take care of each other and regenerate our planet. We must take control and empower ourselves to be the agents of change. We need to regenerate a world based on the Four Principles of Organic Agriculture: Health, Ecology Fairness and Care.

Ronnie Cummins, one of our founders, wrote: “Never underestimate the power of one individual: yourself. But please understand, at the same time, that what we do as individuals will never be enough. We’ve got to get organized and we’ve got to help others, in our region, in our nation, and everywhere build a mighty Green Regeneration Movement. The time to begin is now.”

 

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

Changes in Farming Practices Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 70% by 2036

Team used Argonne’s GREET model to simulate changes, predict outcomes.

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory participated in a study that shows innovation in technologies and agricultural practices could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grain production by up to 70% within the next 15 years.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the study identifies a combination of readily adoptable technological innovations that can significantly reduce emissions and fit within current production systems and established grain markets.

The study, Novel technologies for emission reduction complement conservation agriculture to achieve negative emissions from row crop production,” maintains that reductions in GHG emissions could be attained through digital agriculture, crop and microbial genetics and electrification. The new technologies, when implemented, promise to drive the decarbonization of agriculture while supporting farm resilience and maintaining profitability and productivity.

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RI’s Response to The Ecologist’s “The Regenerative Ranching Racket”

Brendan Montague,

Editor of The Ecologist, at brendan@theecologist.org

Re: The regenerative ranching racket by Spencer Roberts, June 14, 2021

 

Dear Brendan,

 

The credibility of the Ecologist is being seriously questioned when it engages in deliberate fraud and makes false claims in order to try to discredit the fastest growing agricultural movement in the world.

Your journalist conducted outright fraud and lied when registering a false farm on our Farm Map and openly admits this. He further deliberately misrepresented the purpose of our Farm Map.

The Farm Map is a free service that connects thousands of farmers around the world to hundreds of thousands of potential customers. It is a self-regulating service not a certification system. Customers can let us know if farms are making false claims and we can remove them from the map. This service is particularly important in the developing world where farmers are the lowest socioeconomic group, in part, due to not being paid fairly for what they produce.

The same journalist that openly lies and commits fraud, then goes on to try and discredit various leaders of the global regeneration movement. We have the verified published data to show that these farmers and their various systems sequester more CO2 out of the atmosphere  than they emit. Unlike industrial farming which, depending on the methodologies used, accounts for up to 50% of global emissions, regenerative agriculture has solid published science to show that it sequesters more CO2 than it emits. We can change agriculture from being a major problem to becoming a major solution for the climate crisis.

32 countries, many regions, UNFAO, IFAD, GEF, CGIAR and hundreds of NGOs support changing farming from being a major CO2 emitter to becoming a major mitigator of CO2 by storing it in soil as soil organic matter. They have signed on to the 4 for 1000 initiative that was launched by the French Government at the Paris Climate Change meeting Dec. 2015. The UNFCCC recognizes this initiative as part of the Lima – Paris accord in the Paris agreement.

Industrial agriculture in its various forms has the most significant effect on land use on the planet. It is responsible for most of the environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, forest destruction, toxic chemicals in our food and environment and a significant contributor, up to 50%, to the climate crisis. The degenerative forms of agriculture are an existential threat to us and most other species on our planet. We have to regenerate agriculture for social, environmental, economic and cultural reasons and that is exactly what we in the global regenerative movement are doing.

 

Yours Faithfully,

 

André Leu, International Director,  June 19, 2021

Turberas, sumideros de carbono vitales para la Tierra

Dependemos de la buena salud de los ecosistemas para nuestra supervivencia. Su desaparición privaría al planeta de inmensos sumideros de carbono, como son los bosques o las turberas, en un momento en que las emisiones globales de gases de efecto invernadero han aumentado durante tres años consecutivos y el planeta está a un paso de un cambio climático potencialmente catastrófico.

Ante este grave problema, el Día Mundial del Medio Ambiente, con el lema Reimagina, recrea, restaura, se centra este año en la conservación de los ecosistemas. Además, hoy arranca el Decenio de la ONU sobre la Restauración de Ecosistemas (2021-2030), una llamada de atención global para revivir miles de millones de hectáreas que ocupan bosques, tierras de cultivo o cimas de montañas, porque nunca ha habido tanta necesidad de revertir su degradación como ahora, señala la ONU.

Las turberas conforman uno de esos ecosistemas vitales y sumamente poderosos; y es que, si bien cubren el 3% de la superficie terrestre del planeta, contienen casi un 30% del CO2 del suelo.

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Nature Funding Must Triple by 2030 to Protect Land, Wildlife and Climate

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Global annual spending to protect and restore nature needs to triple this decade to about $350 billion by 2030 and rise to $536 billion by 2050, a U.N. report said on Thursday, urging a shift in mindset among financiers, businesses and governments.

The inaugural State of Finance for Nature report looked at how to tackle the planet’s climate, biodiversity and land degradation crises, estimating about $8 trillion in investment would be needed by mid-century to safeguard natural systems.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), told the report launch the amounts required may sound large but “it’s peanuts when we are frankly talking about securing the planet and our very own future”.

“Our health, the quality of our lives, our jobs, temperature regulation, the housing we build and of course the food we eat, the water we drink” all depend on well-functioning natural systems, she said.

Report co-author Ivo Mulder, who heads UNEP’s climate finance unit, said financial flows should work with nature rather than against it.

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Hope Below Our Feet

Peer-Reviewed Publications on Well-Managed Grazing as a Means of Improving Rangeland Ecology, Building Soil Carbon, and Mitigating Global Warming

Prepared by Soil4Climate Inc.

Updated May 2021

Left: Soil with approximately 7% soil organic matter at North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown’s holistically managed ranch. Top right: Kroon family holistically managed ranch on left side of fence, Karoo region, South Africa, with livestock density about 4X that of the neighbor’s ranch on right side of fence. Bottom right: Holistically managed herd on Maasai lands in Kenya. (Top right photo by Kroon family. Left and bottom right photos by Seth J. Itzkan.)

Accelerating regenerative grazing to tackle farm, environmental, and societal challenges in the upper Midwest

2021 Viewpoint by Spratt et al. in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation defines “regenerative grazing” as a “win-win-win” component of “regenerative agriculture” that “uses soil health and adaptive livestock management principles to improve farm profitability, human and ecosystem health, and food system resiliency.”

Spratt et al. 2021, doi:10.2489/jswc.2021.1209A

https://www.jswconline.org/content/jswc/76/1/15A.full.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expanding grass-based agriculture on marginal land in the U.S. Great Plains: The role of management intensive grazing

2021 paper by Wang et al. in Land Use Policy finds that the adoption of management intensive grazing (MIG) is a key factor for restoring marginal croplands to permanent grassland cover to enhance environmental benefits across the Great Plains from a social perspective. It also notes that compared to conventional tillage-based crop production, grass-based agriculture can provide substantially more ecosystem benefits and that management intensive grazing (MIG) offers the potential to enhance grassland resilience, thereby increasing the profitability of grass-based agriculture.

Tong Wang, Hailong Jin, Urs Kreuter, Richard Teague,Expanding grass-based agriculture on marginal land in the U.S. Great Plains: The role of management intensive grazing, Land Use Policy, Volume 104, 2021,105155,ISSN 0264-8377, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105155.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264837720324935

Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands

2021 paper by Mosier et al. in Journal of Environmental Management finds that adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP) increases both soil carbon and soil nitrogen stocks when compared with conventional grazing (CG). Specifically, carbon stocks were increased 13% and nitrogen stocks 9%.  It concludes, “Findings show that AMP grazing is a management strategy to sequester C and retain N.”

Mosier S, Apfelbaum S, Byck P, Calderon F, Teague R, Thompson R, Francesca Cotrufo M, Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 288, 2021, 112409, ISSN 0301-4797, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112409 

Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System

2020 paper by Rowntree et al. documents the soil carbon increases from “holistic planned grazing” in a multi-species pasture rotation (MSPR) system on the USDA-certified organic White Oak Pastures farm in Clay County, Georgia. Over 20 years, the farm sequestered an average of 2.29 metric tonnes of carbon per hectare per year (2.29 Mg C/ha/yr).  The paper also shows that the area required to produce food in this regenerative way was 2.5 times that of conventional farming (which would have resulted in soil degradation and toxic chemicals impact). It notes that production efficiency comes at a cost of “land-use tradeoffs” that  must be taken into consideration.

Rowntree JE, Stanley PL, Maciel ICF, Thorbecke M, Rosenzweig ST, Hancock DW, Guzman A and Raven MR (2020) Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 4:544984. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984/full

Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States

2020 paper in Interface Focus finds that “‘Managed grazing’ is gaining attention for its potential to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing bare ground and promoting perennialization, thereby enhancing soil carbon sequestration (SCS).” The paper explores principles and practices associated with the larger enterprise of ‘regenerative ranching’ (RR), which, it states, “includes managed grazing but infuses the practice with holistic decision-making.” It argues that the holistic framework is appealing “due to a suite of ecological, economic and social benefits” and notes that climate change mitigation a “co-benefit.”

Gosnell H, Charnley S, Stanley P. 2020 Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States. Interface Focus 10: 20200027. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsfs.2020.0027

A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?

2020 paper in Agriculture and Human Values provides a meta-analysis of Holistic Management (HM) considering “epistemic”  differences between disciplines associated with the agricultural sciences. It concludes that the way to resolve the controversy over HM is to “research, in partnership with ranchers, rangeland social-ecological systems in more holistic, integrated ways.” This broader approach to research, it argues, can account for “the full range of human experience, co-produce new knowledge, and contribute to social-ecological transformation.”

Gosnell, Hannah & Grimm, Kerry & Goldstein, Bruce. (2020). A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?. Agriculture and Human Values. 10.1007/s10460-020-10016-w. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-020-10016-w

Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie. 

2020 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment finds that holistic planned grazing protocols, used in adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) management, had superior ecological performance in a tallgrass prairie region when compared with high-density continuous  grazing and medium-density continuous grazing systems. Results demonstrate AMP grazing had lower soil temperature, higher soil moisture, and lower N2O and CH4 emissions.

Dowhower, S. L., Teague, W. R., Casey, K. D., & Daniel, R. (2020). Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 287, 106647. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.106647

Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie

2019 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates that Adaptive Multi-paddock (AMP) grazing increases fine litter cover, water infiltration, forage biomass and soil carbon stocks in a comparison with heavy continuous grazing (HCG) on shortgrass prairie of the Northern Great Plains of North America. 

Hillenbrand, M., Thompson, R., Wang, F., Apfelbaum, S., & Teague, R. (2019). Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 279, 156–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.02.005

 

Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale

2019 paper in the Journal of Environmental Management shows that Integrated crop-livestock (ICL) systems have superior water retention (reduction in “water yields”) than in crops systems without a livestock grazing rotation. 

Pérez-Gutiérrez, J. D., & Kumar, S. (2019). Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale. Journal of Environmental Management, 239, 385–394. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.03.068

 

 

 

 

Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems

2018 Michigan State University study in Agricultural Systems finds 1.5 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown via adaptive multi-paddock grazing, more than enough to offset all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the beef finishing phase.

Stanley, P. L., Rowntree, J. E., Beede, D. K., DeLonge, M. S., & Hamm, M. W. (2018). Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems. Agricultural Systems, 162, 249-258. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.003

The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe

2018 paper in African Journal of Range & Forage Science finds positive long-term effects on ecosystem services (soils and vegetation) for Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG) and shows this approach enhancing the sustainability of livestock and wildlife.

Peel, M., & Stalmans, M. (2018). The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe. African Journal of Range & Forage Science, 35(1), 23-31. doi:10.2989/10220119.2018.1440630 https://doi.org/10.2989/10220119.2018.1440630

Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures

2018 study in BMC Ecology demonstrates that controlling livestock grazing through the establishment of pasture enclosures is the key strategy for enhancing multiple ecological indicators including total soil organic carbon, and that “the establishment of enclosures is an effective restoration approach to restore degraded soils in semi-arid rangelands.” Other improved indicators include particulate organic carbon, microbial biomass carbon, and microbial biomass nitrogen. 

Oduor, C.O., Karanja, N.K., Onwonga, R.N. et al. Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures. BMC Ecol 18, 45 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-018-0202-z

Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California

2018 paper in Environmental Research Letters finds that California grasslands are a more resilient carbon sink than forests in response to 21st century changes in climate. The paper also notes that, in data compilations, herbivory has been shown to increase grassland C sequestration rates.

Dass, P., Houlton, B. Z., Wang, Y., & Warlind, D. (2018). Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California. Environmental Research Letters, 13(7), 074027. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aacb39

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aacb39

 

The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America

2016 Texas A&M study in Journal of Soil and Water Conservation finds 1.2 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown via adaptive multi-paddock grazing and the drawdown potential of North American pasturelands is 800 million metric tons of carbon per year. 

Teague, W. R., Apfelbaum, S., Lal, R., Kreuter, U. P., Rowntree, J., Davies, C. A., R. Conser, M. Rasmussen, J. Hatfield, T. Wang, F. Wang, Byck, P. (2016). The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 71(2), 156-164. doi:10.2489/jswc.71.2.156 http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.full.pdf+html

 

 

 

Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America

2016 paper in Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society finds that where soil carbon sequestration is included in a life cycle assessment of Midwest grass-finished beef production systems, such systems can be overall carbon sinks.

Rowntree, J., Ryals, R., Delonge, M., Teague, R. W., Chiavegato, M., Byck, P., . . . Xu, S. (2016). Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America. Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society, 4(3), 8. https://asu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/potential-mitigation-of-midwest-grass-finished-beef-production-em

Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter

2015 University of Georgia study in Nature Communications finds 3 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown following a conversion from row cropping to regenerative grazing.

Machmuller, M. B., Kramer, M. G., Cyle, T. K., Hill, N., Hancock, D., & Thompson, A. (2015). Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter. Nature Communications, 6, 6995. doi:10.1038/ncomms7995 https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms7995

 

 

 

 

GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plain

2015 paper in Sustainability finds that a conversion from heavy continuous to multi-paddock grazing on cow-calf farms in the US southern Great Plains can result in a carbon sequestration rate in soil of 2 tonnes per hectare per year or approximately 0.89 tonnes per acre per year. In a sensitivity analysis that accounts for farm animal emissions, this sequestration in soil is sufficient to make the farm a net carbon sink for decades.

Wang, T., Teague, W., Park, S., & Bevers, S. (2015). GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plains. Sustainability, 7(10), 13500. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/7/10/13500

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future

2013 paper in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences by University of Oregon Department of Geological Sciences professor Gregory J. Retallack shows the co-evolution of ruminants and grassland soils (mollisols) was essential for geologic cooling of the past 20 million years – leading to the conditions suitable for human evolution – and can be an instrumental part of the necessary cooling in the future to reverse global warming.

Retallack, G. (2013). Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future (Vol. 41, pp. 69–86): Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-earth-050212-124001

Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico

2013 study in Agricultural Systems finds practitioners of Holistic Management in the dry tropics region of Chiapas, Mexico have denser grass, deeper topsoil, and more earthworms in their pastures than conventional graziers, and that “Holistic management is leading to greater ecological and economic sustainability.”

Ferguson, B. G., Diemont, S. A. W., Alfaro-Arguello, R., Martin, J. F., Nahed-Toral, J., Álvarez-Solís, D., & Pinto-Ruíz, R. (2013). Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico. Agricultural Systems, 120, 38-48. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2013.05.005

Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen

2012 study in Soil Science Society of America Journal demonstrates improved grazing management systems can have an enormous benefit on surface soil fertility restoration of degraded soils in the southeastern United States, and managed grazing can sequester 1.5 metric tons of carbon per hectare per year.

Franzluebbers, A. J., D. M. Endale, J. S. Buyer, and J. A. Stuedemann. 2012. Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 76:1016-1026. doi:10.2136/sssaj2011.0347 

Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho

2011 paper in Journal of Arid Environments finds simulated holistic planned grazing (SHPG) had significantly higher percent volumetric-water content (%VWC) after two years of comparison with similar ranch plots using rest-rotation (RESTROT), and total rest (TREST) systems in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Measured percent volumetric-water content were 45.8 for SHPG and 34.7 and 29.8 for RESTROT and TREST, respectively.

Weber, K. T., & Gokhale, B. S. (2011). Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Journal of Arid Environments, 75(5), 464-470. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2010.12.009

 

 

Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie

2011 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates multi-paddock grazing of the type recommended by Allan Savory, and representative of Holistic Management, led to improved soil health indicators including higher bulk density, greater infiltration rate, and increased fungal/bacterial ratios when compared with continuous single-paddock grazing, typical of conventional practice. Soil organic matter averaged 3.61% in the multi-paddock ranches, compared to 2.4% for heavy continuous, single-paddock grazing.

Teague, W. R., Dowhower, S. L., Baker, S. A., Haile, N., DeLaune, P. B., & Conover, D. M. (2011). Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 141(3–4), 310-322. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009

Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps

2008 chapter in “Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration,” published by H. G. Schroder, finds in a comprehensive literature review that multi-paddock rotational grazing produces superior results for grassland ecology when compared to conventional continuous grazing. It also finds that misunderstandings exist in the management techniques needed to achieve these benefits and in the scientific protocols required to assess them. 

Teague, W. R., Provenza, F., Norton, B., Steffens, T., Barnes, M., Kothmann, M. M., & Roath, R. (2008). Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps. In H. G. Schroder (Ed.), Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration (pp. 41-80): Nova Science Publishers, NY. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285918973_Benefits_of_multi-paddock_grazing_management_on_rangelands_Limitations_of_experimental_grazing_research_and_knowledge_gaps

 

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