Posts

Farmers Sequestering Carbon for Better Soil Health

Author: Brian Todd | Published: October 23, 2017

Where do you keep your carbon?

If you’re Jon Luhman, you’re trying to sock some away in the ground. Preferably for a rainy day.

Luhman and his son, Jared Luhman, raise beef cows, black beans and corn, plus forage for the cattle — all of it organic — on a little more than 700 acres at Dry Creek Red Angus farm, northwest of Goodhue.

In the process, Luhman is putting carbon back into the soil, a process he said helps his farm in a multitude of ways.

“The number one reason is for fertility,” he said. “Its a big benefit for production. It absorbs more moisture. So there’s more water infiltration, more organic matter and less tillage.”

In fact, a pound of organic matter — which consists of 58 percent carbon — can hold as much as six pounds of water in the soil, according to University of Minnesota Extension. In sandy soil, organic matter and the water it holds can make the difference between a successful crop and crop failure in a dry year.

All of this, he said, leads to his motto: “Leave the soil in a better state than when we started.”

Promoting benefits

That’s the message Shona Snater said she hopes other farmers hear when they attend field days organized by the Land Stewardship Project. Snater, a member of the LSP’s soil health team, said that while the benefits of adding carbon to the soil — essentially a form of carbon sequestration — has a positive effect in the battle against climate change, it is important to let farmers understand the economic and agricultural benefits of the practice.

 

“We want to promote the positive benefits,” she said. “Maybe not just for climate change, but for their own profitability.”

KEEP READING ON THE POST-BULLETIN

Farmers Can Extract and Store Carbon. Rep. John Faso Is Ready to Help.

Author: Mary Dixon | Published: October 2, 2017

The path to passing a nationwide Carbon Fee and Dividend requires building connections, sharing knowledge, and celebrating small wins along the way. Most of all, it requires listening. The recent achievements of our Columbia County, N.Y. chapter are a prime example of this strategy at work.

Small-scale farmers abound in rural Columbia County. In January, the area’s CCL chapter hosted an event to educate community members on the potential of carbon farming practices to offset the effects of climate change, bringing together scientists, growers and experts in land management. The gathering also caught the attention of political leaders, including U.S. Representative John Faso, who represents New York’s 19th Congressional District and sits on the House Agriculture Committee. He’s also a member of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus.

As a follow-up to this event, CCL representatives invited Rep. Faso to visit a farm in his district to learn more about carbon farming and hear from his constituents. Faso said yes, and the Congressman, along with the CCL chapter’s Agriculture Liaison Jan Storm, paid a visit to the nearby Stone House Farm.

Stone House Farm is a living model of the many benefits of regenerative agriculture. The farm’s key practices—including tillage reduction, cover crops, companion planting, crop rotation, planned grazing and keyline plowing—improve soil quality, making it more resilient to climate conditions like flooding and drought and less susceptible to erosion. These practices also increase soil’s organic matter. Soils with more organic matter require less fertilizer, which in turn means less runoff into waterways and greater profitability for farmers. Perhaps most important of all, managing farms this way actually draws carbon out of the atmosphere. If all cropland in the U.S. was farmed using regenerative practices, the GHG reduction would be equivalent to eliminating nearly 90 percent of our country’s cars.

Generating support for regenerative farming

Rep. Faso was impressed by Stone House Farm’s success. Now, he’s hoping to share what he’s learned with others in Congress. He has called for incentives for carbon sequestration farming programs and asked for CCL’s help in identifying farms across the country practicing regenerative agriculture, particularly those in districts with a representative on the House Agriculture Committee.

That’s a big win—and it’s not the only way that support for sustainable agriculture is growing in upstate New York. In February, State Assemblywoman Didi Barrett introduced legislation to offer tax credits for carbon farming. While other states have established programs to help farmers respond to climate change, Barrett’s proposed credit would be the first to give tax breaks to farmers who use regenerative, climate-mitigating techniques.

KEEP READING ON CITIZENS’ CLIMATE LOBBY

Regreening the Planet Could Cut as Much Carbon as Halting Oil Use – Report

Natural solutions such as tree planting, protecting peatlands and better land management could account for 37% of all cuts needed by 2030, says study

Author: Reuters | Published: October 17, 2017

Planting forests and other activities that harness the power of nature could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris agreement, an international study showed on Monday.

Natural climate solutions, also including protection of carbon-storing peatlands and better management of soils and grasslands, could account for 37% of all actions needed by 2030 under the 195-nation Paris plan, it said.

Combined, the suggested “regreening of the planet” would be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide, it said.

“Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” the international team of scientists said of findings published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 
The estimates for nature’s potential, led by planting forests, were up to 30% higher than those envisaged by a UN panel of climate scientists in a 2014 report, it said.

Trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. That makes forests, from the Amazon to Siberia, vast natural stores of greenhouse gases.

Overall, better management of nature could avert 11.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, the study said, equivalent to China’s current carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.

The Paris climate agreement, weakened by US president Donald Trump’s decision in June to pull out, seeks to limit a rise in global temperature to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times.

Current government pledges to cut emissions are too weak to achieve the 2C goal, meant to avert more droughts, more powerful storms, downpours and heat waves.

 

“Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a statement of Monday’s findings.

KEEP READING ON THE GUARDIAN

First Steps Toward Building a Regeneration Movement in Your Local Community

The paradigm shift from degenerative food, farming and land-use practices toward regenerative practices—those that regenerate soil, biodiversity, health, local economies and climate stability—is arguably the most critical transformation occurring throughout the world today.

Regeneration practices, scaled up globally on billions of acres of farmland, pasture and forest, have the potential to not only mitigate, but also to reverse global warming. At the same time, these practices provide solutions to other burning issues such as poverty, deteriorating public health, environmental degradation and global conflict.

The promise of regeneration lies in its ability to increase plant photosynthesis on a large scale. Plant photosynthesis, which draws down CO2 from the atmosphere and releases oxygen, transfers carbon into the plant roots and soil. Fundamental changes in farming, grazing and land use practices across billions of acres of land, as well as the shift to 100- percent renewable energy, has the potential to draw down enough CO2 from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests to reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate.

As this great drawdown and re-carbonization of the soil and biota occurs, civilization will reap a wide range of other benefits. These include increased soil fertility, increased soil moisture (rainfall retention), the return of regular rainfall and weather patterns, increased food production, nutrient-rich food, enhanced biodiversity, rural and urban economic development and millions of new “green” jobs.

The biggest obstacle we face in scaling regenerative agriculture is educating the public on a global scale. Only a small percentage of citizens, farmers, scientists and policymakers understand the benefits of regenerative food and farming. Some haven’t even heard the term. Therefore, our initial task is to educate folks on the message of regeneration. From there, we can organize core groups, coalitions, pilot projects and policy reforms in every town, city, state and nation.

The following action plan is designed to jumpstart an educational campaign on regenerative food, farming and land-use.

Step 1. Learn the basic principles of regenerative food, farming and land-use.

 Learn how to explain regenerative food, farming and land use as a solution to climate change, global food insecurity, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, public health and more. Be sure to avoid the “doom and gloom” climate change talk, and instead focus on the solution: regeneration.

Once you understand the principles of regenerative food, farming and land use, get excited! Your inspiration will inspire others to join the cause. Over time, you’ll improve your outreach and your ability to recruit others. A good place to start is to engage in conversations with people you already know, and who are concerned about the crises we currently face.

Avoid those closed off to the concept of regeneration. Focus instead on people who are open minded and interested in solutions. You’ll know you’re ready to spread the message of regeneration on a larger scale once you’ve inspired those closest to you, i.e. friends, family members, co-workers.

For more information on regeneration, visit http://regenerationinternational.org.

For the latest research on regenerative agriculture, visit http://regenerationinternational.org/annotated-bibliography/

For trending news on regenerative agriculture, visit http://regenerationinternational.org/news/

Step 2. Develop a core group of 4-5 regenerators. Then join or create your local “Regenerate” Facebook group

 Candidates for these groups include but aren’t limited to local food, climate, farm and political activists; environmentalists; local church members; students; teachers; gardeners; and artists.

Plan a potluck or study group to build your core group’s understanding of our most pressing issues and brainstorm ways to grow your mission. Ask your members to join a local “Regenerate” Facebook group. Or create one if there isn’t an existing group in your area. Click here to find your local “Regenerate” group: http://orgcns.org/2wF6Yn2

You may also register as an affiliate of Regeneration International here: http://regenerationinternational.org/join-us

Step 3. Get familiar with the Global 4/1000 Initiative on Soils and Food Security.

 The 4/1000 initiative is the only global local-to-national climate strategy to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere as a means of reversing climate change.

Think of the 4/1000 initiative as sort of a Global Declaration of Interdependence, an acknowledgement and a pledge, from people all over the world, to commit to a plan to regenerate our planet.

Activists in dozens of countries worldwide are now using the 4/1000 initiative as an outreach tool for recruiting individuals and organizations to join the regeneration movement. Our hope is that these coalitions will lobby representatives at the city, county, state, national and international levels to pass resolutions supportive of the 4/1000 initiative.

Regeneration International’s goal is to get 50,000 community-based organizations and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to sign on to the 4/1000 Initiative by 2020, ultimately inspiring a global grassroots movement.

Step 4. Develop a plan of action for reaching the masses.

 For the regeneration movement to take root, individuals and groups will need to understand the importance of connecting the dots between what they or their organizations are already working on, and the global campaign to regenerate the Earth’s natural systems, including climate, and soil and water cycles—and ultimately the health of the planet and all who inhabit it.

Target groups include: food, environmental, farm, climate, peace, immigration and faith-based groups, as well as students and others with an open mind and interest in regeneration.

How will you reach out to these groups? How will you identify people within the groups who are receptive to regeneration as an over-arching solution to multiple crises? Suggestions include attending their meetings, listening to their concerns, then finding an opening to introduce the concept of regeneration. Some groups like to have speakers/presentations at their meetings—can you get on the schedule? Or maybe invite a few people from multiple groups to a separate gathering, to discuss their work, and how it fits in with the regeneration movement?

Step 5. Contact Regeneration International to learn how to arrange regional and national meetings.

 Once your core group has educated other groups and individuals in your area, built a critical mass of organizations signed on to the 4/1000 initiative, and begun lobbying local representatives to pass 4/1000 resolutions, contact Regeneration International info@regenerationinternational.org to learn how to arrange regional and national meetings to spread the message of regeneration even more widely.

Regeneration International can also provide resources for promoting and scaling regenerative plot projects http://www.regenerationhub.co/en/ and best practices for your region.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and member of the Regeneration International steering committee.

How Treating Dirt Well Could Fight Climate Change

Author: Rob Jordan-Stanford | Published: October 9, 2017

With the right management, soil could “significantly” offset increasing global emissions by  trapping carbon dioxide.

In two overlapping papers, researchers call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about soil’s benefits and emphasize the need for more research into how—if managed well—it could mitigate a rapidly changing climate.

“Dirt is not exciting to most people,” says Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, lead author of the first paper in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics article, and coauthor of the second paper in Global Change Biology paper. “But it is a no-risk climate solution with big co-benefits. Fostering soil health protects food security and builds resilience to droughts, floods and urbanization.”

Risks and promise

Organic matter in soil, such as decomposing plant and animal residues, stores more carbon than do plants and the atmosphere combined. Unfortunately, the carbon in soil has been widely lost or degraded through land use changes and unsustainable forest and agricultural practices, fires, nitrogen deposition, and other human activities. The greatest near-term threat comes from thawing permafrost in Earth’s northern reaches, which could release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Despite these risks, there is also great promise, according to Jackson and Jennifer Harden, a visiting scholar in Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and lead author of the Global Change Biology paper.

Improving how the land is managed could increase soil’s carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost, the researchers find. Among the possible approaches: reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage, and compost application. Planting more perennial crops, instead of annuals, could store more carbon and reduce erosion by allowing roots to reach deeper into the ground.

KEEP READING ON FUTURITY

How the Food Industry Can Help Reverse Climate Change

Author: Katy Askew | Published: July 25, 2017 

According to the latest data from the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA), average global temperatures in March were 1.05°C higher than when records began in 1880. Scientific consensus – which is reflected in the Paris Climate Accord – places the ‘point of no return’, when global warming reaches dangerous levels, at 2°C. 

The climate clock is ticking.

Estimates vary as to how long we have left to stabilise warming below this level. The Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) calculates this time based on the premise that we can emit a maximum of 760 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere between now and 2100. At present, we are emitting 40 gigatons of CO2 each year. That’s 1,268 tons per second. At current rates, we have a little over 18 years before our carbon budget is spent, the MCC says. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests if humans carry on with a “business as usual” approach, the Earth’s average temperature will rise by between 2.6°C and 4.8°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

For some climate scientists, however, this estimate could be optimistic. A 2016 paper published in Scientific Advances, under lead author Tobias Friedrich of the of the University of Hawaii, argues temperature rises due to greenhouse gas emissions are “strongly dependent on the climate background state”, with “significantly larger values attained during warm phases”. 

In other words, the hotter it gets, the quicker the temperature is likely to rise. According to this paradigm, at current emission levels, the average global temperature could rise by between 4.78°C and 7.36°C by 2100. 

The food industry is particularly vulnerable to climate change. As the World Food Programme and Met Office food insecurity map shows, areas in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are already vulnerable to food insecurity and global warming brought about by rising emissions that are set to deepen the problems faced in these regions. 

“Changes in climatic conditions have already affected the production of some staple crops, and future climate change threatens to exacerbate this. Higher temperatures will have an impact on yields while changes in rainfall could affect both crop quality and quantity,” the WFP warns. 

The integrated global nature of the food industry supply chain – which is reliant on crops such as cocoa and coffee, as well as coconut and palm oil, that are internationally sourced – mean large-scale food manufacturers in Europe and North America, where the WFP says food insecurity is negligible, are far from immune to the negative consequences of global warming.

The food industry and Scope 3 emissions

The food industry is also one of the largest carbon emitters. For instance, if both direct and indirect emissions are taken into account, over 30% of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the food and drink sector, environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth notes. 

Andrew Nobrega, the North American investment director at France-based PUR Projet, which looks to help companies regenerate and protect ecosystems, that the food sector is already taking action to address emissions, from investments in renewables to carbon offsetting. 

Speaking during a Climate Collaborative event in May, Nobrega notes: “Many organisations attempt to both value and address Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions within their supply chain.” These emissions include those directly from production, such as efforts to lower energy use, and indirect emissions such as transportation. “There is an opportunity to look a little bit further and look at Scope 3 emissions,” Nobrega says. 

Scope 3 emissions include those produced by raw material processing and production and, Nobrega says, these account for 40-50% of a product’s total emissions. 

PUR Projet specialises in providing supply chain management for corporations that reflect “positive carbon actions and the need to cut deforestation in commodity sourcing” and it operates projects in Latin America and other tropical forested regions.  

To address Scope 3 emissions directly, investment can be targeted at the farm level to promote ecosystems and biodiversity, stabilise yields, reduce costs for the farmers and provide alternative income opportunities and help to adapt to climate change and reduce pressure on their systems, Nobrega suggests. Ecosystem restoration can be achieved through agroforestry practices, such as insetting trees, rotating crop cycles and utilising non-chemical fertilisation methods. 

“We are taking a unit of climate mitigation and we are seeking to address climate smart agriculture and the regeneration of forests in some cases but also decreasing deforestation in the first place,” Nobrega explains. 

“Agroforestry itself is a carbon sequestration measure… and by the provision of sustainable timber and mitigating loss of yields you actually reduce the need for these farmers to go further into existing forested lands to degrade either for more agricultural land, illegal timber harvesting or something of that nature. So you are both engaging climate action on the parcel level and reducing the need for degradation outside of the parcel.”

Preventing deforestation has been flagged as a priority by global chocolate giants, companies reliant on cocoa. Earlier this year, companies including Nestle, Mondelez International, Hershey, Ferrero and Mars announced plans to work together to “end deforestation and forest degradation in the global cocoa supply chain”.  

The joint initiative, which also has the backing of NGOs and other stakeholders, will move to “develop and present a joint public-private framework of action to address deforestation” at the COP 23 UN climate change talks in Bonn in November. It will initially focus on Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s leading producers of cocoa, where the farming of the commodity is a driving force behind rapid rates of deforestation.

Regenerative agriculture

While addressing deforestation helps to cut Scope 3 emissions for some products, climate smart agriculture can also help to take carbon from the atmosphere and put it back in the ground through photosynthesis. 

For this to work, you have to start with healthy soil, Tim LaSalle of California State University and Chico State, told an event focused on climate change running alongside the Natural Products Expo West food industry trade show in California earlier this year. 

KEEP READING ON JUST-FOOD

Carbon Farming & Cutting Food Waste: Climate Solutions That Don’t Require Trump’s Buy-in

Author: Twilight Greenaway | Published: June 5, 2017 

Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate has many wringing their hands. But Paul Hawken doesn’t have time for despair. In fact, the veteran author and entrepreneur has spent the last several years working with a team of scientists and policy experts to map and quantify a set of climate solutions he says have the power to draw down the carbon in the atmosphere and radically alter our climate future. And he’s confident that many of these efforts will continue to take place with or without government buy-in.

Hawken’s new book, Drawdown, illuminates 100 of the most effective of these solutions and points to food and agriculture as hugely important when it comes to both sequestering current greenhouse gases and releasing fewer of them in the first place. From composting and clean cookstoves to managed grazing and multistrata agroforestry, Drawdown makes a compelling case for radically changing the way we eat, farm, and tend to the land. Civil Eats spoke to Hawken about the book, the surprising role food has come to play among climate optimists, and his advice on how to keep our eyes open while imagining the future of our planet.

Can you tell us about what you wanted to do with this book and how food plays a role in the picture it paints?

We mapped, measured, and modeled the most substantive solutions to reversing global warming. We didn’t have a horse in the race. We may have biases, I’m sure we do, but our process and methodology was to eliminate bias and just to look at [the solutions] from the point of peer-reviewed science in terms of the carbon impact.

There are only two things you can do really with respect to the atmosphere, which is to stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and then bring them back home. There’s nothing else. Some solutions—like land use solutions—do both.

We didn’t go into it knowing what would be the biggest sector. Or even what would be the top five or 10. We went in very open-ended and it turns out food is eight of the top 20 suggestions.

You ranked the solutions in terms of potential impact. Number three is reduced food waste and number four is the shift to “a plant-rich diet.” Why then, do you think food and ag are so rarely a part in the mainstream conversation about climate change?

My guess as to why food and land-use solutions have been marginalized and even ignored is because of the way solutions have been approached by climate scientists. Estimates vary, but at least 65 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are due to combustion of fossil fuels, so it is easy to come to the conclusion that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is the biggest solution.

One of the reasons reducing food waste ranks high is because most of the food that is discarded ends up in landfills where it is buried in an anaerobic environment causing methane emissions, which are 34 times more potent in their greenhouse warming potential compared to CO2. A plant-rich diet reduces the consumption of animal protein, and the production of meat—whether grass fed or in CAFOs—is also a very significant source of methane.

And finally, there is agriculture itself, another source of significant emissions as practiced by conventional and industrial agriculture. Tillage removes carbon, mineral fertilizers create another potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, glyphosate sterilizes soil life creating emissions, monocultures expose the soil to sun and heat, an emission cause, etc.

When you change these three practices, and cultivate types of sustainable food production techniques, like system of rice intensification and agroforestry, it turns out that food has a greater potential to help reverse global warming than the energy sector. That’s also due to the fact that land use can sequester carbon, whereas renewable energy simply avoids carbon emissions.

However, your question stands. Why did we not look at this more closely sooner? That is a mystery at Project Drawdown. These data, math, and conclusions detailed in Drawdown could have been calculated and disseminated a long time ago. The science these calculations are based on has been known for a long time.

Food is seen as inherently personal. Do you think the urgency about the climate has the potential to get more people thinking about food on a systems level?

I tend to think of food as more cultural than personal. In the U.S., subsidies have allowed people the ability to eat large quantities of expensive foods, like milk and meat. In most countries, the true cost of these items limits the stroke and heart-disease outcomes we have in the U.S. I believe people move toward healthier food because of their own needs and understandings, not because of the climate impact.

What we see in our research is that regenerative practices (in many areas besides food) are increasing because they work better, are less expensive, create greater productivity, can be locally sourced, create meaningful jobs, enhance human health, engender community, and much more. In other words, making choices that are better for your body, the soil, workers, your children, and your community are almost invariably practices that reverse global warming.

Let’s talk about the term “regenerative.” I’ve heard from several folks in the organic community who worry that another label will confuse consumers. Why did you choose to highlight regenerative agriculture vs. organic? 

KEEP READING ON CIVIL EATS 

California Today: To Fight Climate Change, Heal the Ground

Author: Mike McPhate | Published: May 30, 2017 

The climate change fight has focused largely on cutting emissions.

But California is now considering another solution: dirt.

Whereas an overabundance of carbon in the air has been disrupting our climate, plants are hungry for the stuff.

The Central Valley’s farmlands essentially operate as a vast lung, breathing in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and converting it into plant tissues. That results in less of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere.

But the healthier the soil, the more carbon is stored in plants.

Enter California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, a statewide program rolling out this summer that is the first of its kind in the country.

“I think there’s a growing recognition that the soil beneath our feet has huge potential to sequester carbon,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture.

More than a quarter of California’s landmass is used for agriculture. Over generations, farming practices like monocropping and tillage have reduced the amount of organic matter in the soil, affecting plant growth. Some of that organic matter, which contains carbon, needs to be put back.

KEEP READING ON THE NEW YORK TIMES 

A Climate Change Solution Beneath Our Feet

Author: UC Davis | Published: May 17, 2017 

When we think of climate change solutions, what typically comes to mind is the transportation we use, the lights in our home, the buildings we power and the food we eat. Rarely do we think about the ground beneath our feet.

Kate Scow thinks a lot about the ground, or, more precisely, the soil. She’s been digging into the science of how healthy soils can not only create productive farmlands, but also store carbon in the ground, where it belongs, rather than in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Looking across the landscape on a spring day at Russell Ranch Sustainable Agricultural Facility, most people would simply see a flat, mostly barren field. But Scow—a microbial ecologist and director of this experimental farm at the University of California, Davis—sees a living being brimming with potential. The soil beneath this field doesn’t just hold living things—it is itself alive.

Scow likens soil to the human body with its own system of “organs” working together for its overall health. And, like us, it needs good food, water and care to live up to its full potential.

Solutions beneath our feet

Farmers and gardeners have long sung the praises of soil. For the rest of us, it’s practically invisible. But a greater awareness of soil’s ability to sequester carbon and act as a defense against climate change is earning new attention and admiration for a resource most of us treat like dirt.

Soil can potentially store between 1.5 and 5.5 billion tons of carbon a year globally. That’s equivalent to between 5 and 20 billion tons of carbon dioxide. While significant, that’s still just a fraction of the 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted every year from burning fossil fuels.

Soil is just one of many solutions needed to confront climate change.

But the nice thing about healthy soils, Scow said, is that creating them not only helps fight climate change—it also brings multiple benefits for agricultural, human and environmental health.

“With soil, there’s so much going on that is so close to us, that’s so interesting and multifaceted, that affects our lives in so many ways—and it’s just lying there beneath our feet,” she said.

Subterranean secrets 

Underground, an invisible ecosystem of bugs, or microorganisms, awaits. In fact, there are more microbes in one teaspoon of soil than there are humans on Earth. Many of them lie dormant, just waiting to be properly fed and watered.

A well-fed army of microbes can go to work strengthening the soil so it can grow more food, hold more water, break down pollutants, prevent erosion and, yes, sequester carbon.

“I love the word ‘sequestration,’” said Scow, who thinks the word is reminiscent of secrecy, tombs and encryption. “Soil is filled with microbes who are waiting it out. The conditions may not be right for them—it’s too dry or too wet, or they don’t have the right things to eat. They’re sequestered. They’re entombed. But if the right conditions come, they will emerge. They will bloom, and they will flourish.”

KEEP READING ON THE WASHINGTON POST 

Make Our Soil Great Again

Author: David R. Montgomery | Published: April 14, 2017 

Most of us don’t think much about soil, let alone its health. But as Earth Day approaches, it’s time to recommend some skin care for Mother Nature. Restoring soil fertility is one of humanity’s best options for making progress on three daunting challenges: Feeding everyone, weathering climate change and conserving biodiversity.

Widespread mechanization and adoption of chemical fertilizers and pesticides revolutionized agriculture. But it took a hidden toll on the soil. Farmers around the world have already degraded and abandoned one-third of the world’s cropland. In the United States, our soils have already lost about half of the organic matter content that helped make them fertile.

What is at stake if we don’t reverse this trend? Impoverished trouble spots like Syria, Libya and Iraq are among the societies living with a legacy of degraded soil. And if the world keeps losing productive farmland, it will only make it harder to feed a growing global population.

But it is possible to restore soil fertility, as I learned traveling the world to meet farmers who had adopted regenerative practices on large commercial and small subsistence farms while researching my new book, Growing A Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life. From Pennsylvania to the Dakotas and from Africa to Latin America, I saw compelling evidence of how a new way of farming can restore health to the soil, and do so remarkably fast.

These farmers adopted practices that cultivate beneficial soil life. They stopped plowing and minimized ground disturbance. They planted cover crops, especially legumes, as well as commercial crops. And they didn’t just plant the same thing over and over again. Instead they planted a greater diversity of crops in more complex rotations. Combining these techniques cultivates a diversity of beneficial microbial and soil life that enhances nutrient cycling, increases soil organic matter, and improves soil structure and thereby reduces erosive runoff.

Farmers who implemented all three techniques began regenerating fertile soil and after several years ended up with more money in their pocket. Crop yields and soil organic matter increased while their fuel, fertilizer, and pesticide use fell. Their fields consistently had more pollinators — butterflies and bees — than neighboring conventional farms. Using less insecticide and retaining native plants around their fields translated into more predatory species that managed insect pests.

Innovative ranchers likewise showed me methods that left their soil better off. Cows on their farms grazed the way buffalo once did, concentrating in a small area for a short period followed by a long recovery time. This pattern stimulates plants to push sugary substances out of their roots. And this feeds soil life that in return provides the plants with things like growth-promoting hormones and mineral nutrients. Letting cows graze also builds soil organic matter by dispersing manure across the land, rather than concentrating it in feedlot sewage lagoons.

KEEP READING ON THE CONVERSATION