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‘Agroforestry’ May Be New Weapon in Climate Change Fight

Author: Jeff Mulhollem | Published: February 9, 2018

Agroforestry could play an important role in mitigating climate change because it sequesters more atmospheric carbon in plant parts and soil than conventional farming, report researchers.

An agricultural system that combines trees with crops and livestock on the same plot of land, agroforestry is especially popular in developing countries because it allows small shareholder farmers—who have little land available to them—to maximize their resources. They can plant vegetable and grain crops around trees that produce fruit, nuts, and wood for cooking fires, and the trees provide shade for animals that provide milk and meat.

The researchers analyzed data from 53 published studies around the world that tracked changes in soil organic carbon after land conversion from forest to crop cultivation and pasture-grassland to agroforestry. While forests sequester about 25 percent more carbon than any other land use, agroforestry, on average, stores markedly more carbon than agriculture.

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Changes in Soil Carbon Stocks Across the Forest-Agroforest-Agriculture/Pasture Continuum in Various Agroecological Regions: A Meta-Analysis

Authors: Nilovna Chatterjee, P.K.Ramachandran Nair, Saptarshi Chakraborty, and Vimala D.Nair | Published: November 1, 2018

The contribution of agroforestry systems (AFS) to enhance soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in soil layers due to the presence of deep tree roots are of interest in the context of promoting carbon sinks and greenhouse gas mitigation. To quantify the relative soil C contribution from trees in agroforestry systems (AFS), this study assessed the reported differences in SOC stocks under agroforestry systems in comparison with other land-use systems (Agriculture, Forestry, Pasture, or Uncultivated Land) in various soil-depth classes in four agroecological regions (arid and semiarid, ASA; lowland humid tropics, LHT; Mediterranean, MED; and temperate, TEM) around the world. Using mixed-effect models and a meta-analytical approach, we synthesized data from 78 peer-reviewed studies that generated 858 data points (sites) on SOC stock under various AFS practiced globally. Comparing Agroforest vs. Agriculture or Agroforest vs. Pasture, SOC stocks under AFS were higher by +27% in the ASA region, +26% in LHT, and +5.8% in TEM, but –5.3% in the TEM in the 0–100 cm soil depth.

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33 Ways the Regenerative Agriculture Movement Is Growing

Authors: Austin Badger, Taylor Herren and Betsy Taylor | Published: July 2018

Policy:

1) Australia’s Coalition Government is investing $450 million in a Regional Land
Partnership program and $134 million in Smart Farms program to improve soil health

2) The Government of Andhra Pradesh has launched a scale-out plan to transition 6
million farms/farmers to 100% chemical-free agriculture by 2024. The programme is a
contribution towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on ‘No Poverty’,
‘Clean Water and Sanitation’, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, and ‘Life on
Land’. It is led by Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS) – a not-for-profit established by the
Government to implement the ZBNF programme – and supported by the Sustainable
India Finance Facility (SIFF) – an innovative partnership between UN Environment,
BNP Paribas, and the World Agroforestry Centre.

3) The U.S. Climate Alliance in partnership with the Working Lands Initiative convened a
consortium of large land conservation, forestry, and agricultural organizations at a
“Learning Lab” in July. Over 50 technical experts across industry, academia, and
government worked together to draft guiding principles that state governments can use
to develop strategies, policies, and funding initiatives to draw down carbon from the
atmosphere and sequester it in the soils across farms, rangelands, forests, and
wetlands. Read More

4) A new bill will be brought before the UK parliament this year mandating, for the first
time, measures and targets to preserve and improve the health of the UK’s soils.

5) The Ministry of Primary Industries in New Zealand is ramping up its work to promote
healthy soils. See here

6) Zimbabwe has passed 3 recent policies related to climate and agriculture, focused
particularly on coping with less rainfall in the region.

7) Luca Montanarella with the European Commission shared this new organic production
and labelling of organic products regulation in the EU: The Regulation (EU) 2018/848 of
the European Parliament was passed on May 30, 2018

8) Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet recently introduced the Conservation for Very
Erodible Row Cropland Act of 2018 (COVER Act) to promote soil health practices in
conservation programs. The bill would incentivize and develop farm practices that
improve soil health, enhance farm resilience, and increase carbon storage, while
boosting farm incomes.

Practice:

9) Bringing Farmers Back to Nature: 70 countries gathered in Rome recently to discuss
how agroecology can create a healthy more sustainable food system. Countries around
the globe are already investing millions to make this change happen.

10) Soil Health Institute released a catalog of policies and a catalog on education that
advance soil health as part of a $9.4 million grant from the FFAR.

11) Silvopasture is gaining a lot of attention as a powerful way to integrate trees, agriculture and soil carbon sequestration. Chelsea Green Publishing just released a new book: A Guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Forage Crops, and Trees in a Temperate Farm Ecosystem.

12) There are many farming networks in the US and globally. Farmer peer to peer learning and field schools are often at the heart of changing practices. The Land Stewardship Project is working in conservative areas to support farmer networks and the Soil Builders program.

13) Holistic Management International provides training programs and support to farmers and ranchers working to build healthy soils. Check out their events and training
programs.

14) Danone is promoting regenerative agriculture through incentives and investment in
farmers. Learn more here.

Science:

15) One of the principles supporting healthy soils and SOC storage is diversification of our agricultural systems. A recent paper looked at plant diversity on the land. Ecosystem
management that maintains high levels of plant diversity can enhance SOC storage and
other ecosystem services that depend on plant diversity.

16) This is a grass-fed beef study that demonstrates soil carbon sequestration from grazing that completely offsets the greenhouse gas cost of beef (in the finishing stage).
Adaptive multi-paddock grazing can sequester large amounts of soil C.

17) A study has found that increased drought and wildfire risk make grasslands and
rangelands a more reliable carbon sink than trees in 21st century California. As such,
the study indicates they should be given opportunities in the state’s cap-and-and trade
market, which is designed to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40
percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

18) Rice is cultivated as a major crop in most Asian countries and its production is expected to increase to meet the demands of a growing population. This study looked at rice production and how to both reduce emissions and capture carbon in Bangladesh rice
paddies. It concluded that under integrated management, it is possible to increase
SOC stocks on average by 1.7% per year in rice paddies in Bangladesh, which is nearly
4 times the rate of change targeted by the “4 per mille” initiative arising from the Paris
Climate Agreement.

19) Klaus Lorenz and Rattan Lal of Ohio State have published a book on soil carbon
sequestration and agricultural systems. They attended the Paris carbon sequestration
conference in May 2017. “Carbon sequestration in Agricultural Ecosystems”

20) Whendee Silver of University California Berkeley wrote an interesting blog about
whether soil carbon sequestration can help cool the planet. This was written for a
general rather than scientific audience Can Soil Carbon Sequestration Affect Global
Temperatures?

21) The arid west of the United States is changing due to climate change. The Agricultural
Climate Network helps monitor and conduct research to share findings on how to help
farmers adapt.

Adaptation and Agriculture:

22) The Institute for Trade & Agriculture Policy released a new report about state policies
and plans in the United States to make agriculture more resilient in the face of climate
impacts.

Funding:

23) The Soil Carbon Coalition has a new prize for carbon farmers. The Soil Carbon
Challenge is an international (and localized) prize competition to see how fast land
managers can turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter. This coalition seeks to
“to advance the practice, and spread awareness of the opportunity, of turning
atmospheric carbon into living landscapes and soil carbon.”

Media Coverage​:

24) This article by Marcia Delonge of the Union of Concerned Scientists speaks to the link between regenerative agriculture and farm resilience.

25) Politico says regenerative agriculture is the next big thing.

Workshops and Conferences:

26) No Till on the Plains is attracting a huge audience to its summer and winter
conferences. Their next gathering to celebrate and learn about farm management
practices to build healthy soils will be in January.

27) Regeneration Midwest held a lively conference in Chicago to begin forming a 12 state
coalition promoting regenerative agriculture.

28) The FAO recently held workshops in Latin America with a focus on development and
strengthening of soil statistics and indicators for decision making and planning.

29) Healthy Soils Institute is holding a national conference on soils in November, 2018

30) Roots of Resilience will hold a grazing conference in March, 2019

31) The 5th Annual Conference on Plant and Soil Science will be held in London in
February, 2019.

Internships:

32) The RockGroup is offering 12 internships for students interested in regenerative
agriculture.

33) The Regeneration Academy offers internships in regenerative agriculture on a farm in Spain.

Scientists Find Grasslands Important as Carbon ‘Sinks’

Author: David Reese | Published: July 9, 2018

With five of California’s most destructive wildfire seasons happening since 2006, that state should include grasslands and not just forests as promising carbon sinks, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis.

The environmental scientists found that California grasslands are better at storing carbon from the atmosphere than fire-prone trees and forests, which have transitioned from carbon sinks (reserves) to carbon generators.

Forests have been a major way to store atmospheric carbon, but when they burn they become carbon generators, and years of wildfire suppression and drought have increased wildfire risks.

Grasslands have the capacity to be more drought- and fire-resilient than forests, and should be considered in California’s carbon cap-and-trade market, which was established in 2012, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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Can Organic Soil Help Mitigate Climate Change?

Author: Ana-Christina Gaeta | Published: May 2018

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

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

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Turning Desert to Fertile Farmland on the Loess Plateau

Soil is not just dirt but a living system with many important functions. Degraded soils impact on food production, erosion, and more, affecting the lives of people around the world. Restoration efforts in China, Zambia and other countries seek to reverse this trend.

Author: Richard Blaustein | Published: April 5, 2018

Around 3,000 years ago, farmers settled on the fertile Loess Plateau in western China, a region about the size of France. By the 7th century, the rich soils were feeding about one quarter of the Chinese population. But intense pressure on the land eroded the soil. By the 20th century, desertification had condemned the remaining population to poverty. “It was a desperate place,” says Juergen Voegele, an agricultural economist and engineer at the World Bank who first visited the region in the mid-1980s. But that would soon change.

Voegele returned in the 1990s to lead a major 12-year World Bank project to help restore dirt to healthy soils on a vast scale. “This was absolute desert. A few years later the whole thing came back,” he says. “We saw birds, butterflies, insects – the whole ecosystem began to recover. Even after hundreds of years of complete devastation, the seeds were still in the ground and things began to happen very quickly. We did not expect that.”

By 2009, and the programme’s end, approximately 920,000 hectares had been restored of the 65,000,000-hectare region in western China. But elsewhere in China and around the world, soils are still suffering.

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With New Carbon Farming Project, Boulder County Could Become Massive Greenhouse Gas Sponge

Author: Will Brendza | Published: April 12, 2018

The education room of the Boulder County Recycling Center filled up quickly for the Research Conservation Advisory Board meeting. People trickled in, shaking the wet spring snow from their jackets.

It was a mixed bag: city officials, scientific researchers, agriculturalists, local residents and environmental activists. This assorted crowd had convened to discuss phase I of Boulder County and the City of Boulder’s joint carbon sequestration pilot project — an initiative that could drive a new era of sustainability along Colorado’s Front Range.

Carbon sequestration, or “carbon farming,” is a process that draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in land-based systems; mitigating emissions and increasing soil fertility at the same time.

Interest in this agricultural practice is blossoming throughout the U.S. and many local farmers, land owners and land managers are already using carbon farming techniques. In places like Marin County, California, large-scale projects are already underway to amplify carbon sequestration among rangelands, farmlands and forests by assembling a consortium of independent agricultural institutions.

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Plant Diversity Enhances Productivity and Soil Carbon Storage

Author: Shiping Chen, et. al. | Published: April 16, 2018

Significance

Soil carbon sequestration plays an important role in mitigating anthropogenic increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Recent studies have shown that biodiversity increases soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in experimental grasslands. However, the effects of species diversity on SOC storage in natural ecosystems have rarely been studied, and the potential mechanisms are yet to be understood. The results presented here show that favorable climate conditions, particularly high precipitation, tend to increase both species richness and belowground biomass, which had a consistent positive effect on SOC storage in forests, shrublands, and grasslands. Nitrogen deposition and soil pH generally have a direct negative effect on SOC storage. Ecosystem management that maintains high levels of plant diversity can enhance SOC storage and other ecosystem services that depend on plant diversity.

Abstract

Despite evidence from experimental grasslands that plant diversity increases biomass production and soil organic carbon (SOC) storage, it remains unclear whether this is true in natural ecosystems, especially under climatic variations and human disturbances. Based on field observations from 6,098 forest, shrubland, and grassland sites across China and predictions from an integrative model combining multiple theories, we systematically examined the direct effects of climate, soils, and human impacts on SOC storage versus the indirect effects mediated by species richness (SR), aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and belowground biomass (BB). We found that favorable climates (high temperature and precipitation) had a consistent negative effect on SOC storage in forests and shrublands, but not in grasslands. Climate favorability, particularly high precipitation, was associated with both higher SR and higher BB, which had consistent positive effects on SOC storage, thus offsetting the direct negative effect of favorable climate on SOC. The indirect effects of climate on SOC storage depended on the relationships of SR with ANPP and BB, which were consistently positive in all biome types. In addition, human disturbance and soil pH had both direct and indirect effects on SOC storage, with the indirect effects mediated by changes in SR, ANPP, and BB. High soil pH had a consistently negative effect on SOC storage. Our findings have important implications for improving global carbon cycling models and ecosystem management: Maintaining high levels of diversity can enhance soil carbon sequestration and help sustain the benefits of plant diversity and productivity.

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

Author: Georgina Gustin | Published: February 20, 2018

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

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

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

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Supporting Local Ag Could Fight Climate Change

Author: Kelly Lively | Published: March 21, 2018

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry, making it a major contributor to the state’s economy. Agriculture also contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly 25 percent according the USDA. Include storage and transportation and agriculture could account for nearly a third.

Agriculture is also directly affected by global warming. Local farmers used to call total fruit crop loss a “once in a lifetime” event. When total loss happened in 2002, a new generation of Michigan farmers chalked it up to be their once-in-a-lifetime event. However, 2012 delivered a second blow when unseasonably warm weather set tree buds that were again killed by a late frost. It doesn’t take much to figure out that two such events in 10 years can no longer be described as “once in a lifetime.” Severe weather has diminished crop yields to varying degrees in subsequent years as well. Extreme weather makes farm life difficult: soggy springs, summer droughts and hailstorms. Climate change increases the likelihood and severity of these events and threatens food system stability.

Thankfully, agriculture can also be a major part of the solution. Eliminating emissions alone won’t get us out of this mess. Sequestering carbon from the atmosphere is also necessary — and healthy soils can capture a lot! Transitioning to regenerative practices needs to be the norm. One effective method is intensive rotational grazing, which builds soil and produces high quality protein from animals humanely raised on pasture, feeding off the sun’s energy. Combine this with no-till farming, cover cropping and proper crop rotation and we move toward carbon neutrality, because healthy soil sequesters carbon. Some models suggest that agricultural lands have the capacity to store as much carbon as the equivalent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, or 36 gigatons. Presently the earth’s farmland only stores 1/1000 of that, or .03 gigatons. Healthy soil has other benefits. It protects against flooding by absorbing more water, which in turn increases drought resistance. By reducing the need for fertilizer and growing disease and insect resistant plants, healthy soil not only produces healthy food, it supports a healthy ecosystem — a win for us all.

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