If you follow our Facebook page you will have recently seen the image below. It was shared many times and sparked a lot of questions and debate so we thought it would be a good topic to cover here in a bit more detail.
Soil holds carbon. Soil hold a whole lot of carbon. Other than the oceans and fossil fuel deposits, soil is the largest reservoir of carbon on the planet. “What about the atmosphere?”, you might ask. Well, soil holds more than double the amount of carbon in our atmosphere and vegetation combined. In fact, the dark color of rich fertile soil is due to the presence of organic carbon compounds. Sadly, over that last several centuries our soils have been degraded and eroded by short sighted agricultural processes. Not only has this released a great deal of carbon from soils but also reduced it’s capacity to store it.
The good news is that we can fix this issue and, among other benefits, remove excess carbon from our atmosphere and actually sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions . The answers is adopting soil restorative agriculture techniques and then relying on a natural process you learned about in primary school: photosynthesis. Thats right, simply plants converting carbon in the air into organic molecules exuded by roots to feed hungry microbes underground.
Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University, refers to soil restoration as “low hanging fruit” and says it can serve as a “bridge” to climate safety during the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy. Further, the Rodale Institute has demonstrated that regenerative organic farming could actually capture carbon dioxide in quantities exceeding global emissions. So lets get down to the nuts and bolts of this shall we.
What Are Restorative Agriculture Techniques?
“Restorative Agriculture Techniques” or “Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change (Remember, don’t say climate change!) by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon draw down and sequestration. They include:
- No-till/minimum tillage. Tillage breaks up (pulverizes) soil aggregation and fungal communities while adding excess O2 to the soil for increased respiration and CO2 emission. It can be one of the most degrading agricultural practices, greatly increasing soil erosion and carbon loss. A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces for percolation creating much more water runoff and soil loss. Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, in conjunction with other regenerative practices, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. However, some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans, which can increase root zones and yields and have the capacity to increase soil health and carbon sequestration. Certain low level chiseling may have similar positive effects.
- Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures, which restore the plant/soil microbiome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients. Artificial and synthetic fertilizers have created imbalances in the structure and function of microbial communities in soils, bypassing the natural biological acquisition of nutrients for the plants, creating a dependent agroecosystem and weaker, less resilient plants. Research has observed that application of synthetic and artificial fertilizers contribute to climate change through (i) the energy costs of production and transportation of the fertilizers, (ii) chemical breakdown and migration into water resources and the atmosphere; (iii) the distortion of soil microbial communities including the diminution of soil methanothrops, and (iv) the accelerated decomposition of soil organic matter.
- Building biological ecosystem diversity begins with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population, structure and functionality restoring soil system energy (compounds as exudates) through full-time planting of multiple crop intercrop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects. This can include the highly successful push-pull systems. It is critical to change synthetic nutrient dependent monocultures, low-biodiversity and soil degrading practices.
- Well-managed grazing practices stimulate improved plant growth, increased soil carbon deposits, and overall pasture and grazing land productivity while greatly increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration. These practices not only improve ecological health, but also the health of the animal and human consumer through improved micro-nutrients availability and better dietary omega balances. Feed lots and confined animal feeding systems contribute dramatically to (i) unhealthy monoculture production systems, (ii) low nutrient density forage (iii) increased water pollution, (iv) antibiotic usage and resistance, and (v) CO2 and methane emissions, all of which together yield broken and ecosystem-degrading food-production systems.
If you would like to learn more I recommend checking out this Rosdale Institute’s white paper. I found The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier to be very informative and am very excited about the upcoming book Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming by Frank Holzman. And the go plant something!