Carbon Farming: A new trend in sustainable agriculture
Around the world, people are engaged in the heated fight against climate change as the situation becomes more dire with each day. The troublesome reality is that our agricultural system is responsible for much of this environmental damage, contributing to an estimated one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Marin Carbon Project.
But this problem can be solved with the very antagonist of the issue itself with the help of a new trend in sustainable agriculture. Carbon farming works to increase the amount of carbon captured by plants and soil, reducing the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere by agriculture. HowGood believes that carbon farming has the potential to reverse climate change for good, and we just had to fill you in on this regenerative movement.
Get to know carbon
Carbon is the most fundamental element of life on the planet. Floating in the air around us, releasing as we exhale, and making up the structure of every life form, carbon is everywhere. Much of carbon is held in the living biosphere, and when units of this biosphere die, they decompose and release their carbon into the atmosphere. That carbon has many impacts on our globe, the big one being climate change!
Over the past 500 years, humans have wiped out many living things by cutting down trees, tilling the soil, and burning fossil fuels, leading to an overaccumulation of carbon in the atmosphere. In countries with high levels of industry, CO2 is produced at even more inflated levels, increasing climate change at rapid rates. But that doesn’t mean small, isolated countries are safe from the effects of larger developed nations. CO2 can move great distances at rapid speeds, penetrating all corners of the earth. A breath you exhaled last week could have already traveled across the entire northern hemisphere! Check out NASA’s video for how CO2 travels around the globe!
As CO2 has reached surplus levels in the atmosphere, temperatures and sea levels are rising, extreme weather is becoming more frequent, plant and animal populations are being threatened, and the very farms causing the damage are experiencing lower crop yields. Demand for greater quantity and variety of products from our food system is only growing and the CO2 produced from it is rising in tandem, making climate chaos the largest problem facing humanity with no signs of slowing down. According to the Carbon Underground, CO2 levels should be maintained at about 350PPM (parts per million) for the preservation of natural processes and human life, but levels are currently at 400PPM and are rapidly increasing. If you want to keep up to date on our planet’s emissions, head over to CO2.Earth for a daily tracker of our rising CO2 levels.
Agriculture doesn’t have to only be the problem, it can also be the solution! If we can increase the amount of carbon captured within agriculture, the Rodale Institute estimates that we could sequester over 100% of CO2 emissions, eclipsing carbon loses and reversing climate change. Carbon is removed from the atmosphere for the growth of plant structure and development of soil organic matter (decomposing leaves and grass, worms, ants, fungi, bacteria, etc), so the ingredients for solving climate change are right in front of us!
Not only is carbon good for our environment, but increasing carbon in the soil can actually improve crop yields, soil health, and profits for farmers! Implementing these techniques increases the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of soil and grows healthier plants that are more resilient to pests and diseases. It’s a win-win! Check out some of the many methods of carbon farming below:
1. Composting: When plants, animals, or manure are composted through slow, controlled aerobic decomposition, soil health and biodiversity are greatly improved and the need for synthetic fertilizer is eliminated (organic farmers have been doing it for years!). Even better news, with healthy soil, plant root growth is bolstered, and carbon is sequestered when the plant grows. According to the Rodale Institute, fields that implemented composted dairy manure sequestered more than one metric ton of carbon per acre per year.
2. Cover crops: After primary cash crops are harvested, cover crops can be planted. These are not grown for profit, but instead will capture carbon from the atmosphere when they grow and add carbon to the soil when they decompose.
3. Conservation tillage: Tilling is one of the most damaging practices that can be done to the soil. All of the creatures that live in the soil are killed in the tilling process, sending carbon up into the atmosphere. Eliminating tilling or reducing the depth of tilling reduces this carbon loss. Organic no-till farming is the best option in this realm; however conventional “no-till” systems often use herbicides as a substitute for tillage.
4. Agroforestry: This farming practice intentionally incorporates the growth of trees and shrubs with other crop and animal farming systems. These trees capture carbon in order to grow and help to incorporate carbon into the soil. Even if the tree is cut down for the lumber for a house, the carbon is stored in that house for as long as it’s standing!
5. Holistic Grazing: This farming method focuses on managing the land in a way that reflects the natural mechanisms of nature. The land, animals, and water are guided with little to no outside inputs, decreasing energy use, pollution, and resource consumption. Livestock become a natural tool to manage grasslands, capturing significant amounts of carbon through the action of deep perennial grass roots.
Read the Rodale Institute’s White Paper for more methods and facts about carbon farming!
How you can help
If you want to support carbon farmers, buy grass-fed meat! Any meat products rated BEST by HowGood are sure to be good for you and the effort to reverse climate change. You can also buy more perennial foods, meaning anything that grows on a tree or a bush, including tree fruits and tree nuts, especially if it is from a small organic farm. If it has a GREAT or BEST rating from HowGood, you can be confident that you will be encouraging the carbon farming movement.
Check out these HowGood BEST-rated products so you can keep up with the carbon farming trend:
Meadow Haven Farm Grass Fed Beef-- Rated BEST
Tierra Farm Organic Raw Cashews-- Rated BEST
Awe Sum Organics Organic Navel Oranges-- Rated BEST
Sistema Organa Organic Dried Peaches-- Rated BEST
To learn even more, take a peek at Eric Teonsmeier’s book The Carbon Farming Solution.