Farming Carbon Off The Atmosphere

(3BL Media/Justmeans) -  Organic food is bucking downward food market trends and gaining share year over year. According to the Organic Trade Association, sales have increased dramatically in the U.S. in recent years. In 2016, it generated sales revenue of $47 billion, including $3.7 in new sales. It now accounts for more than 5 percent of total U.S. food sales. There are several organic farming revolutions underway, as well.

Regenerative culture is a  broad term applied to several disciplines but which adhere to norms of life and nature to farm and to design, to give a couple of examples. 

General Mills calls regenerative farming a “holistic approach to farming.” It uses the earth’s natural solar energy, water cycles. It respects nutrient cycles, capturing carbon in the soil and, most importantly, keeping it out of the air. Healthy soil also holds more nutrients for crops and animals, and stores more water for dry periods.

In the words of dairy farmer Joe Borgerding, regenerative agriculture is about “rethinking how we do food” through a combination of traditional organic farming, an education in soil biology, and 21st century technology. He emphasizes the role of technology in this new age of regenerative farming to dispel false ideas of nature-centered farming as the pursuit of Luddites. Far from that. Technology can be a great ally, he says.

Borgerding grows cover crops in his fields. These collect energy from the sun and minerals from the earth, eventually becoming feed for the animals. The cover crops also act like a winter blanket for the land, keeping soil in place and building healthy carbon during winter winds and spring melt. During the spring, Joe will have rich soil in which to plant his crops.

“Modern organic farmers’ biggest advantage is newfound knowledge of the biology in our soils, and how it can be leveraged to grow the best quality food for the discriminating buyer,” he says.

His view of regenerative farming includes passing the baton on to future generations. “The higher potential for profits are attracting new talent to farming,” he notes. “Young families moving back to rural communities is part of the regeneration of agriculture that is so needed in this country.”

When we learn that soil organic matter is also about 58 percent carbon, we realize why protecting organic matter in soils is so important for the low carbon future we need to build and pave the way for.

Experts estimate that agricultural soils can potentially absorb carbon in the range between 3 to 8 gigatons (billion metric tons) of CO2 equivalent a year for 20 to 30 years, making emission goals more achievable.

The urgency of the situation means that we need to get farmers on board through education and incentives so they can understand and implement practices that will take agriculture to a new era of sustainability. It is a massive, complex task, but there are examples such as Soil Solutions and Kiss the Ground that are already focused on this project, which attracts talent from various fields, from scientists to corporate executives. If we succeed in redesigning farm to become an ally of the planet, this activity can become one of the heroes of the sustainability era.

Image credit: General Mills