Carbon Farming: Productive Agriculture and Climate Change
Agriculture covers more than half of Earth’s terrestrial surface and contributes roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the effects of climate change intensify and paths for limiting global warming narrow, lawmakers and environmental advocates have rallied behind “carbon farming” as a mutually beneficial solution for society, the environment and farmers.
The long-term conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland (and grazing lands) has resulted in historic losses of soil carbon worldwide but there is a major potential for increasing soil carbon through the restoration of degraded soils and widespread adoption of soil conservation practices. Improved agricultural practices can help mitigate climate change by reducing emissions from agriculture and other sources and by storing carbon in plant biomass and soils.
Land management is among the largest contributors to climate change. Agriculture is the ONE sector that has the ability to transform from a net emitter of CO2 to a net sequester of CO2 — there is no other human-managed activity with this potential. Common agricultural practices, including driving a tractor, tilling the soil, over-grazing, using chemicals-based fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides result in significant carbon dioxide release. Alternatively, carbon can be stored long-term (decades to centuries or more) beneficially in soils in a process called soil carbon sequestration.
The Carbon Cycle
To understand further how carbon is stored in the soil, you need to review your Carbon Cycle. Carbon constantly cycles through five pools on planet earth. Light energy coming from our sun functions as the fuel for the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is a critical natural process that moves carbon through our atmosphere, biosphere, pedosphere, lithosphere, and oceans.
Human activity has tipped the balance of the carbon cycle by extracting enormous quantities of deeply sequestered fossil carbon as fossil fuels. These dense forms of carbon, when burned, release massive amounts of energy and carbon dioxide.
More carbon dioxide is now being released than the earth’s land-based plant life and oceans can naturally reabsorb. The excess carbon dioxide has formed a blanket in our atmosphere—trapping the sun’s heat and changing our climate, as seen in shifts in our earth’s jet stream, ocean currents, and air temperature. Rainfall patterns are changing and glaciers (water storage for many communities) are melting quickly.
We have an opportunity to restore balance within the carbon cycle in a way that will ameliorate climate change, build resilience to drought and increase our agricultural productivity naturally. This natural solution is called Carbon Farming.
Carbon Farming involves implementing practices that are known to improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and/or soil organic matter. Carbon farming is successful when carbon gains resulting from enhanced land management and/or conservation practices exceed carbon losses. Research shows that farmers and ranchers can also make their operations more resilient to increasingly variable whether by adopting practices that promote soil carbon sequestration. Solutions and new innovations to create soil-based solutions to climate change are widely considered for this will benefit both the sector and the planet.
Carbon sequestration and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can occur through a variety of agriculture practices. Some of the examples are as follows: Mulching/compost application, Anaerobic Digester, Riparian Restoration and others. Compost use has been shown to increase the amount of carbon stored in both grassland and cropland soils and has important co-benefits, such as increased primary productivity and water-holding capacity. Restoration of riparian areas on working lands has the capacity to sequester significant amounts of carbon. These and other conservation practices also produce important co-benefits such as increased water retention, hydrological function, biodiversity, and resilience.
At this moment where the effects of Climate change is so evident, the objective of every agriculture sector should reverse land degradation due to deforestation and land mismanagement through the promotion of improved land management practices such as Carbon farming which will provide win-win effects in terms of economic gains and environmental benefits, a greater agro-biodiversity, and improved conservation and environmental management for the benefit of the succeeding generation.