The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.
The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.
Now scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields. Many scientists and farmers believe the emerging understanding of soil’s role in climate stability and agricultural productivity will prompt a paradigm shift in agriculture, triggering the abandonment of conventional practices like tillage, crop residue removal, mono-cropping, excessive grazing and blanket use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide. Even cattle, usually considered climate change culprits because they belch at least 25 gallons of methane a day, are being studied as a potential part of the climate change solution because of their role in naturally fertilizing soil and cycling nutrients.
Source: Jacques Leslie, The New York Times, December 2, 2017
Deep-rooted plants may be key to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if land managers can capitalize on a new scientific finding from Marc Kramer, an assistant professor at Washington State University Vancouver, and his associates.
Kramer, who teaches environmental chemistry, and a group of scientific colleagues found a vast pool of old carbon lurking a foot or more beneath the Earth’s surface. The discovery of the carbon, which likely was deposited from deep-rooted plants pulling it out of the atmosphere over time, could point to a way to use agriculture to remove even more carbon dioxide from the air and lessen the impacts of global climate change.
“There’s a lot of gloom and doom about climate change, and here we have something that could turn into a win-win,” Kramer said. “Very few studies have looked this far deep. Most studies have focused on topsoil.”
Among Kramer’s findings was that Earth’s soils hold about three times the carbon currently in the atmosphere, an amount much larger than was previously thought.
Source: Sue Vorenberg, for the Columbian, November 20, 2017
Ever wondered what makes a soil, soil? And could soil from the Amazon rainforest really be the same as soil from your garden?
Researchers at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and The University of Manchester, UK, are using DNA sequencing to unlock the secrets of the world’s different soils and, for the first time, analysing ecological patterns and microbial communities on a global scale.
The research team, made up of 36 scientists from around the world, collated and analysed data on soil bacteria from 21 different countries. In all they looked at over 1900 soils, containing over 8000 bacterial groups.
The study, which is published in Nature Microbiology today, gives new insight into the bacteria that make a soil a soil, and how our soils are functioning and responding to global challenges, such as climate change.
Editor’s Note: On October 24, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released its 2018 Farm Bill policy platform, An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill, which provides a comprehensive vision for a more sustainable farm and food system based on the recommendations and experience of American family farmers and the organizations that represent them. This is the third post in a multi part series detailing NSAC’s policy platform for the 2018 Farm Bill.
Environmental challenges are not new to farmers and ranchers; most have been battling the elements in one way or another for the entire career. What is new, however, is the extremity and frequency of those challenges. Producers are increasingly struggling to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of extreme weather, soil and plant health issues, and issues with pests and invasive species. It is no small wonder, given the challenges posed by nature, that for most farmers conservation is second nature. By implementing conservation activities on their farms, producers can both improve the resiliency and productivity of their own operations, and also protect and enhance shared natural resources.
Given the wide ranging benefits of conservation agriculture, as well as the increasingly extreme impacts of environmental disasters, the need for a farm bill that strongly supports federal conservation programs and policies is greater than ever.
Farm bill investment in conservation has come a long way since the first farm bills – between 1933 and 1985, there was no farm bill funding for conservation at all. The 1985 Farm Bill was the first to add a Conservation Title, and the first time conservation programs received direct farm bill funding. Conservation agriculture programs enjoyed broad support for decades – until the 2014 Farm Bill, which marked the first time that the Conservation Title was cut since its creation over three decades ago. Since passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, those cuts, totaling roughly $6 billion when automatic sequestration cuts are factored in, have severely hindered farmers’ ability to access conservation support.
Source: National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, November 17, 2017.