Making Soil A Part Of The Climate Solution

Image: Lukas/Pexels

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

One of the best ways to tackle the climate crisis is literally under our feet: revitalizing soil removes carbon from the atmosphere, no high-tech gadgetry needed. Plants store carbon in the soil through photosynthesis and by pushing out carbon-based sugars through their roots. That stored carbon is like a bank account. When the soil is distrubed and gets broken up, carbon is released. It’s a withdrawal from the account. Modern farming is a soil-disturbing, carbon-spending process. 

But Farming methods that reduce soil disruption sequester carbon, improve soil health, reduce erosion, and increase crop yield. While switching to regenerative agricultural practices would be an investment a new report by E2 shows that climate-friendly healthy soil can provide economic opportunities for America’s farmers. 

Why This Matters: About a third of the planet’s ice-free land is farmed, so changes in how agricultural soil is treated can have a sizable impact. A 2017 study found that on a global scale, regenerative practices could store 1.85 gigatons of CO2 per year—on par with annual emissions from the global transportation sector. Worldwide, the U.S. had the highest potential for storing carbon in the soil. Right now, U.S. taxpayers spend $10 billion a year on crop insurance but there are no incentives for regenerative practices. Creating policies that incentivize regenerative agriculture would be a triple win by:

  • Kickstarting an economic recovery for American farmers
  • Making farms more resilient and productive
  • Reducing the impacts of the climate crisis 

Four opportunities from soil: The E2 report presents four big opportunities that climate-smart agriculture could yield. 

    • Farm profits and economic recovery: For farmers hit hard by the pandemic, more reliable crop yields help with profitability. So would financial incentives to store carbon in their soil. 
    • Ag tech and job creation: Ag tech is a rapidly growing sector that could both provide work for young farmers and increase data precision around soil composition and crop health.
  • Valuing carbon removal and ecosystem services: There’s a huge value in mitigating climate impacts. Assigning financial to carbon in the ground could incentivize better farming practices. 
  • Bridging partisan divides: Regenerative farming could be a bipartisan policy solution that supports farmers, creates jobs in rural America, and reduces the financial and human cost of climate change. 

Regenerative farming in practice: In practice, regenerative farming could mean:

  • Planting cover crops: planted specifically for soil health between seasons or between rows of other crops
  • Using natural fertilizer: eliminates the need for fossil fuel-derived chemicals
  • Low- and no-till farming: reducing — or completely stopping — plowing and other soil disruption
  • Composting: allowing food waste and manure to break down into rich soil

Dig deeper: This episode of Gastropod goes deep on the climate benefits of healthy soil.

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