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Fighting climate change with better soil management


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Better soil management, including compost use, is the easiest, cheapest weapon to wield in the fight against climate change.

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Fighting climate change with better soil management

  1. 1. Fighting climate change with better soil management
  2. 2. Soil and plants play an important role in maintaining global health.
  3. 3. Plants pull carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.
  4. 4. Some of the carbon (C) is returned to the atmosphere and some is stored in the roots and the soil.
  5. 5. Oxygen (O2) is returned to the atmosphere.
  6. 6. It was a balanced system until ...
  7. 7. early human “hunter-gatherers” decided to become farmers.
  8. 8. They modified low-yielding perennial grasses to produce annual grains with higher yields.
  9. 9. But annual tilling changed things. It loosened soil particles. Wind and rain carried the soil away.
  10. 10. Valuable topsoil was lost. Soil’s carbon storage capacity dwindled.
  11. 11. Soil disturbance released even more stored carbon to the atmosphere.
  12. 12. The World Wildlife Fund says half of the topsoil on the earth has been lost in just the last 150 years from farming, deforestation, overgrazing, and use of agrochemicals.
  13. 13. Even worse, during that same period, humans have added more CO2 to the atmosphere.
  14. 14. All that excess CO2 is causing global temperatures to rise.
  15. 15. The climate is changing.
  16. 16. While people, plants, and animals can adjust to modest temperature increases ...
  17. 17. the current change is so dramatic, scientists say we’re headed for a melt-down.
  18. 18. Yet research says better soil management could sequester enough carbon to have a meaningful impact on climate change ...
  19. 19. by turning annual grains back into perennials ...
  20. 20. and using more compost.
  21. 21. Managing soils and crops to maximize C storage is known as CARBON FARMING.
  22. 22. Plants store carbon in leaves, stems, and roots. After harvest, when stubble dies and roots decay, some of that carbon is stored in the soil.
  23. 23. Since perennials tend to have larger root systems, their potential for deep-soil carbon storage is greater. Up to 3 feet As much as 10 feet (and more) ANNUAL PERENNIAL
  24. 24. Studies show as little as a 1.3 cm (about a half inch) topdressing of compost can add "substantial" increases in carbon storage, too.
  25. 25. Perennials and compost can become the dynamic duo of climate change mitigation.
  26. 26. Currently, 85% of human calorie intake is based on annual crops like grains and vegetables. Farmers till and plant new seeds every year.
  27. 27. Nut trees, fruit trees, and berries are considered perennial crops because farmers till and plant once, then harvest over multiple years.
  28. 28. But what if some of those annual crops could be converted to perennials?
  29. 29. Perennial grasses don’t have to be replanted year- after-year. Soil captures carbon and keeps it locked up for ages.
  30. 30. By one estimate, converting just 5 percent of land (about the size of Egypt) to plants bred for carbon storage could capture ~50 percent of current global CO2 emissions.
  31. 31. The trick is to switch back from annual to perennial grains while maintaining acceptable yields, giving farmers an economic incentive to convert acreage.
  32. 32. One of the more successful research projects is the development of a new perennial wheat grain, Kernza®.
  33. 33. It is already being used commercially on a small scale.
  34. 34. There’s still a distance to go.
  35. 35. But science seems to be heading in the right direction.
  36. 36. Reuters says better soil management could boost carbon storage by a factor equal to emissions from all global transport.
  37. 37. The amount of compost required for a ½-inch pre-plant compost application could sequester about 20% of U.S. carbon pollution if annual grain acres were converted to perennial varieties.
  38. 38. Even compost-amended rangeland offers substantial carbon storage potential from both compost use and deep-rooted perennial grasses.
  39. 39. Bottom line?
  40. 40. Better soil management is an effective, low-cost tool in climate-change mitigation.
  41. 41. At $0-$100 per ton, soil carbon sequestration is also the most economical C storage option currently available.
  42. 42. C storage in soil is improved by both crop selection and the use of compost.
  43. 43. Soil disturbance releases carbon, so soils must remain undisturbed for extended periods of time.
  44. 44. Perennial agriculture, rangeland, lawns, sports fields, roadsides, utility easements, and parkland all offer opportunities for long-term carbon storage.
  45. 45. Learn more about – • The Land Institute and its work with perennial grains • Farmer experiences growing Kernza® • Microbial decomposition and carbon draw-down • More titles in the carbon faming series Production costs for this title were underwritten by McGill. Its use is permitted for educational purposes if presented in its entirety and without editing or other alteration. ©McGill Environmental Systems of N.C. Inc. Questions? Call McGill HQ at 919-362-1161 or use a contact form at Transforming waste. Rebuilding soils.®