Soils

Newest Additional Reading
August 2016

  1. A Boon for Soil, and for the Environment, New York Times

Soils are one of the major sinks for storing carbon, second only to the ocean in amounts. We have below reprinted three articles on the importance of managing soil so that fertility is improved and carbon sequestration increased. Commercial agriculture is releasing more carbon than is being stored. On the other hand regenerative agriculture, organic agriculture, can be one of the most important forms to removing carbon from the atmosphere. And this technique has to be applied to all forms of agriculture including silviculture. Please see the following articles. (GNA, Founder)

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Reversing Climate Change - Why Soil Will Save The World

by Jimmy Sinton, CEO of The Fair Carbon Exchange

Can we do it? Is it already too late?

Many of us are wondering how we can possibly turn the juggernaut of limited industrial profit-based materialism around.

Time to stop wondering and worrying-yes it is possible-and we are already doing it. Although the statement "the answer lies in the soil" seems too simplistic, this time it is true.

Healthy, fully functioning soils are the living skin of the planet. They provide highly nutritious food, hold huge amounts of water and lock away tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and in so doing, help solve the health crisis by strengthening the human biome. They also help us manage flooding caused by heavy downpours and the ever increasing occurrence of droughts caused by climate change.

Building good soils globally will reverse the climate crisis by removing more greenhouse gas each year than we produce. These soils will also allow us to build functioning local communities, help resolve the growing unemployment crisis, detoxify polluted water over huge areas of our precious planet and maintain healthy river systems.

Combined with the awakening consciousness of our interconnectedness with everyone and everything, the growing awareness of soil as the foundation of life on earth is opening a new chapter in human and planetary evolution.

Furthermore, they will help provide the foundations for stable political systems across the troubled regions of the world. Our politico-economic model of corrupt corporate power, driven by a mindless combo of quarterly profits and global market domination, seems to be unstoppable. However, like the dinosaurs, size without adaptability is a recipe for extinction. After the tidal waves of planetary change removed the dinosaurs it was the small adaptable birds and mammals that emerged as the new leading species on earth. In the same way the tidal waves of change now beginning to sweep our world will cause the corrupt mega corporations to sink in the morass of ethical and moral bankruptcy, which they have created (VW seems to be struggling with this already). The agile, socially and environmentally responsible companies, along with the regenerative and local resilience movements erupting across the planet, will emerge as the new status quo.

All of these movements are linked to the soil, often in ways that they do not yet recognize. Food is so much more than a way to satisfy the physical and emotional hungers we use it for. Good food shared is the foundation of happy families and communities. Fully nutritious food builds physical and emotional health by maintaining a healthy human biome (an intestinal microbial population of approximately 100 trillion cells which is linked to a minor brain in the digestive system that governs our immune system).

As a species we have been ignorantly "mining" the soil for millennia. Our farming practices have been disrupting and dissipating the living soil food web. Ploughing the soil, over grazing, exposing soils to sun wind and rain, all of these destroy the fragile life in the soil. With the advent of blind industrial agricultural after the Second World War, however, we accelerated this process exponentially. Most modern agricultural soils are close to becoming lifeless dirt with very little carbon in it.

In many cases soils are now treated as a way to anchor plants, while we practice a form of hydroponics-feeding the plants with chemically created nutrients then using massive doses of toxic agents to kill the pests, diseases and "weeds" that quite naturally emerge into this dead environment. While this has been a great model for short term profits, it is clearly not sustainable.

Soils, it turns out, are so much more than a physical support system for plants. They are the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet after the oceans. We have already lost more than half of this carbon to the atmosphere where it will stay for hundreds, even thousands of years, exacerbating the global climate crisis.

Ironically, it is this very climate crisis that may save us from ourselves. What else could force governments and organizations everywhere to act? What is only now emerging, however, is the fact that optimistic projections for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions are not enough to avert a climate melt down.

The only way to avert this nightmare situation, is to remove huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and the only cost effective way to do that, is to convert global agriculture and forestry to a natural system based on fully functioning healthy soils. As soils improve, plants will transfer increasing amounts of the carbon that they have extracted from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, into the soils. The living soil food web will then lock this carbon into the soils where it will remain for millennia.

While we do this we will be solving the climate water crisis, the human health crisis, the breakdown of society and the de-escalate the global terrorism threat. So perhaps the climate crisis is our planet's way of forcing us to switch to a sane and balanced civilization. If we ignore this signal, civilization, in any form will almost certainly disappear.

Virtually all soils, even desert sand and inert agricultural dirt, contain a full spectrum of essential minerals. When there is no balanced living soil food web present, these minerals are locked up in the soil particles so that plants cannot access them. This forces us to provide artificial nutrients to the plants for their growth and survival. However, once the soil is a fully functioning living system, these soil minerals are converted to available nutrients that the plants can draw on as they need them throughout their growth and fruiting cycles, simultaneously increasing plant health and resilience.

In this way plants grown in fully functioning healthy soils have a complete spectrum of nutrients in them with no toxic residues. When we eat the food derived from such plants we no longer need to take vitamins and supplements and many diseases, even premature aging, cease to be a problem. As the human biome returns to normal functioning, depression and despair will give way to happiness and optimism. Good soils everywhere provide better quality and quantities of food. Localized food systems will create regional resilience and wealth, dissolving the threat of terrorism and war.

So the answer does lie in the soil after all. Perhaps the universe is more intelligent than we imagine. Could it be that the very threat of a global climate melt down is the only way to force us to change our ways so that all the other threats to our continued evolution melt away?

Source:

1) Reversing Climate Change: Why Soil Will Save the World, Valhalla Movement

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A Secret Weapon To Fight Climate Change: Dirt

By Debbie Barker and Michael Pollan

Will Allen is asked to name the most beautiful part of his Vermont farm, he doesn’t talk about the verdant, rolling hills or easy access to the Connecticut River. Though the space is a picturesque postcard of the agrarian idyll, Allen points down, to the dirt. “This precious resource not only grows food,” he says, “but is one of the best methods we have for sequestering carbon.”

We think of climate change as a consequence of burning fossil fuels. But a third of the carbon in the atmosphere today used to be in the soil, and modern farming is largely to blame. Practices such as the overuse of chemicals, excessive tilling and the use of heavy machinery disturb the soil’s organic matter, exposing carbon molecules to the air, where they combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. Put another way: Human activity has turned the living and fertile carbon system in our dirt into a toxic atmospheric gas.

It’s possible to halt and even reverse this process through better agricultural policies and practices. Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered in Paris this past week have paid little attention to the critical links between climate change and agriculture. That’s a huge mistake and a missed opportunity. Our unsustainable farming methods are a central contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, quite simply, cannot be halted without fixing agriculture.

The industrialization of farming has allowed farmers to grow more crops more quickly. But modern techniques have also wreaked havoc on the earth, water and atmosphere. Intense plowing, for example, has introduced more oxygen into the soil, boosting the microbes that convert organic matter into carbon dioxide. The quest to wring every last dollar out of fields has put pressure on farmers to rely on chemical fertilizers. This often leaves fields more bare between growing seasons, allowing carbon to escape into the air. Scientists estimate that cultivated soil has lost 50 to 70 percent of its carbon, speeding up climate change.

That loss has significantly degraded soil health, reducing our ability to grow food. Median crop yields are likely to decline by about 2 percent per decade through 2100, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At the same time, the world’s population is projected to jump from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050.

Water availability is also at risk. Currently, 1.6 billion people live in regions facing severe water scarcity; that number is expected to rise to 2.8 billion by 2025. Agriculture accounts for a whopping 70 percent of all water consumption. That’s in large part because degraded soil doesn’t absorb water efficiently. Instead, water sits on top of the ground and runs off (along with farm chemicals) into nearby waterways, creating toxic nitrogen “dead zones.”

Remarkably though, restoring carbon to the soil is not nearly as complicated as rethinking our transportation systems or replacing coal with renewable energy. Innovative farmers such as Allen already know the recipe.

He and his team place “cover crops” in their fields, planting things like oats, rye and beans between rows of vegetables. This practice keeps carbon, nitrogen and other organic nutrients in the soil. “Keeping as much ground covered with plants as long as possible allows photosynthesis to draw down atmospheric carbon into soils,” Allen says. A bare field, in contrast, represents a waste of photosynthetic potential. Allen also composts, limits plowing and avoids synthetic chemicals like nitrogen fertilizers. In combination, these efforts have increased soil organic matter by 3 to 4 percent in just three years. Allen also sells some of his cover crops, adding farm income.

Allen’s results are not unusual. Studies have shown that cover cropping, crop rotation and no-till farming could restore global soil health while significantly decreasing farms’ carbon footprint. Some scientists project that 75 to 100 parts per million of CO2 could be drawn out of the atmosphere over the next century if existing farms, pastures and forestry systems were managed to maximize carbon sequestration. That’s significant when you consider that CO2 levels passed 400 ppm this spring. Scientists agree that the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 ppm.

Regenerative farming would also increase the fertility of the land, making it more productive and better able to absorb and hold water, a critical function especially in times of climate-related floods and droughts. Carbon-rich fields require less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and generate more productive crops, cutting farmer expenses.

So why aren’t we instituting policies to encourage this kind of “carbon farming”? For one thing, the science is new and not yet widely disseminated. Additionally, most of the incentives built into America’s agricultural policies are based on maximizing yield, often at the expense of soil health.

Current federal policy, for example, limits the growing season for cover crops on the theory that they waste farmers’ time and resources on products that can’t be sold. Thus, farmers are denied full crop insurance, price supports and subsidies if they grow cover crops beyond a specified period of time. But viewing cover crops as a benefit instead of an impediment to cash crops would be the kind of climate-smart policy we need. And, as farmers such as Allen have learned, some cover crops can also be commercialized.

Giving farmers incentives to switch from synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to organic fertilizers could also lead to healthier soil. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley working with Marin County ranchers have found that applying a single layer of compost, less than an inch thick, to rangelands stimulates a burst of microbial and plant growth that sequesters dramatic amounts of carbon in the soil — more than 1.5 tons per acre. And research has shown that this happens not just once, but year after year. This is a win-win strategy, both for the climate and the food system, since the additional carbon in the soil means more grass for cattle and more profit for ranchers. If the practice were replicated on half the rangeland area of California, it would sequester enough carbon to offset 42 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

The possibilities are endless. What if our farmers received federal subsidies not just for bushels per acre, but for carbon sequestered or acres of cover crops planted? Many such changes could be made tomorrow at the agency level; they would not require congressional action. Incentives for carbon farming could also bridge the political chasm between ranchers, farmers and environmentalists. Even those farmers and ranchers who don’t believe in climate change desire healthy soil, high productivity and lush grasslands. There is a rich opportunity here to completely realign the politics of agricultural and environmental policy.

America is not there quite yet, but other countries are pointing the way. This year, the French government launched the 4 Per 1000 initiative, the first international effort to restore carbon to the soil. Under the proposal, nations would commit to increasing the carbon in their cultivated lands by 0.4 percent per year. The French calculate that this would halt the annual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Some emerging soil science estimates that we could store 50 to 75 percent of current global carbon emissions in the soil.

In the United States, when the Dust Bowl crisis of the 1930s literally blew soil across the country, our government responded by implementing agriculture policies to ameliorate the problem. With the stakes even higher today, our politicians can once again enact policies to reward practices that rebuild soil carbon.

Source:

Source:

1) A Secret Weapon to Fight Climate Change: Dirt, The Washington Post

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There’s A Way To Save Our Future. So Why Aren’t More People Talking About It?

Transitioning to organic regenerative agriculture practices 'offers the best, and perhaps our only, hope for averting a global warming disaster.'

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

A critical tool in the fight against global warming is right below our feet.

So where is this "shovel-ready solution" amid all the talk of climate fixes in the wake of the COP21 summit in Paris?

An Associated Press article published Thursday, for example, professes to outline "methods to achieve negative emissions," wherein humans remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than they put in it. The AP quotes scientists who say "it's clear" that the goals laid out in Paris "cannot be reached without negative emissions in the future, because the atmosphere is filling up with greenhouse gases so fast that it may already be too late to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C."

Among the solutions mentioned in the piece: "fertilizing the oceans with iron to make them absorb more carbon," "planting more forests," and "carbon capture technologies."

But there was no mention of agroecology, or regenerative agriculture—practices that work with nature, avoiding the damaging impacts of industrial agriculture, such as no-till farming, composting, planned grazing, and cover crops.

As Diana Donlon, food and climate director at the Center for Food Safety, said earlier this month to mark World Soil Day: "Through regenerative farming practices, we have the ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is wreaking havoc, and store it in the soil, where it is greatly lacking and where it has multiple benefits for food, water and climate security."

For Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, omitting these practices from mainstream reporting, and not including them in the conversation about climate change, is a missed opportunity.

"No talk of global warming solutions is complete without addressing agriculture—both its contribution to global warming and its potential for solving the crisis," she told Common Dreams on Thursday.

She noted that the world’s soils have lost 50–70 percent of their carbon stocks and fertility—a crisis largely attributed to modern chemical-intensive, factory-farm, GMO-based industrial agriculture. And she cited a recent report from GRAIN, which shows that when deforestation, transportation, synthetic fertilizer production, and wetlands destruction are factored in, Big Ag contributes more than 50 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. "We must restore the soil's potential to store carbon," Paul declared.

"We must also, in addition to reducing emissions, draw down billions of tons of CO2 already in the atmosphere."

"Fortunately," she continued, "we have the tools to do this. Organic regenerative agriculture and land use is the other half of the climate solution."

Though some have said the COP21 talks were "a disaster for agroecology," Paul points to the French 4 per 1000 Initiative, through which governments can now incorporate carbon sequestration through organic agriculture into their climate plans. She urged the U.S. to follow France's lead.

"Instead of subsidizing a food and farming system that contributes to global warming while degenerating soils and local economies," she said, "we should start rewarding farmers and ranchers for restoring the soil's organic matter and drawing down carbon."

Yet a recent study looking at research-dollar allocation within the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed a dearth of funding for agroecological research and "an urgent need for additional public funding for systems-based agroecology and sustainable agriculture research."

Indeed, the future of the planet depends on it, Paul said. "Transitioning from industrial ag, a huge contributor to global warming, to organic regenerative offers the best, and perhaps our only, hope for averting a global warming disaster."

Source:

1) There’s A Way to Save Our Future. So Why Aren’t More People Talking About It? , CommonDreams.org