(Beyond Pesticides, April 28, 2014) Last week, the Rodale Institute, home to America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of chemical and organic agriculture, published a white paper to support its announcement of a global campaign to generate public awareness of organic agricultural practices ability to limit the effects of climate change. The paper singles out several “regenerative organic agriculture” practices that help sequester carbon leading to less CO2 in the atmosphere. This campaign will help deliver the growing scientific literature that connects agricultural practices with climate change.
The white paper, Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, argues that it is possible to sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions by switching to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which are referred to in the paper as “regenerative organic agriculture.” According to the report soil sequestration can potentially sequester greenhouse gas emissions of roughly 52 gigatonnes of CO2. Even if modest assumption about soil’s carbon sequestration potential are made, regenerative agriculture can easily keep annual emissions to within the desirable lower end of the 41-47 gigatonnes of CO2, which is identified as necessary reduction to limit warming to 1.5 °C.
Rodale highlights several examples of management practices that, if shifted, could help sequester CO2. These practices include (at a minimum) cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. The report also includes information on conservation tillage however, this practices is still not widely used in organic systems. The report notes that changes to individual management practices should not be the sole focus as regenerative organic agriculture is a holistic system. However, data for specific practices are used in this study to help readers better understand the mechanisms at work in soil carbon sequestration.
The report specifically points to bare soil as one of the largest sources of carbon lose in conventional agriculture. According to Rodale:
“Agricultural soils that are left fallow [bare] or are heavily tilled are exposed to wind and water leading to erosion of the carbon-rich topsoil. Fallow land also fails to accumulate biomass carbon that it would otherwise by continuously growing plants. Tilled, exposed, eroded soils lead to the breakdown of soil aggregates, allowing formerly stable soil carbon to be released as a greenhouse gas.”
Growing cover crops, reducing tillage, and enhancing crop rotations does not allow for land to be left bare and fixes carbon in the soil rather than allowing it to be lost to the atmosphere.
The paper was released as part of Rodale Institute’s global campaign to generate public awareness of soil’s ability to reverse climate change. The campaign will call for the restructuring of our global food system with the goal of reversing climate change through photosynthesis and biology.
According to “Coach” Mark Smallwood, executive director of Rodale Institute, “The white paper is to encourage new research, new policy and the rapid expansion of regenerative agricultural methods. The media campaign brings the broader vision to the public much faster. The idea is to stoke the public outcry that already exists and to validate those who demand these changes be made now.”
This white paper adds to the growing literature that connects industrial agriculture to climate change and the effects climate changes can have on agriculture production. Algal blooms, which cause bright green scum that completely covers the Western part of Lake Erie, occurs from mid-July to October, in part because of farming practices surrounding the Lake and in part due to climate change. Runoff from phosphorus fertilizers provide nutrients for blooms, which is compounded by warmer weather. Climate change also increases the movement of toxic chemicals. The study, The toxicology of climate change: Environmental contaminants in a warming world, found that climate change will general increase the toxicity of contaminates such as DDT, DDE, and hexachlorobenzene (HCB).
A study produced by Sanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have also tied increases in crop losses and increased pest populations to climate change. The study warns that wheat, corn and barley are especially affected, with 40 million fewer metric tons of the crops produced each year. For every 1 degree increase in temperature, the researchers say, crop yields drop by about 3 percent to 5 percent, and the decline is clearly caused by human activity.
Beyond Pesticides has long be a supporter of organic agriculture as a solution to climate change because of its potential to sequester carbon. For more information visit Beyond Pesticides’ Environmental Benefits of Organic Agriculture. Also, read Beyond Pesticides’ 2007 Pesticides and You Climate Change: Consequences and the Organic Response and Jeff Moyer’s, Rodale Farm Director, talk at Beyond Pesticides’ 31st National Pesticide Forum.
Source: Nation of Change
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides