I was quite eager to read The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security by Eric Toensmeier as it clearly was articulated as a toolbox for all regenerative agriculture practices. And indeed it does cover the gamut of those practices as well as laying out a comparison of how well the different agricultural practices will sequester carbon and, therefore, mitigate climate change.
Toensmeier has done a great deal of research and he is careful to articulate all his sources. One of the sources he uses is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 Climate Change Report in which numerous practices are compared as to their ability to impact climate change, ease of adoption by farmers, and readiness of practice. Managed grazing is rated as having low potential for impact, moderately easy to adopt and already in place. Compare this to the potential high impact for reduced tillage or manure application or manure management. On another chart, the lifetime soil carbon stocks of different carbon farming systems are compared with conservation agriculture (leaving residue of previous crop up to the next planting) has the potential of up to 50 tons of carbon per hectare, while improved pastures has up to 75 tons of carbon per hectare. The good news here is that there are many opportunities for getting and keeping carbon in the soil.
Another point Tonsmeier makes is that there is incredible power in perennial agriculture where it can be done. As he notes, 67% of the world’s farmland is pasture which often cannot be used as cropland (pasture equates to 30% of the earth’s land mass used for livestock production). He also notes that 11% of world’s cropland is already used for perennial agriculture. Certainly the potential for increasing perennial crops on the other 89% of the cropland would indeed be a powerful change to increase carbon stores (livestock with trees is near the top of the carbon sequestration list at 250 tons per hectare).
The largest chunk of the book is a fairly exhaustive list of the numerous perennial crops for use in carbon farming for protein, fats, carbohydrates, oils, biomass, hydrocarbon, industrial starches, etc. This is where the book shines for me. It really helps you see how diminished our crop focus has become due to a combination of government policies and corporate influence. It boggles the mind how much of our production could be perennial and how the soils would be so much healthier for it. However, I think the switch to perennial crop agriculture on a large scale will be far more challenging than improving pasture management from the conversations I have had with producers.
Ultimately, any practice that helps us improve carbon in the soil and soil health is a step in the right direction. As holistic managers we know that there are many factors as to why a producer will choose one carbon farming practice over another. We need to focus on how to get producers to take any step in the right direction toward carbon farming practices that speak to them. The first step is understanding the importance of carbon farming and the next step is being a part of the solution.
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