Photo: Taro Field in Hawaii

by Tracy Ternes

Around the world, the issue of climate change and global warming is a topic of debate and concern. Many organizations and individuals who recognize the consequences of global warming are taking steps to reduce carbon emissions with the goal of stopping human induced climate change. Reducing carbon emissions is important, such as reducing the use of coal and oil and increasing the use of renewable solar energy and wind power. But these efforts alone will not cool the planet and reverse global warming. More will need to be done. A new idea is Regenerative Agriculture or Carbon Farming. If these terms are new to you, you are not alone. Although the various practices that define regenerative agriculture have been around since antiquity, their modern application and the idea that they could actually reverse global warming, has not quite broken into the forefront of mainstream media. Fortunately, proponents are working to change that.

The Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that has been conducting agricultural research for over 60 years, has coined the term "regenerative organic agriculture." Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming that goes beyond organic and even beyond sustainable. It involves implementing practices that are known to improve carbon sequestration. Sequester means to isolate, hideaway or to take possession of, so carbon sequestration is referring to the soil’s ability to take in and hold on to carbon. Regenerative agriculture is successful when the soil is taking in more carbon than it is releasing.1 The specific practices that define regenerative agriculture include the following: keeping the soil planted year-round, minimizing tillage, planting cover crops, maintaining diversity and crop rotation, refraining from the use of chemicals, proper pasturing, converting degraded soils to forests, and using biochar (charcoal) to increase soil fertility.2 These practices, in combination with continuing to reduce our carbon emissions, hold a great deal of hope for the health of our planet and the growing problem of climate change. According to soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal at Ohio State University, “a mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.”3

In April 2014, the French National Institute for Agronomical Research (INRA) introduced a carbon sequestration program for agriculture, called “4 per 1000.” According to Jean-Francois Soussana, Scientific Director for INRA, an annual increase of 0.4% (4 per 1000) each year of organic matter in soil would be enough to compensate for the global emissions of greenhouse gases.4 It’s an initiative that aims to unite farmers, governments, organizations, foundations, etc. around the world to collaborate and commit to regenerative practices and spread the word about this exciting and globally-unifying idea.

With the issue of global warming seeming like such an insurmountable problem, it’s very hopeful to learn that something so simple as tending our soil properly may hold the solution. The following statement from the Rodale Institute sums it up nicely: Moving agriculture from a source of carbon pollution to a potential carbon sink is in everyone’s best interest. Regenerative organic agriculture is the key to this shift. It is the climate solution ready for widespread adoption now.5

Footnotes: 
  1. Carbon Cycle Institute. Carbon Farming. Accessed March 20 2016. http://www.carboncycle.org/carbon-farming/
  2. Kittredge, Jack. Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology do the Job? August 14, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.nofamass.org/sites/default/files/2015_White_Paper_web.pdf
  3. Roulac, John. The Solution Under Our Feet: How Regenerative Organic Agriculture Can Save the Planet. Jan 6, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2016. https://www.ecowatch.com/the-solution-under-our-feet-how-regenerative-or...
  4. http://4p1000.org/
  5. Rodale (2014). Accessed March 20, 2016. Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, https://rodaleinstitute.org/