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Carbon Farming

“Carbon Farming is the future of farming and is what all farms will be producing much sooner than we think”.  -Darren Doherty

Carbon is the structural basis of life. There is over 2700 gigatons (Gt) of it in the world’s soils.  That’s more than all the atmosphere (780 Gt) and biosphere (575 Gt) combined.

Never in human history have we addressed the need to sequester carbon in soils, and never have we had the understanding of why to do it.  Until now. Watching CO2 levels rise across the globe we often think of cars polluting, factories producing, or trucks spewing CO2 causing levels to rise.  But in fact, that only accounts for 3% of the total Carbon/CO2 output per year.  The other 97% comes from the earths natural functions.  How then could man possibly offset the imbalance?  To answer that question we need to understand how the carbon cycle works.

Carbon is stored in different “pools” in different forms.  The atmosphere (air) “pool” stores Carbon in the form of CO2.  The hydrosphere (water) stores Carbon mostly as bicarbonate.  The lithosphere (rock) formations store Carbon in the form of minerals such as CaCO3.  The biosphere is made up of Carbon, and the pedosphere (soil) stores Carbon as humus.

Between all the pools (also called “sinks”), there are transactions that give and take carbon.  Photosynthesis, for example, is a transaction that takes carbon from the atmosphere and transfers it to the biosphere.  When we see CO2 levels rise we simply have an imbalance in Carbon trading between pools found on, in, or above Earth.  Luckily for us, there are easy solutions to sequester Carbon in farming practices, that are relativity inexpensive and have some pretty amazing side effects.

The easiest way to sequester Carbon is in the soil.  More specifically, perennial grasslands.  Since these types of ecosystems usually contain the deepest soils, they have the most potential to store carbon.  Furthermore, there are over 800 million acres of grasslands under management just in the US.  Combine that with the 400 million acres of cropland in America.  That’s a total of 1.2 billion acres we could utilize to sequester a phenomenal amount of Carbon.

Dr. Christine Jones, leading Grassland Ecology Scientist from Australia, says a 1% Carbon increase in grassland and crop soils in Australia would offset their entire “legacy load” or total rise in Co2 over the last 50 years.

So what exactly does that mean to us in the United States?  Well, here in California, 50 years ago our Carbon levels in the soil were at 8 or 9%.  Now they are down to 4 or 3%.  Where did all that extra carbon go……atmosphere perhaps?

The big question is how long does it take to build soil?  In nature it takes at least a thousand years to build one inch.  With modern techniques we have seen dramatic increases in soil formation.  Abe Collins, Founder of Carbon Farmers of America, has documented 8 inches of soil depth in a single season! That’s more than enough to increase soil Carbon by 1% in less than a year.

Besides mitigating the greenhouse effect, what other  benefits can carbon offer your farm?  Let’s see… Building carbon in your soil will also: enhance soil quality, increase total water retention by 30-300%, increase nutrient and water retention, have cleaner water, decrease leaching, sustain and improve food production, and of course, reduce increases in atmospheric Co2.

At SweetSoil we can scientifically asses your soils and total Carbon sequestration potential.  We see Carbon as the one of the primary forces that should be considered a major local resource on the family farm.  Let us help you start the process today.