Carbon sequestration could make agriculture carbon neutral

An example of healthy compost (normanack / Creative Commons)
An example of healthy compost (normanack / Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | May 19, 2016

A lengthy New York Times article published this week lays out agriculture’s relationship with carbon emissions and soil health.

The article points out how regenerative soil practices can be used to fight climate change by bringing carbon lost to the atmosphere back into the soil. Sources claim that these practices could eventually make agriculture carbon neutral, while it is currently one of the largest industry emitters of carbon dioxide. The agriculture industry was the top greenhouse gas emitter in Iowa during 2013 and 2014, outpacing both the transportation and industrial energy sectors. Soil management alone produced nearly as many greenhouse gases as transportation, even after accounting for all the traffic on Iowa’s major interstates.

Now, however, experts estimate that soils currently lacking carbon due to years of non-regenerative practices have the potential to absorb billions of metric tons of carbon, bringing atmospheric carbon dioxide down by as much as 50 parts per million from its current average above 400 parts per million.

Some regenerative farming practices are already in use by Iowa farmers in some form, like planting cover crops and allowing livestock to graze in harvested fields, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Buffer strips with trees can help bring back some of the biodiversity lost to modern farming practices.

The article lists incentives as one way to help farmers employ regenerative practices, with financing from carbon taxes allowing them to charge a higher price for their regeneratively-grown crops.

One thought on “Carbon sequestration could make agriculture carbon neutral

  1. Related work at UI:
    Yadav V, Malanson GP, Bekele EG, Lant C. 2009. Modeling watershed-scale sequestration of soil organic carbon for carbon credit programs. Applied Geography 29: 488-500.

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