Soil carbon sequestration. You’d be forgiven for not knowing what that is. But we currently stand face-to-face with the realities of global warming. We’re on the precipice of an environmental apocalypse. This mouthful of a method could be key to decarbonising our world and reversing years of wilful damage.
Regenerative agriculture, which has its focus on soil carbon sequestration, is gaining traction. What is it and how does it work?
Sustainable vs Regenerative Agriculture: What’s the Difference?
Sustainable agriculture sounds positive enough. Why do we need regenerative farming practices?
Sustainable agriculture is farming in a way which prioritises good environmental practices. Growers focus on maintaining healthy soil and minimising water wastage. They farm in a way that keeps pollutant levels low.
Above and beyond ground-level methods, proponents also seek economic and social equity. This means that the ways in which the goods are traded are fair and benefit those who laboured to produce them.
Sustainable agriculture has been a field of study and serious debate since the 1950s. During this decade, researchers first started making the link between soil health and human health. They concluded that the healthier the soil, the better the health of those who consume foods grown in or on it.
The Damage Done
It seems strange, here in 2018, to look back and realise that more than 60 years ago people knew how damaging non-sustainable farming methods were. Yet most farming still continues in the same way. It’s wasteful of water, liberal with the chemicals, and has short-term profit margins at the fore.
These intensive industrial farming methods have had devastating impacts. Much of our soil is now ill-equipped to cope with the demands of the world’s food needs. Furthermore, scientists call soil a “limited” resource. Although it regenerates, soil can take up to 1,000 years to redevelop, depending on the extent of the damage.
Regenerative agriculture seeks to reverse some of this damage. It can overturn that inflicted by industrial farming methods and poor environmental management.
Many of the principles and aims of regenerative agriculture are the same as sustainable agriculture. That is, environmentally friendly practices, ethical trading, and good soil health.
Where they differ though, is that regenerative agriculture aims to do more than just have a low carbon footprint. It aims instead for carbon-positive practices and methods.
According to The Carbon Underground, regenerative methods,
“address the critical need to restore soil health, re-balance water and carbon cycles and create new topsoil. It grows food and other materials in a regenerative way that enables nature to sustain these systems.”
Regenerative agriculture is an emerging science and practice. There is no one singular definition. As it becomes more commonplace, no doubt the terminology will adapt.
Decarbonising the World Through Soil Carbon Sequestration
One of the biggest potential upshots to this kind of farming is the notion of carbon positivity. Some bold claims have been made about so-called soil carbon sequestration.
Essentially, soil carbon sequestration is the process of long-term carbon storage. It’s an alternative to releasing millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. Which is a critical problem – as of 2012, the amount of carbon in our atmosphere had increased by around 30%. There is a direct link between these increased carbon levels and global warming.
If we increase soil carbon storage, atmospheric carbon levels may decrease. The end result of this (if carried out on a mass scale) could be a reversal, or at least halting, of global warming.
Sounds good right? To hear more about this, check out this episode of the Good Foodies podcast with Scott Fry from Loving Earth.
The World is Taking Notice
It’s not just scientists and farmers who are turning their attention to the benefits of regenerative agriculture. Major companies are starting to take note too.
Many leading businesses support agricultural principles which prioritise carbon positive practices. These companies include Ben and Jerry’s, Crofter’s Organic and environmental leader, the Rodale Institute.
Being signatories to a set of principles is not a certification. But it does show a willingness to recognise the potential of carbon positive agriculture.
Cynics among us might call this mere virtue signalling. They might be right, but with time, we may see major brands opting for goods sourced from regenerative farms. Just as have with the increasing desire for organic, ethically sourced and fairly traded products. Consumer demand drives production.
How Can I Support Regenerative Agriculture?
To join the growing movement of people supporting regenerative agriculture, you, as a consumer, can vote with your wallet.
While regeneratively grown goods may not be plentiful on our shelves yet, there are a few companies here in the UK you can support:
The Regenerative Organic Certification reflects the growth of this farming method. Proponents hope that it means we’ll see more and more carbon-positive products.
Whether regenerative agriculture will save us from global warming remains to be seen. But with all this carbon and no place to put it, enriching our soil and cleaning our atmosphere at the same time seems as good a place as any to start.