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The agriculture industry is beginning to consider soil’s ability to capture and store carbon, a potential climate-saver long overlooked.
“Attention to soil health is gaining momentum out of frustration with our inability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions at an economy-wide scale,” said Thomas Driscoll, director of conservation policy and education for the National Farmers Union, the country’s second-largest farm industry group. “People are starting to pay attention to farming and land-use because they’re having so much trouble everywhere else.”
The world’s cropland has the potential to store 20 billion tons of carbon on about 4 billion acres over a 25-year period. That is enough to offset as much as 15 percent of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning each year. France recently launched an international initiative to boost the organic carbon in soil by 4 parts per thousand, which it says is enough to offset annual increases in overall carbon emissions.
“I wish the U.S. were taking the lead. We’re the world’s breadbasket,” said Rattan Lal, a soil science professor at Ohio State University and the incoming president of the International Union of Soil Sciences. “But the French are, and as long at the U.S. follows along, then at least we’re heading in the right direction.”
Soil scientists like Lal and conservation groups have long recognized farmland’s ability to capture and store carbon, but the U.S. agricultural industry has been slow to embrace it. The American Farm Bureau, the biggest farm industry group in the country, has questioned the reality of manmade climate change, which makes it highly unlikely to push its members to take steps, particularly costly ones, to address carbon.
When soil is tilled or forests are cleared, natural carbon in the soil is released into the atmosphere, where it mixes with oxygen to form heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Since agriculture began about 10,000 years ago, soils have lost as much as 70 percent of their natural carbon. The simple solution is to stop clearing forests for cropland and reforest the ones that have been cleared, but increasingly, the focus has shifted to cropland’s potential to capture and store carbon. With a growing global population and the need to feed an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050, every acre of arable land will become essential.
By using techniques like “no-till,” in which farmers plant crops without disturbing the soil, they can minimize the release of carbon. Farmers can also plant cover crops after the growing season that improve soil health by adding carbon, make the soil less prone to erosion and draw in and store carbon from the atmosphere.
More U.S. farmers may be asked to do their part and use these techniques soon.
read more original article Inside climate
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