The Western View: Carbon Farming

Taylor HillmanFeatures, Western View

Farmers know the value of organic matter, especially those working in the sand and clay soils of the central valley.

The Western View: Carbon Farming

Carbon-base fertilizers enrich the earth and balance the soil, reduce pest problems and improve fertilization. But suddenly, organic matter has transformed into “carbon farming”, and is being touted as the way to reduce greenhouse gases.

The idea is simple: take excess carbon out of the atmosphere, where the it causes global warming, and put it in the soil, where it helps plants grow. It’s called carbon sequestration and may well become the best way to reduce greenhouse gases.

Savvy growers have always been aware that carbon, in the form of organic matter, is good for the soil. it holds nutrients for the plants and retains water, among other things. Carbon farming is an intentional maximizing of the amount of carbon placed in the soil. It’s no-till farming, with regular additions of compost or manure which breaks down and soaks into the soil. Intense carbon farming goes beyond that, with a rotation of a variety of food and cover crops throughout the growing season. When the growing season is done, some use cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens to eat the remnants of the crop and trample it, plus make an investment of their own carbon in the form of manure. The end result is a rich field ready for another crop.

But there’s more to the story. There could be big money for growers who invest in carbon farming. In some parts of the world, national cap and trade programs allow farmers that adopt carbon-sequestration practices, to sell carbon credits to polluters that need help offsetting their carbon footprints.

Now, these carbon offsets and credits are not available in the United States yet, but perhaps they should be. These offsets seem like a creative and intelligent way to motivate growers to reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.