In this week’s article on the power of compost to increase forage and carbon sequestration, I introduce you to my friends John Wick and Peggy Rathmann. Their work to improve agriculture and provide a climate change solution is worth knowing about.
I met John and Peggy over a decade ago, when they invited me to their ranch to teach a herd of cows to eat distaff thistle. They were just building their ranching operation, and as John describes here, after starting by removing the trespassing cows from their place, they learned to love well-managed cows for their ability to help revive native grasses and vegetation to meet their wildlife habitat goals.
Back then it was popular for livestock producers to call themselves “Grass Farmers” to demonstrate their focus on providing lots of good forage for their stock. But John quickly moved on from that to being a “carbon farmer” focusing on finding ways to increase carbon in the soils below his pastures. His goal: produce food, fuel, and fiber, and improve wildlife habitat while also providing a solution to climate change. “And having a lot of fun!” he always adds.
Over the last decade, John has made huge strides in that direction. With researchers he found one part of the solution: compost. In fact, according to the Marin Carbon Project, if farmers spread a quarter inch of compost on just 50 percent of California’s rangelands, 42 million metric tons of CO2e would be offset, equivalent to all the electricity use for commercial and residential sectors in California. He’s also worked on other parts of the solution: Carbon Farming Planning, a way of looking at the carbon footprint and then implementing a whole slate of practices to reduce that footprint. Loren Poncia, of Stemple Creek Ranch, was one of the first to try the new concept at ranch scale. Today, Loren has the data proving his ranch is storing more carbon than it releases. He’s also worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to identify 34 carbon farming practices eligible for federal financial assistance. Finally, John has worked with the state of California on a whole-state soil health initiative, increasing opportunities for producers to participate.
In a world where it sometimes seems like one person can’t make a big difference, John has shown me that enthusiasm and perseverance, combined with finding a team of people to move things along, can make even one person very powerful. I’m honored to call him my friend.
Thanks for reading!