Last week I introduced you to a practice that increases forage and soil’s water-holding capacity while also doing a great job of sequestering carbon. Spreading compost is so good at carbon sequestration that, if we were to implement it across our grasslands, we could actually pull enough CO2 from the atmosphere that we could begin to cool the planet. If you have your own compost pile or access to compost, you can start right now and look forward to more forage, soil that holds more water, and a big thank you from everyone.
But we can do more. As my friend John Wick says, we can actually clothe ourselves from the fiber we grow, and eat food and enjoy renewable fuel, all derived from restorative agricultural that removes more carbon from the atmosphere than is re-released. He saw his challenge as taking the 10 years of science and demonstration to the adoption phase. That means getting enough compost and making the practice financially doable for farmers and ranchers. So he worked with a wide variety of partners to start that process for you.
Technical and Financial Assistance – Conservation Practice Standard 336
One of the first things he did was bring in the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Their mission to provide farmers and ranchers the support they need to be successful and to protect and improve soil and water quality, and wildlife habitat makes them a natural fit. That meant doing the work to get the practice of compost application included in the NRCS’s Conservation Practice Standards. These technical guides are the primary scientific references for NRCS. These standards are important because farmers and ranchers can get technical and financial assistance for listed practices.
The process to get the practice certified began in California in 2015. Compost was applied to rangelands across the state, and the effects were tracked. When the trials were successful, NRCS added compost as Interim Practice 808. This allowed for additional testing in other locations. By 2021, ten other states had tested and added the interim practice, and at the request of Vermont, biochar was added. Finally, following a comment period and revisions based on the comments, the Interim Practice became a new standard called “Conservation Practice Standard Soil Carbon Amendment Code 336.”
After seven years of work and review, you can now go to your local NRCS office or Conservation District and talk to them about support for implementing the practice on your operation. However, since it’s brand new, keep in mind that staff may not yet be familiar with it, or with all the work that went into demonstrating its value. You may need to provide them with the Standard and with some of the background research. Feel free to send them to On Pasture to learn more.
Legislation to Provide Support and Funding and Increase Compost Supply
One of the most important things John and his partners did in California was to work through the legislative process. While this kind of work may not be your personal cup of tea, it’s important to know about as it’s a way for your community and your state to participate and support farmers and ranchers doing this important work.
With a coalition of people and organizations, they passed a suite of climate smart policies that support the adoption of climate-friendly agriculture. The first was the Healthy Soils Initiative that explicitly states the importance of soil stewardship and calls on government agencies to build a program with the purpose of supporting soil health. This initiative led to the Healthy Soils Program (HSP), which provides funding to farmers and ranchers implementing climate smart agriculture and additional research into beneficial practices. They also tackled the problem of emissions from food waste while building additional compost supply. Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate such “green” waste from other trash so it can be composted. The program will be rolled out gradually for homes and businesses to allow everyone to prepare and adjust to participating. As for paying for these programs, the majority of policies are funded through the revenue generated by California’s Cap-and-Trade program.
This is just an example of how one group approached solving the compost supply and funding challenge. Different approaches will work better for different communities and states. In fact, some states have already begun developing their own polices. You can find out what’s happening in your state and who’s working on this important topic here.
This is another example of how communities can support carbon farming. Zero Foodprint (ZFP) is a nonprofit organization developed by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, two award-winning restaurateurs. Their goal was to help farmers and ranchers who want to use their land to solve climate change but need funding to implement regenerative farming practices. Guests at ZFP restaurants send 1% of every purchase to a fund that is then distributed as grants to farmers for healthy soil projects.
These kinds of programs help people get involved who might otherwise not have a way to participate in carbon farming – like those folks John Marble talks about in another of this week’s articles.
If you’d like to get started with your own compost pile, here are some resources for you.
There are lots of publications about how to compost and I downloaded a couple of them from the Healthy Soils Program website. They’re good and full of all kinds of important details, but a little overwhelming. So just take your time. You don’t have to learn everything at once. If, like me, you just can’t wait to get started, ask an expert for advice. Try your local NRCS or Conservation District office. Or call up an extension agent in your state.
If you’re excited about the possibilities of compost for you and your business, there’s a Conservation Practice Standard for building composting facilities. You can download it here. I found this post from Eco Farming Daily to be very helpful. The author provides a lot of information about how to do it on a large scale based on his own experience with doing it.
Finally, just start with the simplest thing. Find some compost and spread it. A quarter to a half inch layer is perfect. John Wick spreads a little more every year on his ranch and he lays it on a little thicker where weeds are showing up. Since we know one application will sequester a ton of durable carbon every year for 30 years, you’ll start making a difference year first, and you can increase that with every year you add more compost to your pastures.
Once you’ve done that, then look around your neighborhood and see how you might help others get started too. As your influence grows, you might run into other people and groups who will join in and expand on your work. And that’s how we change the world!
Thanks for all you do! And happy compost spreading!