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HomeClimate and GrazingCooling the Planet with Carbon Farming

Cooling the Planet with Carbon Farming

We’ve now established scientifically that there is a version of agricultural that actually results in more carbon in the soil in a durable form than is re-released from the enjoyment of the carbohydrates produced.

~ John Wick

Since 2006, John Wick and the Marin Carbon Project have been doing research and putting  carbon farming practices as a new agricultural standard to help increase productivity and mitigate climate change.

This is just a sample of what John Wick and I will be presenting at the December 15, 2022 Lunch With Forages sponsored by the Oregon Forage and Grassland Council. Please join us as John talks about his background as a rancher, the research done on his ranch and the discoveries he’s made, and how he and a host of stakeholders are working together to spread the word and help farmers and ranchers implement climate beneficial practices.

It’s free, but space is limited. So register now!


Where we’re standing today is the Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales and the importance of being here is that the research and proof of concept that we did on my ranch is now being demonstrated at full scale here in this system. The Stemple Creek Ranch produces lamb and beef which is sold into the San Francisco Bay area food system.There are several fine restaurants and markets that now sell they products coming from this.

The exciting thing, and the most important thing about this is we’ve now established scientifically that there is a version of agricultural that actually results in more carbon in the soil in a durable form than is re-released from the enjoyment of the carbohydrates produced.

We’ve done application of compost on demonstration plots at full scale and through the ability now to track changes over time in the carbon levels in the soil system, we’ll gain more and more confidence in the climate benefits of this kind of agriculture.

For more ideas of what you can do to sequester more carbon on your operation, check out the GHG and Carbon Sequestration Ranking Tool from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They list the Practice Standard Code, the title and the beneficial attributes along with a qualitative ranking to help you choose best practices. Remember that you can get both technical and financial assistance for implementing these practices too!

The other thing that is exciting about this whole idea is that it’s not just a single practice. By working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service we’ve actually now identified 34 practices that are all farm-bill funded that are known to be climate beneficial. And those actually describe an entire agricultural operation that can be considered net climate beneficial. And we call that carbon farming.

Now all farming is carbon farming. But what’s special about our approach is that we’re managing for carbon flow into the system at a greater rate than may be leaving it through the products or the emissions associated with it. So as carbon farming is being formed and taken to scale throughout the region, we’re advancing the research ahead of that to identify the regional response to these agricultural practices. We have a lot of understanding and confidence in the Marin County area because of our research here. Now, last fall, in 2016, we went across the state of California and identified 15 sites that the NRCS and the scientists from UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley feel represent the systems where we want to see if we get the same responses in them.

So we went and did a complete base line measurement of all 15 sites last fall and then we applied the same exact compost on all of those systems. Now over time we’re going to watch the response in terms of the biogeochemistry, forage production, water function and overall production from those systems. And it’s our expectation and hope that once we’ve done that demonstration, then compost application on grazed rangelands will be considered by the NRCS to be a new interim practice standard and therefore farm bill fundable.


The results from the 2016 studies are now in and they were everything John hoped they would be. Thanks to that work, the Natural Resources Conservation Service did create a new Conservation Practice Standard to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to apply compost as a tool for carbon sequestration and improved plant production.
If you’re interested in getting started, here’s a link to Conservation Standard 336. Print it off and take it to your local NRCS office for more assistance.

In California we have the Healthy Soils Initiative which is a mechanism to distribute Green House Gas reduction funds and subsidize or pay for implementation of the same suite of practices. We know now that the forage production increases are exciting to the actual land managers.

And there’s a wonderful expression of carbohydrates in terms of fiber and the Fibershed Project now is working with producers across the state, organizing their voice so they can represent their interests as carbon farmers in Sacramento to maintain a steady flow of the Healthy Soils Initiative funding into this kind of climate restorative agriculture.

Eating and wearing clothing can actually help cool the planet. And the exciting news here is that rather than agriculture adapting to a changing climate, we have enough evidence now that this version of agriculture can make the climate adapt to agriculture. That’s a pretty cool thing!

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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