We’ve now established scientifically that there is a version of agriculture 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
Thanks for attending the Lunch With Forages presentation on carbon farming. Here are resources to help you become a carbon farmer.
If you were unable to attend, here is the full video. Coming up, I will be breaking it into sections and providing additional information.
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A little Background
John Wick is a “carbon farmer” focused 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. Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), John has helped identify 34 carbon farming practices eligible for federal financial assistance and supported the research that led to a new Conservation Practice Standard that provides technical support and farm-bill funded assistance to farmers who would like to use compost on their operations. Finally, John has worked with the state of California on a whole-state soil health initiative, increasing opportunities for producers to participate.
For an overview of what John learned about compost as a climate beneficial farming practice, and examples of how you can get started, check out the these two articles. Read on for links to the Science Papers and to tools and agencies.
Resources for Getting Started
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Technical and Financial Assistance – Conservation Practice Standard 336
Download and take this to your local NRCS office to begin.
Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Sequestration Ranking Tool
For some more ideas of what you can do to sequester more carbon on your operation, check out this NRCS tool. You’ll find 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!
Carbon Farming Planning
To get started, check out the Planning Tools (COMET Planner and COMET Farm), developed by researchers at Colorado State University, with support from NRCS, Carbon Cycle Institute and the Marin Carbon Project. These online tools facilitate the process of developing a Carbon farm Plan and helps you estimate the potential climate benefits and benefits to your operation like greater productivity, increased soil water holding capacity and improved hydrological function, biodiversity, and climate resilience.
Supporting Science Resources
What are the benefits of applying compost to pastures and rangelands?
A single application of compost doubled forage production and increased soil carbon sequestration by an average of 1 ton/hectare.
What does this mean for the potential of rangelands to mitigate climate change?
This 2014 paper showed that a single application of compost to grassland soils can increase soil C and N storage in labile and physically protected pools over relatively short time periods and contribute to climate change mitigatiom.
This 2018 paper demonstrates that this practice can actually cool the planet. “Soil organic carbon sequestration through agricultural management has been proposed as a means to lower atmospheric CO2 concentration, but the magnitude needed to meaningfully lower temperature is unknown. We show that sequestration of 0.68 Pg C year−1 for 85 years could lower global temperature by 0.1°C in 2100 when combined with a low emission trajectory [Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 2.6]. This value is potentially achievable using existing agricultural management approaches, without decreasing land area for food production.
How long will the benefits of compost application last?
Data from Nicasio Native Grass Ranch showed that 2,000 additional pounds of carbon per hectare was stored every year following the first application of compost. This paper modeled the potential impact, showing that this pattern could continue for 30 to 100 years.
Does spreading compost sequester more carbon than it emits through its production and transportation?
Yes! This study demonstrated that producing compost and applying it to rangelands has the potential to significantly offset GHG emissions. The largest offsets came from diverting manure, and yard and food wastes from landfills which reduced methane emissions.
How does compost compare to spreading manure?
“Manure applications increased forage production and soil Carbon storage, but plant community changes and greenhouse gas emissions decreased, and eventually eliminated, the net climate benefit of this practice.”
Is compost harmful to plant communities?
A one-time compost amendment produced large and persistent increases in aboveground biomass for both grassland ecosystems. It did not majorly affect species richness or abundance. Overall plant communities were resistant to compost addition. This is in contrast to applications of inorganic, nitrogen-based fertilizer which has been shown to increase invasive plants and reduce diversity.
Thermopile Project – a composting system that creates an ideal environment for thermophilic bacteria to ensure pathogen destruction in the compost.
Marin Carbon Project – John Wick was one of the founders of this group that was central to the exploration and research done at John’s ranch and others. You can find out more about the science and practice of carbon farming at the website.
Human domination of the biosphere: Rapid discharge of the earth-space battery foretells the future of humankind – This paper is an underlying driver of the work that John Wick has been doing.