Farming carbon along with food

When you think of ways to mitigate climate change, most people think about renewable energy and electric vehicles. Those are important, for sure. But so is changing our farming practices. Tilling the ground after harvest releases carbon, disrupts soil organisms and can result in runoff. Cover crops, perennial crops and sometimes even animal agriculture can be part of the solution.

If farmers across the world turned their farms into carbon sinks, global greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 15 percent, according to a study in Science. The Marin Carbon Project in California, one of the early adopters of carbon farming in the U.S., has been able to reduce 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in three years across 65,000 hectares, according to one study. If carbon farming was adopted in 5 percent of California’s rangelands, the authors estimate that it could offset one year’s worth of emissions from the state’s agriculture and forestry industries.

In New York, farmers are offered incentives to experiment with better carbon farming methods.

Besides mitigating climate change, there are other reasons — more selfish ones — that farmers might want to adopt the sort of practices Dobson employs and Barrett is pushing. Healthy soil comes with a suite of ecological services: It reduces erosion and water retention, and also makes for healthier farms overall, helping them “build resilience to extreme weather events,” according to Cornell’s New York State Soil Initiative.