The Tommy’s team are big believers in sustainability, responsible farming, and healthy soil. We strive to partner with farms that follow best farming practices to not just reduce food waste, but go beyond sustainability and make a difference in the fight against climate change.
A recent article in the New York Times highlighted how soil impacts climate change, and since it’s spring – a time when the planet is often front of mind – we wanted to share the details on how farming practices can make soil healthier, and soil’s impact on climate change.
What Causes Climate Change?
Before we talk about the way that soil and farming effect climate change, it’s key to have any understanding of what we know so far about climate change.
According to NASA, it is widely agreed that climate change is caused by a greenhouse effect. This means that our atmosphere is becoming warmer as it traps heat that radiates from Earth. As we burn fossil fuels like coal and oil to power our lives, we contribute to the increase in gases that are trapped in the atmosphere, and this causes our planet’s temperatures to rise.
How Does Farming Effect the Climate?
While burning fossil fuels is a huge factor in climate change and global warming, there are some ways that farming has an effect, as well.
Extensive use of plows, grazing, and clear-cutting have led to soil erosion, which contributes to the accumulation of gases in the atmosphere. Additionally, the farming industry has contributed to the 135 billion metric tons of carbon that have been released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, whether that carbon is coming from gas-powered farm equipment or wasted food piling up in landfills.
Not everything is dire, though! There are steps that climate-sensitive farmers are taking to make changes in farming practices. One example is carbon farming.
Carbon farming comes from the idea that we may be able to put some of the carbon that is released from the burning of fossil fuels back into the soil. This proposal has grown in popularity as it becomes clear that we need to do more than just reduce gas emissions – we need to find a way to remove carbon that’s already been released into the atmosphere.
Some methods of drawing carbon out of the atmosphere include:
- scrubbing the air with machines similar to air conditioners,
- capturing and storing the carbon dioxide that comes from burning trees and other plants, and
- crushing and spreading different kinds of rocks, like basalt, that absorb carbon naturally.
Unfortunately, these approaches aren’t exactly affordable, especially at the scale needed to make a difference. Thankfully, plants can do the job pretty much for free. Read on for examples of how plants can be used to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.
What is Soil’s Impact on Climate Change?
Now that we’ve gone over some basic information on farming and climate change, we want to move to the most important part: how farming and healthy soil can have a positive impact. Two farmers that are really stepping up to the challenge are John Wick and Darin Williams.
John Wick, one of the farmers mentioned in the New York Times article linked above, teamed up with an ecologist, Whendee Silver, to learn more about carbon and farming. Silver started collecting soil samples to measure carbon concentrations in different areas of California. She found that farmers who sprayed manure on their pastures had a greater concentration of carbon in their soil.
Wick decided he wanted to try using something similar on his ranch, but he wanted to stay away from manure as it can release harmful greenhouse gases. So, along with the help of Jeff Creque, and organic farmer, he treated his soil with compost. After three years, Wick and Silver found that the areas of the ranch that had been treated with compost absorbed carbon and helped plants draw in more.
The practices that Wick and Silver started using not only found a way to absorb and retain more carbon but helped the soil as well. As Silver said, it caused “a state change,” moving the plants, the soil, and everything in it toward a new equilibrium. This is similar to the idea of regenerative agriculture, which focuses on actually improving the land, and building up healthy soil.
Darin Williams, also mentioned in the New York Times article, is another farmer who’s big on healthy soil. Williams worked as a contractor for 20 years before coming back to farming. He read an article by North Dakota farmer, Gabe Brown, who argued that focusing on the health of your soil rather than your yield, you can come out ahead.
So, Williams followed that advice and grew his farm over seven years. He now has plants that are grown specifically to help enrich the soil, like sorghum, mung beans, and radishes. These plants drew nutrients to the surface and added organic material into the land. Eventually, Williams’s cows would eat the plants, turn them into cow patties, and make the soil even healthier.
Williams also doesn’t till his fields, which keeps his soil from being disturbed. This prevents erosion, helps the soil stay moist, and leaves the soil’s ecosystem intact.
Want More Information?
While there are some effects on the climate that come from farming, there are options for fighting them too! We’re excited to see the way that farmers like these are taking a stand and making a difference. If you want more information on healthy soil and responsible farming practices from Tommy’s blog, take a look at our resources on sustainability.
What are your thoughts on this soil-first farming practice? Leave us a comment and let us know!