This article explores regenerative agriculture as a climate change solution. It is based on Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative that mapped the top 100 most effective solutions to reverse global warming.
Reflecting at the half way stage, I have been really pleased with the way this series has gone and the way it has been received. Out of numbers 11-20, two solutions are from the energy sector, three relate to land use and five relate to food. In terms of climate change, it appears that we very much are what we eat.
The authors begin the section on regenerative agriculture with the following comprehensive explanation:
“Regenerative agricultural practices restore degraded land. They include no tillage, diverse cover crops, on farm fertility (no external nutrient sources required), no or minimal pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, and multiple crop rotations, all of which can be augmented with managed grazing. The purpose of regenerative agriculture is to continually improve and regenerate the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves plant health, nutrition, and productivity.”
The authors follow this up with the statement that: “no other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming as capturing carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis.”
Let’s turn to the numbers that allowed regenerative agriculture to be ranked as the 11th most effective climate change solution. Regenerative agriculture could reduce CO2 emissions by 23.15 gigatons, for a net cost of $57.2 billion, but produce $1.93 trillion in net savings. These are very large numbers.
Referring to current practices, the authors point out that: “conventional agriculture treats the soil as a medium to which mineral fertilizers are added… Plowing and tilling release carbon from the soil, and little or none of the carbon from the plants is sequestered.”
Of the cascading benefits of soil carbon, the authors had the following to say:
“Increasing carbon means increasing the life of the soil. When carbon is stored in soil organic matter, microbial life proliferates, soil texture improves, roots go deeper, worms drag organic matter down their holes and make rich castings of nitrogen, nutrient uptake is enhanced, water retention increases several fold (creating drought tolerance or flood insurance), nourished plants are more pest resistant, and fertility compounds to the point where little or no fertilisers are necessary.”
The authors have also calculated that: “each additional percent of carbon in the soil is considered equivalent to $300 – $600 of fertilizer stored beneath.”
On the benefits of cover crops, the authors explain that: “cover crops sown into harvested plant residues crowd out weeds and provide fertility and tilth to the subsoil.”
The authors do highlight that: “the impact of regenerative agriculture is hard to measure and model.”
In closing, that authors point towards a new orthodoxy which is sweeping across the food sector:
“The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Feeding the soil reduces carbon in the atmosphere. Soil erosion and water depletion cost $37 billion in the United States and $400 billion globally. Ninety-six percent of that comes from food production.”
What you need to know
This article explored regenerative agriculture as a climate change solution. It was based on Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative that mapped the top 100 most effective solutions to reverse global warming.
I thought it was interesting that at the half way stage, out of solutions 11-20 in Project Drawdown, 8 were related to either land use or food. Clearly these are areas where significant climate opportunities can be found.
With respect to regenerative agriculture, this comes across as an interesting solution and an area where massive amounts of carbon can be stored as well as being prevented from being released.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about regenerative agriculture as a climate change solution?