When a small group of farmers and conservationists got together in 1980, they asked the question: What will happen to the nation’s food supply if we continue to wastefully develop our best farm and ranch land?
That meeting was the impetus that eventually led to the creation of American Farmland Trust (AFT), an organization dedicated to advocacy for voluntary conservation practices and programs designed to preserve land, soil, and water.
AFT recently joined a consortium of other conservation-centric agricultural organizations at a “Learning Lab” for the U.S. Climate Alliance Natural and Working Lands Initiative. Over 50 technical experts across industry, academia, and government worked together to draft guiding principles state governments can use to develop strategies, policy, and funding projects to draw down carbon from the air and sequester it in the soils across farms, rangelands, forests, and wetlands.
“Only by sequestering carbon on natural and working ag lands can we achieve the goal of drawing down the carbon needed to help reverse climate change,” says Jimmy Daukas, senior program officer, AFT.
Process of Sequestration
Good soil health is the foundation for the transfer of carbon to the soil. Many things impact the proliferation of advanced organisms in the soil. One of those is wide swings in soil temperatures. “When soil temperatures are hot in the daytime and fall dramatically at night, those conditions are just not favorable for growth of organisms, and drives the microbial population more toward bacteria than fungi,” says Dr. Kater Hake, vice president, Agricultural and Environmental Research, Cotton Incorporated. “Bacteria are not as efficient at promoting good soil health as fungi.”
To store large amounts of carbon in the soil, carbon compounds must be grown down in the soil profile where the compounds can contact micro-organisms. “That’s where fibrous roots come into play,” adds Hake. “Cover crops like cereal rye provide deep roots that help transfer carbon from the atmosphere to the soil.”
It is estimated the U.S. is losing 3 acres of farmland every minute. The loss of agricultural capacity, in acres of land and inches of soil, is unsustainable from a farming perspective and contributes to the impact toward climate change.
AFT launched a climate initiative called “Farmers Combating Climate Change” in 2017. The initiative’s goals include:
- Protect farmland and promote smart growth to significantly reduce emissions
- Improve soil health to reverse climate change and improve productivity
- Build strong support among the farm community to advance policies
Governors from U.S. Climate Alliance member states, along with thousands of global leaders, will convene at the Global Climate Action Summit this September in San Francisco to strategize about what can be done to accelerate emissions reductions. “Only by sequestering carbon on natural and working ag lands can we achieve the goal of drawing down the carbon needed to help reverse climate change,” adds Daukas.
The U.S. Climate Alliance will provide an update on 2018 initiatives, including the Natural and Working Lands Initiative, at this year’s summit.