Grassland soils naturally absorb and store carbon in soil but the plowing and tilling involved in agriculture disrupts this natural process by breaking apart the soil and releasing its stored carbon into the atmosphere.
Fortunately, carbon can also be reabsorbed by the soil when farmers employ a variety of traditional organic farming techniques including no-till agriculture, cover crops, and fertilizing their lands with nutrient-rich compost.
As plants grow, they store carbon in their leaves and roots and bank it in organic matter. As plant pieces are composted in the soil, microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, that also store carbon, work to fix the carbon in the soil rather than allowing to escape into the atmosphere, join oxygen, and form carbon dioxide.
California is increasingly stepping up as a pioneer of Carbon Farming .
The potential for land-based carbon sequestration in California is very significant. California rangelands cover about 56 million acres, half the state’s overall land area. According to some experts if merely 5% of that soil is treated with compost, the carbon sequestered would offset about 80% of the state’s agricultural emissions, the equivalent of removing nearly 6 million cars from the road.
Though carbon farming means farmers will actually save money by using fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and focusing on natural methods of building healthy soil, the up-front costs can be expensive. Applying compost in California costs around $700 per acre — more than most ranchers and farmers can afford. As a result California is currently working to offset costs by offering ranchers and farmers small grants as incentives to farm with carbon sequestration in mind.
The need for Carbon Farming today is rapidly growing. Tragically, cimate change itself is making it more difficult for soil to retain carbon. As temperatures warm, soils heats up, and soil micro-organisms expel more carbon dioxide. Carbon farming must now become a fundamental practice of global agriculture.