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Home > Natural Resources

Sustainable Land Management Practices Sequester Carbon

Sustainable land practices such as organic farming provides proven, immediate carbon sequestration

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Rodale Institute research shows that organically managed soils can store (sequester) more than 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre, while non-organic systems can cause carbon loss.

For all purchasers of raw organic materials -- both consumer and corporate -- this means that the simple act of buying organic products can help to reduce global climate change.

Right now, American farmlands under organic production represent just a sliver of the pie. Even so, the 2.4 million U.S. acres managed organically in 2005—just 0.5 percent of all U.S. cropland—captured an estimated 2.4 billion pounds of atmospheric carbon.

So...buy organic and immediately sequester carbon!

Imagine this: the carbon sequestration potential of 25 percent or even 50 percent of U.S. agricultural farmlands converted to organic production is 120 to 240 billion pounds per year, the equivalent of removing up to 42 million cars from the road!

A 2002 report said that organic agriculture enables ecosystems to better adjust to the effects of climate change and has major potential for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

One study estimates that the total mitigating potential of organic sustainable food systems is nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 16.5 percent of energy use, the largest benefits coming from carbon sequestration in organic farming and reduced transport from relocalizing food systems.  

Since 1981, The Rodale Institute has monitored soil carbon and nitrogen levels in scientifically controlled test fields using organic as well as a wide range of other farming methods. In the organic systems, soil carbon increased 15 to 28 percent.  

These results are the extension of findings first published in the journal Nature in 1999 and have undergone additional peer review.  

While the effects of carbon sequestration have been known for some time, The Rodale Institute's research provides the most definitive, long-term evidence about organic agriculture's asset as a tool against global warming.  

Although it's not a "silver bullet," carbon sequestration can become a powerful component of a multi-pronged approach to managing the issue of global warming.

Organic Farming Practices Emit Fewer Greenhouse Gases and Sequester Carbon,/h2> "Because the Farming Systems Trial found that organic farming practices emit fewer greenhouse gases, the carbon sequestration findings are exciting on their own," said Anthony Rodale. "Additionally, The Rodale Institute's multi-year study also produces compelling evidence about the economic viability of organic agriculture. The field trial findings can be beneficial to all farmers by helping to increase crop yields while decreasing energy, fuel and irrigation costs."

Insects take a bigger bite out of plants in a higher CO2 world

University of Illinois entomology professors are utilizing an open-air research facility in which plants can be exposed to a variety of CO2 and ozone levels to determine how global warming might affect the relationship between crop plants and the insect pests that eat them.

What was somewhat unexpected was the discovery that at high CO2 levels, crop plants lost their ability to produce a hormone that made their leaves difficult for insect pests to digest.

These insects depend on nitrogen for their early development and since higher atmospheric CO2 means more carbs relative to nitrogen in plant leaves, young insects have to eat more of them to grow properly. None of this really came as a surprise to researchers, nor was the fact that more adult insects—which can survive on a high-carb diet—preferred high C02 soybeans over a control plot.

Sustainable Land Stewardship

Good land stewardship will go a lot further in the near term than untested technologies in fighting global warming, a recent study published in Science magazine suggests.

According to the study, tree harvesting contributes more to global warming that all the cars and trucks in service worldwide, with tropical felling alone responsible for about 20 percent of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture was listed as another culprit.

Practices such as properly managing such harvests and implementing methods of agriculture—such as no-till—than protect the soil and capture carbon stand to reduce the threat of global warming much more immediately and significantly than more high-tech solutions such as carbon capture and storage (CCS form coal-fired power plants), the study suggests.

Rodale Institute
www.rodaleinstitute.org



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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