Fourth generation rancher Loren Poncia made Stemple Creek Ranch carbon positive. He has implemented rotary cattle grazing systems that allow the soil and grass to recover, put compost on pastures, and planted worm farms and chicory that aerate the soil.
Courtesy Paige Green
President Joe Biden has urged U.S. farmers to lead the way in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change – a goal that fourth generation rancher Loren Poncia set out to achieve over a decade ago.
Despite being in the beef sector, which is a huge contributor to global warming, Poncia has turned its northern California ranch into one of the few carbon-positive cattle ranches in the country.
“It’s a win-win – for the environment and for our paperback,” said Poncia, who introduced carbon farming practices through a partnership with the Marin Carbon Project.
Experts estimate that through regenerative farming practices, farmers around the world can sequester enough of the carbon to avert the worst effects of climate change. Research suggests that removing carbon already in the atmosphere and replenishing the soil could lead to 10% carbon depletion worldwide. The United Nations has warned that efforts to contain global emissions without drastic changes in global land use and agriculture will be neglected.
The Poncia ranch is sequestering more carbon than is released by processes like rotary cattle grazing systems, which allow the soil and grass to recover. It involves applying compost to pastures instead of chemical fertilizers to avoid worm farms being tilled and planted, and chicory to aerate the soil. Such climate-friendly projects have enabled Poncia to grow more grass and produce more beef.
“If we as a world want to undo the damage done, it is through agriculture and food sustainability,” said Poncia. “We are excited and positive about the future.”
While some farmers, ranchers, and foresters have already adopted sustainable practices that capture existing carbon and store it in the soil, others are concerned about up-front costs and uncertain yields that can vary by state and farm.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently said it would encourage farmers to adopt such sustainable practices. And more and more researchers and companies have started to better quantify and manage the carbon stored in the soil.
USDA pushes for carbon cultivation
Tackling climate change has become a matter of survival for American farmers who have suffered great losses from floods and droughts that have become more frequent and more destructive across the country.
In 2019, farmers lost tens of thousands of acres in historic floods. And NASA scientists report that rising temperatures have pushed the western United States into the worst decade-long drought in the last millennium.
In the United States alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agriculture causes more than 10.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to warm the planet.
As a result, the Biden government now plans to steer $ 30 billion in agricultural aid from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to pay farmers to implement sustainable practices and capture carbon in their soil.
This file photo dated Monday, March 18, 2019 shows flood and storage tanks underwater on a farm along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb.
AP Photo | Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Biden’s candidate for USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has vowed to fulfill Biden’s broader plan to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050, said the money could be used to create new markets that encourage producers to do so To fix carbon in the soil.
Former President Donald Trump previously used these funds to save farmers who were harmed by his trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada that lowered commodity prices.
Using the CCC money to create a carbon bank may not require Congressional approval and agricultural lobby groups are expected to convince Congress to expand the fund.
“It is a great tool for us to create a structure that will inform future farm bills of what is promoting carbon sequestration, what is promoting precision farming, what is promoting soil health and regenerative farming practices,” said Vilsack upon his confirmation by the Senate hearing in the February.
Vilsack, who was President Barack Obama’s Agriculture Secretary for eight years, has also asked Congress to have an advisory group of farmers to help build a carbon market and ensure farmers get the benefits.
The government’s drive to promote on-farm carbon sequestration could support an emerging on-farm emissions reduction market and the technological advances that help farmers improve soil health and participate in carbon trading markets.
An emerging market
Some farmers have partnered with non-profit environmental and political groups to work on environmental sustainability. The movement was also increasingly supported by private companies.
Indigo Ag, a start-up advocating regenerative farming practices, said companies like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Shopify have committed to buying agricultural carbon credits that will help farmers with transition costs.
Chris Harbourt, global director of carbon at Indigo Ag, said the company is working with growers to remove financial barriers during the transition and provide training on implementing regenerative farming practices like growing cover crops off-season or switching to no-till crops to offer.
“Growers who use regenerative practices see benefits that go well beyond financial ones,” said Harbourt. “The soil is healthier and more resilient, which creates more opportunities for profitable years, even in difficult weather conditions.”
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Erik Fyrwald, CEO of Syngenta, a Switzerland-based seed and crop protection company, said government policies must provide appropriate incentives for farmers to accelerate the transition to regenerative agriculture.
“The incentives must be sufficient and reliable enough to give farmers the confidence to make the necessary investments to implement these practices on their farm,” said Fyrwald.
Poncia, who has twice received government funding from California’s Healthy Soil Program to implement sustainable practices on his ranch, hopes the administration can provide enough support to the agricultural sector so that other people can achieve similar results.
“Agriculture wants to support this movement, but it needs help, education and the ability to reduce the risk,” said Poncia. “If the government supports the farmers who get good results, everyone else will follow.”