Agricultural and Forestry land is currently a huge emitter of CO2 into the atmosphere, responsible for between 21 and 37% of all global carbon emissions, at between 11 and 19 Gigatons of CO2 per annum. However, this land has the potential to moving from being a net emitter to a carbon sink – turning the tide on climate change.
Carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere into the soil by agricultural and forestry land by adopting regenerative practices. Academics estimate that if these practices are widely adopted they can sequester between 18 and 37 billion tonnes of carbon from croplands alone in the next 20 years, and it has even been quoted that If all global agricultural land was converted to a regenerative system it would have the ability to sequester more than the current level of global emissions.
The decarbonisation of our food and fiber systems is not the only benefit to a regenerative approach. A greater concentration of carbon in the soil, known as soil organic matter, boosts the fertility and resilience of the land leading to:
And as an added benefit for farmers and the companies in their supply chain, carbon sequestration can now be verified to release carbon credits. These can then be sold on the green finance market or offset against emissions further up the supply chain – meaning this good environmental practice can also be a source of additional funds for farms.
But regenerative agriculture is not a single, set methodology, rather it is a wide-ranging approach which varies depending on the geography and climate in which you are farming and the crops, livestock or fibers you are producing. So, which of the myriad of regenerative practices are the most effective at sequestering carbon? Let’s investigate a few examples
On average, the practice of cover cropping drives an increase in soil carbon sequestration of between 0.1 and 1.0 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, depending on the exact environment and management of the land. In addition, it also brings a wide array of other ecosystem services, and are a low cost practice for farms to implement.
The impact of No-Till and Low-Till on carbon emissions and sequestration are hotly debated, however what is clear is that this approach does increase soil carbon by between 0.1 and 0.1 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, as well as benefitting the soil’s biodiversity.
Integrating trees into farmland is growing in popularity across both commercial and regenerative farms, despite the relatively high implementation costs, due to the clear benefits the trees bring. Alley cropping for example can sequester between 1 and 5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year into the ground, with a further 30% of carbon being stored in the trees themselves. The trees also bring significant benefits in terms of the farm’s microclimate, soil structure and soil health.
Modern agriculture as divided livestock and crops, disrupting the natural cycle of elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Bringing back livestock into grazing land with a grazing management plan represents a significant carbon emission reduction tool. It also works to improve animal health and welfare and increased grassland productivity. Managed grazing has the potential to sequester between 3 and 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, and also reduces the farm’s reliance on imported feed such as soy.
Vitally though, these practices, along with the others which make up the rich tapestry of regenerative farming, should not be considered in isolation. Each one has its own potential but, real regeneration of the land comes from the adoption of a variety of approaches, suited to the land you manage, as it is the synergy between these practices and their continuity over time which will yield the best results.
Through our digital hub our members can monitor the effect of their regenerative approach on soil carbon in order to see what is most effective for their farm.