What is Carbon Farming?
Agriculture and forestry practices account for at least 24 percent of global carbon emissions and 9 percent of U.S. carbon emissions (1). Under current land management practices, agriculture remains one of the leading contributors to global carbon emissions. However, it is the only economic sector with the potential to transform itself from a net carbon emitter to a net sink using practices broadly classified as “carbon farming”. These practices can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and store it for long periods of time in soil, microorganisms, and plant matter. Climate scientists estimate that 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide would need to be removed from the atmosphere to halt and begin to reverse the effects of climate change (2). The world’s agricultural soils can meet this challenge if change the way we grow food (3).
What is carbon farming?
Carbon farming is a broad set of agricultural practices across a variety of farm types that result in increased storage of atmospheric carbon in the soil. Many of these practices are common in organic farming, regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and other approaches to food production. When plants photosynthesize, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it. When they die, this carbon is either released back into the atmosphere or it is stored for long periods of time in the soil. Many conventional agriculture practices result in the release of carbon, while practices classified under carbon farming aim to do the opposite.
Some examples of practices that farmers (or even gardeners) can employ to help sequester carbon and improve soil health include:
Leftover biomass is returned to the soil as mulch after harvest instead of being removed or burned.
Cover crops are grown during the off-season instead of leaving croplands bare.
Continuous monocultures are replaced by high diversity crop rotations and integrated farming practices.