How We're Fighting Climate Change On The Farm.
There are two ways to reduce the carbon footprint of a farm; the first and most obvious way is by reducing the farm business’ use of fossil fuel so curtailing the farm’s carbon emissions. When we first took on Village Farm we purposely decided to de-mechanise the farm and only use the smallest amount of machinery. We also gage our fuel use by how many jerry cans of diesel we use a year. So far this year I think it’s been 16 jerry can’s worth. The second way to reduce carbon is less well known but equally as important and that’s by turning the farmland into a carbon sink. Put simply it means taking the carbon that’s already up in the atmosphere and locking it back down underground where it becomes a force for good not harm. Most folks know trees store carbon in their wood, but trees and forests are not the world’s biggest natural carbon store. That title is awarded to our oceans, they sequester far more than anything else; second in line are the world’s soils. As long as those soils are not disturbed, the carbon remains safe underground indefinitely.
Sadly, centuries of ploughing and tillage have released billions, upon billions of tons of once safely stored carbon up into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 to 70% of their stored carbon. All this lost carbon adds to driving climate change. However, when it comes to soil carbon it’s not a one-way street, with the use of plants you can reverse that decline and start to pump that atmospheric carbon back into the soil and lock it down. The key to this is treat the soil as nature would; so stop ploughing it, stop driving heavy machinery over it, stop over grazing it, stop poisoning it with agritech chemicals and importantly keep it covered in green vegetation at all times.
When it comes to green vegetation you’ve got two choices, either pasture species or woodland species. But here’s a question, which is best for sucking down carbon and locking it into ground? Throughout most studies conducted, woodland soils seems to have the edge, but it depends on a number of variables; the soil type, the make up of species in both woodland and pasture and how the pastures are grazed. At Village Farm we use a form of grazing called holistic planned grazing, in other parts of the world this form of grazing has been cited as being very effective at locking down soil carbon. But will it do better than planting new woodlands that were once pasture?
At Village Farm with a massive thank you to The Woodland Trust for supplying the saplings we’ve planted 15,000 trees so far and intend to plant at least 15,000 more. Probably much more. So another question to ask is by planting new woodlands will that help the pasture directly beside them sequester more carbon into the soil than pasture with no trees close by? Lastly, between the pastures and the new woodlands how many tons of carbon are we annually sequestering? All of these questions we can’t personally answer but we know people who can!
With kindly donated funding from the Woodland Trust we invited a small team of soil scientists from North Wyke/Rothamsted Research to take independent soil carbon samples from both our pastures and soon to be new woodland shelterbelts. These samples will work as a baseline to then be repeated again in a few years time so we can read how much carbon has been sequestered in that time and begin to answer some of the soil carbon questions above. At the moment because we’re not damaging our soils we can be pretty sure our land is sequestering carbon, but what the work from the guys at North Wyke will do is tell us how much.