One tablespoon of soil
contains more microbes than there are people on earth.
In a previous article, we have already explored how industrial farming practises, like monocultures, tilling, inorganic fertiliser and agrochemical use can diminish the nutrition in food. They can cause the carbon to leave the soil, because soil microbes and their homes, soil aggregates, are disrupted. Fortunately, the solution was also discussed. By increasing the organic matter and soil microbes, via regenerative farming practises, it can help to bring the CO2 back into the soil, where it belongs. Soil microbes are not only involved in the carbon cycle, they are also essential in the nutrient cycle between microbes and plants, producing nutrient-rich food for Australians...
Our civilisation has lived and thrived in a self-regulated climate for thousands of years, but the human species have now destabilised it. Agriculture evolved in a climate that supported our civilisation, but now farmers and scientists are admitting that industrial agriculture are one factor playing a key role in the disruption of our food- and health security. The climate is changing because massive amounts of CO2 are released into the air. Farmers see the climate is changing before their eyes. The summers are getting hotter and the pastures look like baked lunar landscapes… Entire food production communities are currently collapsing in some parts of Australia.
Two new studies have confirmed that farmers can win both ways, achieving a boost in harvests and helping to slow climate change. One says that they can successfully farm with techniques that can help slow global warming and add to the store of carbon sequestered in the soils around the globe. The second study confirms that a range of tested and sustainable practices is already stepping up yields in small farms worldwide, while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and pesticide use.
Both studies address a planetary problem. Global agriculture is at serious risk from global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel combustion. But global agriculture – powered by greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, ploughing, pesticides and herbicides – is also helping to drive global warming and climate change. Both studies focus on what is both practical and possible right now. Stronger government policies across the globe are now needed to support the greater adoption of sustainable farming systems.
Global Soil Health Challenge
Last week, both California and France announced the launch of a Global Soil Health Challenge at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco on the 14th of September.
The delegates called on governments across the world – both national and sub-national – to include programs that restore soil health under their national plans to meet their targets under the Paris Agreement. This is meant to step up climate action ahead of 2020. The Global Soil Health Challenge is part of a suite of climate smart agriculture practices aimed to strengthen efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequester carbon on natural and working lands, including agriculture.
According to this article, only 8 governments include programs on soil health in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Returning carbon in the air back to the soil is very easy, and can be done at low cost via sustainable regenerative farming practises. These increase biodiversity of species, food security, public health and more nutrient-dense food. Learn more here.
Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture said:
“Improving soil health is a powerful climate solution. By removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in our soils, we nourish the soil for healthy food production and increase water holding capacity to be drought tolerant and ensure food security. That’s the same whether you’re in California, France or any country in the world. As signatories to the Global Soil Health Challenge, we commit to apply these approaches and encourage other governments to join us in a soil health revolution to fight climate change.”
Stephane Travert, France’s Minister for Agriculture and Food, said:
“To be efficient and to lead to a true transition towards more sustainable agriculture, many actors have to be mobilised alongside the farmers. The 4 per 1000 Initiative will thus contribute to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. It will allow farmers to live well from their work, and contribute to food security.”
About the 4 per 1000 Initiative
If carbon was increased in soils by just 0.4% per year, the reduction in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would correspond to all annual man-made greenhouse gas emissions – hence the name of the 4 per 1000 Initiative. The platform will enable international collaboration between scientists, farmers and financiers on an ongoing basis in efforts to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by capturing more carbon in the planet’s soils.
The 4 per 1000 Initiative aims to encourage stakeholders to transition towards a productive, highly resilient agriculture, based on the appropriate management of agricultural soils in food security and climate action. Supported by solid science, the initiative invites all partners to implement practical actions on soil carbon storage. The initiative’s Secretariat is hosted by the CGIAR System Organization, an international organization based in Montpellier.
Why are Australian politicians reluctant to respond to climate change?
The simple answer is: big business is guilty of ruining the environment with massive release of carbon dioxide into the air. Big business also seem to be in charge of the running of this country. A Guardian Australia investigation recently revealed serious failings in the system governing political lobbying, while for the first time exposing the true extent to which ex-politicians, staffers and public servants are now lobbying for private interests. “Big business is gaining almost unfettered access to the corridors of Australia’s parliament owing to an oversight regime that is weak, unenforced, opaque and unable to keep track of the revolving door between lobbying and government.” Despite the smiling and placating faces of politicians frequently seen on television, it seems politicians are not running this country; big business interests are. This sad lack of accountability and lack of conscience in positions of power have to change.
Our food supply should not be in the hands of corporations, who put profit before people, the environment and nutrition. The concentration of power erodes diversity, shuts out small producers from the means of production and commodifies primary produce. It’s downright devastating for rural and regional communities, farm ecosystems and for our climate. See the video above:
Our health is in crisis because agriculture in Australia is in crisis.
A previous article explored Agriculture Victoria’s new website Invest in Victorian Agriculture, and how the state may be encouraging food production systems not in the best interest of consumers.
The new website sets out to attract investors, saying that Victoria’s agriculture is worth $13.1 billion and the food processing sector is worth $38.1 billion. It is showcasing a farming method that research is showing to be potentially detrimental for us all. Some hydroponic-grown vegetable production operations rely on releasing more carbon dioxide into the air, with both public health and environmental concerns. Some say that “crops are losing nutrients as CO2 is going up” and that higher CO2 environments will mean less nutritious crops, so that “increased quantity is at the expense of quality”. These farming methods are generating a massive yield for some farmers, but at what cost to the environment and to the consumer? Scientists say that certain staple foods will be less nutritious in 2050 due to rising CO2 in the atmosphere, leaving millions of people less healthy or even with malnutrition. There may be a quick buck to be made, but this is not a sustainable food system, read more here. Half of all tomatoes sold in supermarkets already come from operations like this, according to a recent Catalyst episode.
Many large-scale industrial farming operations that once sounded lucrative, have now soured, led to farmer poverty and even bank repossession of family farms. See this example of a dairy farmer who grew his operation to 1,500 dairy cattle, and now face loosing the family farm, because it doesn't seem to be a viable business anymore. These dairy cows have to be fed large amounts of grain because a large herd like this cannot currently be sustainably kept on a predominant pasture diet. Many dairy farmers are on the verge of losing everything in this way because they have responded to the ‘get big or get out’ approach. Our agriculture sectors have become extremely unbalanced under the guidance of big business, industry and government.
Land clearing and the Australian drought in NSW and QLD. Are they related?
According to this ABC article, we've cut down nearly 40 per cent of our forests in the past 200 years in Australia. In Queensland, more than one million hectares have been cleared since 2012, and New South Wales and the Northern Territory have also recently increased logging. In NSW, the clearing of native vegetation jumped 800% in three years according to Guardian Australia. New South Wales gave permission to clear over 7,000 hectares of native vegetation in 2015-16, the second highest rate of clearing in a decade. Environmental groups and the government’s own Office of Environment and Heritage have warned that the new regime will lead to a major increase in loss of habitat, on a scale only seen in Queensland, which is the nation’s worst state for land clearing. These are also the two states
where farmers suffer most under the drought. Coincidence?
There is evidence that trees make rain.
In the Amazon, researchers have noticed that the forest tends to build up low-lying cloud and rains increase. Last year, researchers showed that the "greening" of the forest and increased atmospheric moisture were connected. They found the increased water vapour was almost certainly coming off the forest. The moisture from the forest is kickstarting an early wet season and is responsible for the early cycle of rain, not water evaporated from the ocean. The ABC article demonstrates that we have indeed affected our rainfall by chopping down forests. It also shows that we could regrow forests to influence drought.
Grassland is a resilient carbon sink
Regrowing forests to restore our climate is a good idea, but a better solution should not be neglected in the process. Recently A University of California Davis study found that grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests in 21st century California. Lead author Pawlok Dass said:
"Looking ahead, our model simulations show that grasslands store more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by droughts and wildfires." "This doesn't even include the potential benefits of good land management to help boost soil health and increase carbon stocks in rangelands."
In this article, British raw milk producer Christine Page explains that grasses have evolved to be grazed. When combined with appropriate grazing, grasslands are the key to carbon sequestration on a rapid scale. Unlike bushes and trees that store the majority of their biomass above ground and do not respond to repeated browsing with rapid re-growth, evolution has bestowed grasslands with the unique ability to not only withstand repeated grazing but to positively benefit from it. Grasses also benefit from disturbance and fertilisation by ruminants as well as their role in preventing the plains and prairies progressing into forest. Each bite primes the carbon pump, because when grass are grazed, plants release more exudates, which feeds and grows massive amounts of soil microbes, which participate in both the nutrient- and the carbon cycle. In pre-industrial times there were vast herds of herbivores that roamed grasslands, but they were not causing any climatic crises.
There have been a many debates, and perhaps also deliberate misinformation about the role of cows in climate change.“Once you understand
this process, it becomes clear that although the cow is breathing or belching as she grazes, for all the carbon she cycles through her metabolism, there is carbon also being removed from the air and sequestered into the soil. This means that, when she is exclusively fed her natural diet of grass, there is a net reduction in atmospheric carbon. Roaming, grazing cows sequester carbon."
Christine says that animal products provide much more than just protein, and it is the multitude of balanced micro-nutrients that are essential to good health. Placing food supply with a few giant corporations increases the chances of micro-nutrient malnutrition on a global scale. While people should be free to choose the food they eat, it is wholly unethical for vested interests to try to influence those choices through misinformation and biased reporting, putting their profits and personal agendas before the future health of the planet and its growing population. She suggests becoming a carbon-friendly omnivore by eating meat and drinking milk from animals certified 100% grass-fed. Her meat and raw dairy products are certified by the Pasture Fed Livestock Association.
Australian farmers as climate action heroes, despite the drought
Growing more grassland is a great solution for Australia, because instead of clearing land to grow grain monocultures for beef, dairy and pig feedlots, we can return to pasture-based farming for feeding livestock. Regenerating the grasslands will result in animal products, like meat and dairy, with a healthier omega-3 ratio. It will also result in lots of essential minerals and trace elements for robust health and resistance to disease, for those in the food chain. It has both public health and environmental benefits. In addition, we can ensure that grasslands contain a high diversity of plant species as well. When settlers first arrived in Australia, grasslands in Victoria had 300 - 400 different natives species. It was described as a visible green, hydrated landscape that didn’t burn. Soil scientists like Dr Elaine Ingham and Australian soil ecologist Dr Christine Jones say that a high diversity of species are essential for soil fertility. Rotational grazing and pasture rest are also important aspects of regenerative farming. It also pays to give attention to the soil microbiology. Soil microbes are involved in both nutrient cycling between plants and microbes to create nutrient-dense food, and the carbon cycle that puts carbon back into the soil. In other words, soil microbes are essential to both increase soil fertility and sequester carbon. Learn more in the Farm Conditions category of the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction program.
"Today the organic carbon content of most Australian topsoils is now 50 - 80% less than the original level." See the video below to hear from soil scientists Australian Dr. Christine Jones, and American-based Dr. Elaine Ingham. In this document Christine explains her 5 principles for soil health:
The power of photosynthesis
Diversity is not dispensable
Limit chemical use
Avoid aggressive tillage
Soil scientist Dr Elaine Ingham has already taught many farmers in Australia and world-wide how to do what she calls “full scale biological restoration” by growing a vast amount of the right kind of soil microbes in a compost tea, read more about it towards the bottom of this page. She and other soil scientists know that many soils are addicted to chemical-use, and need slow weaning. In her many videos she explains why this method quickly enables the soil microbes to get to work and produce very tangible results, very quickly.
What does climate resilience really look like?
Five weeks ago drought-stricken NSW regions like Darling Downs depended on grain shipped from WA to feed its beef, pig and dairy feedlots. However, five weeks later climate extremes have another surprise.
Over the weekend, severe frost hit both Western Australia and northwest Victoria, showing how precarious the dependance on grain for feeding livestock can be. Temperatures fell to as low as -3.3C at Longerenong and -1.5C at Hopetoun on Sunday morning. Grain Industry Association of Western Australia’s chair Michael Lamond said severe frost swept through the WA Lakes District, with temperatures plunging to -4C in parts of the state, significantly affecting GIWA’s forecast of grain. A GIWA report last week declared the state was on track for a bumper harvest, with projected total grain yield at 16.3 million tonnes, but this is not going to transpire. Michael told Simone Smith of the Weekly Times that “it’s estimated about 500,000 tonnes of barley could be wiped out, or more.” Wheat and canola also seem to be significantly affected. Grain growers across the country are assessing the damage and the full impact of the frost over the weekend are yet to be determined. This ABC video shows one of the biggest trains in Australia’s history transporting wheat to drought affected NSW farms. One hundred wagons, five locomotives, 15,000 horsepower - and 6,000 tonnes of grain. We have to grow local resilience, not dependance on feed from elsewhere.
Permanent pastures with a high diversity of plant species for feeding livestock, managed well, and the use of cover crops are part of a much more resilient fodder production system. It can create year round forage, nutrient-rich food for animals and humans, and heals our environment in many ways. Both grain grown as a monoculture, and ryegrass grown as a monoculture, disrupt both nutrient cycling and carbon cycling, because they disrupt beneficial microbial proliferation. Many agrochemicals, like inorganic fertiliser, herbicides and fungicides, either kill or disrupt soil microbes. See the videos below to learn more about how farmers are taking action.
The conservation of carbon within the soil helps grow healthier crops and prevents carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, where it would contribute to global warming.
Raw dairy farmers are the people who will be growing lots of beneficial microbes in near 100% pasture-based systems, sequestering carbon, helping to green and save the planet and providing nutrient-dense food. It’s now up to government to create a regulated raw milk from cows industry.