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Vice-Regent

Old-school farming methods could save the planet

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What if there were a simple solution to fighting climate change right under our feet? In her new book, The Soil Will Save Us, journalist and writer Kristin Ohlson says there is.

“The soil has been playing a mighty role in our climate ever since we've been a planet,” Ohlson says. It's full of carbon fuel that helps plants and microorganisms thrive, but today's industrial farming methods rip up the soil and release huge amounts of that carbon into the air.

Ohlson argues that returning to no-till farming practices, which leave the soil undisturbed and carbon trapped underground, will help reverse climate change and solve other pressing environmental issues at the same time. "Everything we want for our planet above the soil line depends on the activity of those microorganisms below," she says.

“Plants take carbon dioxide out of the air,” Ohlson explains. “They convert that into a carbon fuel for themselves, but they share 40 percent of that carbon fuel with the soil microorganisms. The soil microorganisms take that carbon fuel, and they eat it and they grow with it and they make a glue with it to create habitat down in the soil. All those activities fix carbon in the soil.”

But when humans came along, Ohlson says, we started “messing up nature” — with agriculture, burning forests, plowing up the soil and changing the behavior of animals on the land. Worse, we started releasing all the carbon in the soil.

One of the best solutions, Ohlson says, is also one of the simplest: no-till farming. With this method, farmers plant crops with minimal disturbance of the soil, keeping the essential system of microrganisms intact. That helps keep all of that carbon in the soil instead of releasing into the air.

David Johnson, a scientist at New Mexico State University, has been doing “amazing work,” Ohlson says, using no-till agriculture in conjuction with dense cover crops — plants, such as legumes and grasses that grow in places and at times when the ground would otherwise be bare.

Cover crops have roots in the ground that capture carbon dioxide and send carbon down into the soil, feeding the underground community of soil microorganisms. This, in turn, builds up carbon in the soil, making the soil more porous.

“So it's very healthy for the plants, it's very healthy for the land, but it's also removing a lot of carbon from the air,” Ohlson says. In fact, Johnson estimates that returning just 11 percent of the world's cropland to no-till farming could potentially offset all of our current carbon dioxide emissions.

Gabe Brown, a farmer and rancher based outside of Bismark, North Dakota, has been practicing no-till farming for 20 years. He has also greatly increased the diversity of the plants he uses on his farm.

“Nature abhors a monoculture — it likes diversity,” Brown says. “It's through that diversity that we can sequester carbon [and] put that carbon into the soil. That carbon, in turn, through the soil biology, is what produces healthy crops, healthy animals, and eventually healthy people.”

“So we're bringing the whole system together,” he says, “thinking of our farm and ranch as an ecosystem, versus the current production model, which is monocultures and low diversity.”

Farming the old-fashioned way brings other benefits, too, Brown points out. Because he no longer uses synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, his expenses are a fraction of the conventional production model. What’s more, his yields, based on the amount of grain produced per acre, are above average in his surrounding community.

“So we're getting more production at a much lower cost,” he says. “And in turn, we're regenerating the soil, which is the important thing."

If farmers start focusing now on regenerative agriculture, they can significantly reduce the need for the fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides within three to five years. That means dramatically less damage to the soil and to the many waterways into which they inevitably flow.

Asked if he really believes healing the soil this way in sufficient areas of land could absorb enough CO2 to make a difference, Brown is emphatic: “There's absolutely no doubt in my mind about that,” he says. “Absolutely no doubt.”

This story is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Science Friday with Ira Flatow.

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-08-25/old-school-farming-methods-could-save-planet

Interview attached

scifri-healthy-soil.mp3

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While I support her recommendation for farming, I dont believe it will ultimately help change the course of Earth's climate. Earth will either re-enter the ice phase of the current ice age we're in (we're in the interglacial period now), or it will fully exit the ice age and return to its natural normal Earth average hot temps of around 75F - 17F higher than todays Earth average.  Whether that happens within the next 100 years, or 5,000 years remains to be seen but either one will occur with a 100% guarantee.  Unless humans can figure out how to force Earth to stay in interglacial conditions - something Earth probably only spends about 1% to 2% of her time in. 

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7 hours ago, WinterWxLuvr said:

Pretty sure the planet will be ok.  Maybe not humans, but the planet will roll right on.

^^^ This.  100% true. The only thing that will kill the Earth will be when the Sun expands and swallows it - in about 1 billion years.  Until then she'll recover from anything thrown her way given enough time. 

 

Humans on the other hand will likely be long gone as we cant handle all the extremes that Earth will go through.

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Most farmers in Michigan have been going no-till for years. I sometimes have to walk up to the field behind my parents and inspect the soil to determine if the field has been planted. They use a machine that cuts slits into the soil and automatically drops seeds in.

The same farmer will also plant beets or turnips in the fall and let them rot and add nutrients into the soil. Smelled lovely in the spring, but it worked.

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On 8/25/2018 at 8:47 PM, WinterWxLuvr said:

Pretty sure the planet will be ok.  Maybe not humans, but the planet will roll right on.

 

On 8/26/2018 at 4:29 AM, Glenn M said:

While I support her recommendation for farming, I dont believe it will ultimately help change the course of Earth's climate. Earth will either re-enter the ice phase of the current ice age we're in (we're in the interglacial period now), or it will fully exit the ice age and return to its natural normal Earth average hot temps of around 75F - 17F higher than todays Earth average.  Whether that happens within the next 100 years, or 5,000 years remains to be seen but either one will occur with a 100% guarantee.  Unless humans can figure out how to force Earth to stay in interglacial conditions - something Earth probably only spends about 1% to 2% of her time in. 

 

On 8/26/2018 at 4:31 AM, Glenn M said:

^^^ This.  100% true. The only thing that will kill the Earth will be when the Sun expands and swallows it - in about 1 billion years.  Until then she'll recover from anything thrown her way given enough time. 

 

Humans on the other hand will likely be long gone as we cant handle all the extremes that Earth will go through.

 

This is just taking a stupid fatalistic view to justify trashing the planet today. I for one don't want to live or have my children live on a planet with all the ecological stress and loss of biodiversity that took 100s of millions of years to evolve. Which is what climate change is already doing to the planet today. I enjoy skiing and the new england lobster industry which also supports a lot of families economically. Just two tiny examples of the many many things threatened by climate change.

 

You know what? Let's just pave over it and turn the whole planet into a parking lot, full of traffic and landfills and smog. The bugs will survive so when we inevitably die off, they can repopulate the planet. Sounds great.

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13 hours ago, skierinvermont said:

This is just taking a stupid fatalistic view to justify trashing the planet today. I for one don't want to live or have my children live on a planet with all the ecological stress and loss of biodiversity that took 100s of millions of years to evolve. Which is what climate change is already doing to the planet today. I enjoy skiing and the new england lobster industry which also supports a lot of families economically. Just two tiny examples of the many many things threatened by climate change.

 

You know what? Let's just pave over it and turn the whole planet into a parking lot, full of traffic and landfills and smog. The bugs will survive so when we inevitably die off, they can repopulate the planet. Sounds great.

Would you mind showing me where I said we should go ahead and trash the planet? Thats right - I didn't.  The problem with people bringing politics and nonsense into a discussion is they make up crap to push their agenda. 

The simple fact is that Earth *will* be fine. The stuff she's been through in her history has been phenomenal and amazing. For human's, it boils down to habitability for humans (which is where your sole focus appears to be). *MY* point is there is a 100% chance that sooner or later Earth will either slip back into the ice phase of the current ice age we're in, or it will fully leave the ice age and get very hot here, much much hotter than the people who focus on anthropological climate change have even imagined. 

In the former - large swaths of land will become covered in ice and become uninhabitable. In the later, with a 75F average global temp - we will see extreme high temps in excess of 120F, well above the capability of humans to cope, again making much of Earth uninhabitable. For 98% of Earth's history - she is either in full ice age or full heat mode. She cares not one iota if humans can live here or not. 

Human's only chance at avoiding the above would be to figure out a way to control climate on a massive planet wide basis to maintain our current Goldilocks zone that we've been in for the past 12,000 years. A zone that, again, is maybe about 2% of the total time of Earth's history. I haven't done the math on that percent so it might even be much smaller, like less than .05%. The point being - the current climate humans are enjoying is not the norm and is not going to last much longer without massive scientific break throughs in controlling climate (which I doubt we'll achieve). 

Should we be cleaner in our energy use? Yes. Not because of climate change but simply because it gives us cleaner air and water and healthier lives. But if we think its going to stop the climate from changing to a more normal state for Earth, we're delusional. 

 

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20 hours ago, Glenn M said:

Would you mind showing me where I said we should go ahead and trash the planet? Thats right - I didn't.  The problem with people bringing politics and nonsense into a discussion is they make up crap to push their agenda. 

The simple fact is that Earth *will* be fine. The stuff she's been through in her history has been phenomenal and amazing. For human's, it boils down to habitability for humans (which is where your sole focus appears to be). *MY* point is there is a 100% chance that sooner or later Earth will either slip back into the ice phase of the current ice age we're in, or it will fully leave the ice age and get very hot here, much much hotter than the people who focus on anthropological climate change have even imagined. 

In the former - large swaths of land will become covered in ice and become uninhabitable. In the later, with a 75F average global temp - we will see extreme high temps in excess of 120F, well above the capability of humans to cope, again making much of Earth uninhabitable. For 98% of Earth's history - she is either in full ice age or full heat mode. She cares not one iota if humans can live here or not. 

Human's only chance at avoiding the above would be to figure out a way to control climate on a massive planet wide basis to maintain our current Goldilocks zone that we've been in for the past 12,000 years. A zone that, again, is maybe about 2% of the total time of Earth's history. I haven't done the math on that percent so it might even be much smaller, like less than .05%. The point being - the current climate humans are enjoying is not the norm and is not going to last much longer without massive scientific break throughs in controlling climate (which I doubt we'll achieve). 

Should we be cleaner in our energy use? Yes. Not because of climate change but simply because it gives us cleaner air and water and healthier lives. But if we think its going to stop the climate from changing to a more normal state for Earth, we're delusional. 

 

No the earth won't be *fine* unless your only standard for *fine* is that some form of life persists until the sun explodes. What total nonsense. Fatalistic nihilistic nonsense. The earth already isn't *fine*.

 

 

Also humans absolutely have the power to control the climate and prevent ice ages by emitting CO2. Likewise we could cause cooling by capturing CO2 which would be more expensive but feasible. We've already drastically altered the planet in almost every way imaginable including the climate. The idea that we don't have the power to affect climate is un-scientific garbage.

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On 9/11/2018 at 10:24 AM, skierinvermont said:

No the earth won't be *fine* unless your only standard for *fine* is that some form of life persists until the sun explodes. What total nonsense. Fatalistic nihilistic nonsense. The earth already isn't *fine*.

 

 

Also humans absolutely have the power to control the climate and prevent ice ages by emitting CO2. Likewise we could cause cooling by capturing CO2 which would be more expensive but feasible. We've already drastically altered the planet in almost every way imaginable including the climate. The idea that we don't have the power to affect climate is un-scientific garbage.

Great thoughts, Skier. Only about 1/5 of our planet is left in wild state, and even that term is debatable given the influence of human-induced climate change on all ecosystems. As the recent USA Today article on Yellowstone National Park illustrated, even the so-called wildernesses are experiencing widespread consequences: a month less of snow cover, 50 days less of temperatures below 0C at the entrance to the Park. Invasive species may cease to be invasive given the rapid changes in climate that are causing migration of many species to the north and higher in elevation: one study in the Andes found certain species moving up to 100m up in elevation every year. 

The recent Guardian article discusses the changes that have occurred in the so-called Anthropocene 6th Extinction. Humans have caused the loss of 83% of wild mammals, and 60% of all mammals are livestock.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

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She's absolutely right and organic no till farming preserves the nutrients in the soil far better than so-called conventional farming and we also need to reduce our consumption of meat.  

 

Got this from the CFS today:

 

Today, we’re launching a new website, EndIndustrialMeat.org, to help you combat climate change, reduce your ecological footprint, and fight back against animal cruelty by opting out of meat produced on factory farms. Since we’re all in this together, we’re asking CFS members (like you!) to combat climate change by pledging to opt out of industrial meat by replacing half the meat you’re eating with humane, sustainably-raised, grass-fed meats and the other half with plant-based sources of protein like beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, and quinoa. EndIndustrialMeat.org also shines a spotlight on the farms raising poultry and livestock using sustainable, humane methods that you can patronize knowing you’re supporting eco-friendly and humane farming methods.


Opt out of industrial meat production and build a better food future!


EndIndustrialMeat.org details the substantial environmental costs of industrial meat consumption. Did you know that industrial beef systems produce 250 times more greenhouse gas emissions than legumes? Or that food animal production is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas production and 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.? 


We can all make a big impact by changing our diets and the industries we support with our food purchases. By choosing not to support concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), you are choosing to support a more eco-friendly food system which emits fewer greenhouse gases, sequesters carbon in soils, protects our rapidly dwindling pollinator populations, and conserves natural resources like water and trees. Industrial meat production requires mass amounts of grain and soy to be produced, and the synthetic fertilizers used for these feed crops contribute 65 percent of nitrous oxide and 30 million tons of ammonia annually. If that soil wasn’t being depleted with monoculture crop production, it could capture 5 to15 percent of the yearly global fossil fuel emissions.


Combat climate change by pledging to opt out of industrial meat!


Industrial meat production harms our personal health, natural resources, wildlife, animals, climate, the economy, community health, farmers, and food workers. Conventionally raised meat consumption increases the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on meats and in the environment, leads to a higher rate of trauma-related injuries for workers, tortures animals by raising them in cruel environments, and emits toxic air pollutants. Moving away from an industrial model of meat production and toward more sustainable food production will make such a big difference in so many places and to so many people. 

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On 9/11/2018 at 10:24 AM, skierinvermont said:

No the earth won't be *fine* unless your only standard for *fine* is that some form of life persists until the sun explodes. What total nonsense. Fatalistic nihilistic nonsense. The earth already isn't *fine*.

 

 

Also humans absolutely have the power to control the climate and prevent ice ages by emitting CO2. Likewise we could cause cooling by capturing CO2 which would be more expensive but feasible. We've already drastically altered the planet in almost every way imaginable including the climate. The idea that we don't have the power to affect climate is un-scientific garbage.

The earth will be *fine* after humanity is extinct.  The big elephant in the room are the problems of human overpopulation which have led to all these other issues we face today.

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5 hours ago, nzucker said:

Half of the Earth's animals have been lost in the last 50 years. Is that what we consider a healthy planet?

Yes and meanwhile humans continue to multiply like viruses (with the exception of Europe where it's down to a much more sustainable 1.5-1.8 children per family.)  Densely populated cities with all their light pollution and air pollution have much lower life expectancies and higher levels of stress, so *we* consume pills to alleviate conditions that need a lifestyle and societal change.

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On 9/10/2018 at 1:07 PM, Glenn M said:

Should we be cleaner in our energy use? Yes. Not because of climate change but simply because it gives us cleaner air and water and healthier lives. But if we think its going to stop the climate from changing to a more normal state for Earth, we're delusional. 

We should definitely encourage cleaner energy sources regardless of one's views on climate change. But, we know for an absolute fact that many polyatomic molecules (like CO2) have heat trapping properties that necessarily cause the geosphere to warm. More GHG emissions necessarily mean more radiative forcing. That's not to say that naturally modulated processes aren't in play, but reducing man made emissions would reduce the anthroprogenic modulation which as of the present represents the vast majority of the total modulating effect. That's not delusional. That's fact.

Regarding whether or not "old school" farming techniques can significantly mitigate the anthroprogenic element...I'm skeptical.

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On 8/26/2018 at 7:44 AM, etudiant said:

Think the idea of caring for our spaceship is just common sense, less sure that historic methods will be adequate for that, given an unprecedented human crew size.

The Dutch seem to be working the problem pretty intelligently.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/holland-agriculture-sustainable-farming/

 

 

The Dutch are AMAZING

 

Dutch firms are among the world leaders in the seed business, with close to $1.7 billion worth of exports in 2016. Yet they market no GMO products. A new seed variety in Europe’s heavily regulated GMO arena can cost a hundred million dollars and require 12 to 14 years of research and development, according to KeyGene’s Arjen van Tunen. By contrast, the latest achievements in the venerable science of molecular breeding—which introduces no foreign genes—can deliver remarkable gains in five to 10 years, with development costs as low as $100,000 and seldom more than a million dollars. It is a direct descendant of methods employed by farmers in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago.

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