How Regenerative Agriculture Could Reverse Climate Change

August 13, 2020

The agriculture industry is essential for our day to day lives. However, while it is key to providing sustenance through our food supply, it also contributes to ongoing global climate change. Anyone familiar with climate change knows that our food system has burdened the earth with a meaningful carbon footprint. Unsustainable farming practices are responsible for 80% of tropical deforestation, adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars and trucks combined. This problem is snowballing as the population continues to climb. But hope is not lost.

The solution lies in land

Believe it or not, there’s a light radiating at the end of this bleak tunnel, and the solution actually lies in one of the largest historical emitters of carbon: land.

Though 23% of greenhouse gas emissions are generated by land use via agriculture, forestry, or other uses, land can also act as a carbon sink, sucking up CO2 from the atmosphere faster than it produces it. Each year, American land emits 5.2 giga tonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide, but the country’s landmass absorbs 11.2 Gt CO2. The amount of carbon absorbed exceeds that produced by a whopping 6Gt CO2.

A recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights the critical role land must play if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and slow warming. In order to do this, we have to use land to rid the atmosphere of carbon. It’s not optional. Relying on a decrease in emissions alone won’t cut it.

The report states.

“The level of risk posed by climate change depends both on the level of warming and on how population, consumption, production, technological development, and land management patterns evolve.”

There are multiple methods to leverage land’s carbon-sequestering potential, and the IPCC report highlights the efficacy of each of these methods, along with the respective pros and cons. A shortage of farmland will arguably lead to more food insecurity, while siphoning off large portions of land for afforestation can similarly jeopardize food security.

Another way land can reverse climate change is through soil carbon sequestration, and this method is not associated with harmful side effects.

What is soil carbon sequestration: Soil carbon sequestration is a process in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil carbon pool. This process is primarily mediated by plants through photosynthesis, with carbon stored in the form of soil organic carbon.

According to a 2018 special report by the IPCC, by 2050, 2-5 gigatons of CO2 could be removed through soil, and this will cost between $0 and $100 per ton, much lower than other carbon sequestration techniques. If employed globally, soil sequestration through regenerative agriculture can potentially absorb up to 54 gigatonnes of carbon per year, canceling out the amount of carbon released through emissions annually. If fully implemented, this would be a game-changer for climate change.

And there’s more good news.

When farmers cultivate the soil to increase carbon sequestration, they don’t just build a bigger carbon sink, they also increase the fertility of the soil, thereby increasing food production. When soil fertility is high, fewer artificial fertilizers are needed. Farmers not only save money, but also reduce their carbon emissions: one ton of ammonium nitrate, a widely used fertilizer, will emit over 7 tons of CO2.

Topsoil that is high in Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) also prevents erosion, increases nutrient content in food, and mitigates land degradation.

What is soil organic carbon? Soil organic carbon is a measureable component of soil organic matter. Organic matter makes up just 2–10% of most soil's mass and has an important role in the physical, chemical and biological function of agricultural soils.
Organic matter contributes to nutrient retention and turnover, soil structure, moisture retention and availability, degradation of pollutants, carbon sequestration and soil resilience.

This process is just one benefit of a farming methodology called regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture is truly as close as we get to a silver bullet – a solution to agriculture that will allow us to meet the growing demands for food while swallowing up carbon in the process.

What are Regenerative Agriculture Practices?

Terra Genesis, an international regenerative farming consultancy defines the regenerative agriculture practices that can progressively improve whole agroecosystems as:

  • No-Till Farming and Pasture Cropping
  • Organic Annual Cropping
  • Compost and compost tea
  • Biochar and terra preta
  • Holistically managed grazing
  • Animal integration
  • Ecological aquaculture
  • Perennial crops
  • Silvopasture
  • Agroforestry

Additional advantages of regenerative farming

The primary goal of regenerative agriculture is improving the health of topsoil so that it can regenerate itself. By doing this, the land will improve over the years rather than degrading from excessive use of inputs or physical processes like tilling.

There are various ways to engage regenerative agriculture and different philosophies on how best to do it, but the objective outcomes are always:

  • Higher yields
  • Improved water retention
  • Increased profitability
  • More efficient plant nutrient uptake
  • Carbon sequestration

Some ways to do this include minimizing tillage, protecting the soil, encouraging biodiversity, and promoting management-intensive grazing of livestock.

There’s a key difference between regenerative agriculture and sustainable agriculture:

Sustainable agriculture aims to do no harm. It avoids contributing to climate change and land degradation, as opposed to mitigating climate change through biosequestration. Sustainable farming shoots for carbon neutrality, not carbon-negativity.  As the name suggests, regenerative agriculture regenerates the land, improving it each passing year by creating a new, more-fertile and more-nutrient-rich topsoil.

Just as there are dangerous positive feedback loops associated with climate change, so too exist promising feedback loops through regenerative agriculture, and the net benefit of this method of farming grows exponentially over time.

The more widespread regenerative agriculture becomes, the more Soil Organic Carbon will increase over the years, slowing global temperature rise while creating a robust and renewed agricultural ecosystem that can feed the booming population for decades to come.

But we have to encourage adoption first.

Farming needs more investment

We must accelerate the adoption of regenerative farming practices, and one of the fastest ways to perpetuate regenerative farming is through investment.

By investing in farmers who implement regenerative practices, and by investing in technologies that support it, we can drive a movement towards advancing regenerative adoption, technologies, and even more research. Not only will doing so grow the carbon sink through biosequestration, potentially reversing climate change, but it will also build wealth in rural farming communities, further strengthening the agricultural ecosystem. Rich soils are more resistant to adverse climate conditions, and can increase food security in developing regions. All of this is necessary to ensure we continue to sustain the growing population within the next few decades.

It’s essential that we start doing this now.

What are the options for investing in regenerative farmland?

Farmland hasn’t always been the easiest asset class to add to your portfolio. Traditionally, the asset class costs several million dollars to enter, and as a result, many investors overlooked this asset class despite its history of strong returns.

But recent developments in how farmland investment transactions occur have removed the headaches associated with land ownership by handling all aspects of administration and farm management, from insurance and accounting to working with local farmers and improving soil health.

How does FarmTogether enable individuals to invest in regenerative agriculture?

FarmTogether is an online marketplace that democratizes farmland investing by removing a lot of the headaches that have been associated with land ownership in the past. With FarmTogether, investors own a fraction of the land itself, as opposed to shares in a fund. Because these pieces of ownership aren’t publicly traded, investments on FarmTogether don’t come with the same risk as investments made with REITs. Investors also don’t have to throw down hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase an entire farm or shares in a private equity fund. Instead, investors can get started with $50,000.

Recently, FarmTogether was honored with a semi-finalist spot in the Terraton Initiative’s 2019 Terraton Challenge, wherein applicants are recognized for fighting climate change through carbon sequestration efforts. The future of regenerative farmland investing begins with us.If you would like more information on how to invest, drop us a line at [email protected].