BC Carbon Farmers – Doing their part to mitigate climate change
The climate crisis is a serious threat to humans and all life on earth. The National Farmers Union released a report in 2019 titled Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis. The report concluded that currently, “atmospheric greenhouse gas levels today are much higher and rising much faster than at any time in the past 800,000 years.” The earth is the responsibility of everyone. Governments, corporations, individuals, all sectors of society must mobilize to protect and restore our agricultural soils and diverse ecosystems. BC’s agricultural sector has an opportunity to lessen the impact in Canada, and consumers have an opportunity to support this effort. Local food is one of the keys to climate-friendly food. Food lands in the province are capable of reducing agricultural emissions and sequestering carbon while producing local food and increasing biodiversity. BC farmers work hard to cut on-farm emissions in several climate-friendly ways, let’s continue to support them.
One way to mitigate climate emissions is through carbon sequestration, a process that refers to removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in a stable way so that it won’t be easily released back into the atmosphere. Carbon can be sequestered in several ways, including in soil. Trials in Europe demonstrate that “soil carbon sequestration is regarded as one of only a few strategies that could be applied at large scales and at a relatively low cost” (Paustian et al., 2016). Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are two out of three main greenhouse gases that threaten our climate. Through the management of agricultural soils, there is the potential to capture carbon in the ground as well as reduce or eliminate nitrogen fertilizer inputs. Practices that increase carbon sequestration and create healthier soil include, but are not limited to: cover cropping, no or reduced tillage, compost application, no or reduced synthetic pesticides or herbicides, long term field cropping, diversified crop rotation, maintaining soil cover, managed grazing, manure management, and agroforestry. Building up soil organic matter ensures that soil is nutrient-rich and healthy. Healthy, living soils capture carbon best.
Conventional farming typically adopts practices that release carbon into the atmosphere, missing an opportunity to trap it in the ground. There are multiple ways carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Tilling soil releases carbon trapped in the ground; clear-cutting areas for farming releases carbon trapped in forests; monocropping, which is the process of planting the same crop year after year, strips the soil of nutrients; and leaving fields bare misses the opportunity to plant a crop that will sequester carbon. Dairy farmer Julaine Treur from Creekside Dairy explains, “Mono-cropping and excessive use of chemicals will deplete our soils, making it much harder to grow food for humans and/or animals. Supporting climate-friendly farmers helps to ensure a plentiful supply of locally grown, sustainably produced foods for both now and future generations.”
While it’s true that cattle and other livestock have an impact on our climate, they are very beneficial to the earth’s healthy ecosystems. Cattle play a role in carbon sequestration, building healthy soil, and restoring ecosystems. Research from Project Drawdown concludes that managed grazing can sequester from one-half to three tons of carbon per acre (Hawken, 2017). Through managed grazing, herbivores have a positive impact on grasslands. Kris and Brit Arbanas from Lost Savanna Farm strategically move their cattle to encourage beneficial results. Arbanas says, “Herbivores are nature’s pruners, so we move our cows through our pastures and mimic what the large herbivores (bison), who were here before would have done.” Herbivores have always been an important part of ecosystems. managed well, they continue to positively impact agricultural soils.
Making healthy choices about the food we eat has an impact on our climate, from what we eat to how it is grown. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health worked with leading scientists across the world to define what it means to have a healthy, sustainable diet. Their research concluded that “a diet that was healthiest for humans was also the healthiest for the planet, and that changes to improve the environmental sustainability of food production would have a remarkably positive effect on health outcomes at the same time” (MacKinnon, 2019).
Supporting farmers who are adopting climate-friendly practices is an excellent way to reduce your environmental impact as a consumer. First and foremost, shop at your local farmers market and ask questions while you are there. The principles that organic farmers adopt intersect with climate-friendly practices. Buying local and organic supports climate-friendly agriculture. Local and organic are easy labels to look out for without asking questions but many farmers adopt climate-friendly practices without the certified organic label. There is no standard or label for climate-friendly farming so getting to know your local farmers is one of the best ways to know the impact of your choices.
BC is home to over 15,000 small farms, a number that continues to grow. BC farms can make a difference; supporting small farmers is essential. Arzeena Hamir from Amara Farm says, “BC’s very well suited, we are generally a lot of small farms, and I find small farms to be incredibly innovative and pivot really quickly versus the larger farms.” Small farms in BC work hard to reduce their impact and produce nutritious local food. Continuing to support our local farmers throughout the year is a first step to securing climate-friendly food in BC. Lindsey Forstbauer from Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm explains the capabilities of a holistic approach. She says, “It is possible to feed everyone and still use a holistic approach, the two are not mutually exclusive. I think a lot of the time, the message that is given is that we have to use these modern farming practices and replenish the land with chemical fertilizers, get rid of weeds with chemicals, and mono-crop thousands of acres in order to feed everyone, when in fact that’s not the case. It’s a fallacy to think you can’t feed the population of the world using holistic practices.”
Darrin Qualman and the National Farmers Union, Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis: A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farms and Food Systems, discussion document (Saskatoon: NFU, 2019).
MacKinnon, Shauna and FarmFolk CityFolk (2019) Climate Change Mitigation Opportunities in Canadian Agriculture and Food Systems
Paustian, K., J. Lehmann, S. Ogle, D. Reay, G. P. Robertson, and P. Smith (2016) Climate-smart soils. Nature 532.