Emissions from agriculture are a major obstacle to reaching net zero. Currently agricultural accounts for 18.4% of global Greenhouse Gas emissions. Our agricultural methods of annual monoculture crops erodes soil and releases emissions into the atmosphere, so much so that between 50-70% of the carbon stored in the worlds soils have already been released.
The way that things are going, our obsession with pesticides as well as over-tilling of land is destroying ecosystems and soil health. But, all hope is not lost; the role of perennial crops and regenerative agriculture may help cut emissions and improve soil quality.
There are two types of farming; annual and perennial. The first, which makes up 80% of global food supply, is annual tilling crops that are dug up each year before the process starts again e.g. corn and wheat. This massively hurts the resiliency of the soil, leading to soil erosion, nutrient leaching, and higher vulnerability to pests. The second evident downside of choosing to farm on an annual calendar is that carbon emissions are much greater this way. "Why?" you may ask.
Well, yearly tilling releases emissions into the atmosphere, something avoided with perennial farming. To add insult to injury, in perennial farming, the roots, which can grow really long, also do a great job of storing carbon and therefore prohibiting its release into our air. With annual farming, the roots don't have the chance to grow longer than a season's length and so all this potential carbon-sucking that we see through perennial farming is removed.
A mountain of evidence suggests that we should consider a perennial-centred practice in agriculture. However, the challenge is measuring the carbon sequestration of perennial crops and regenerative agriculture. This makes it difficult to quantify the benefits of shifting towards regenerative practices, although we're starting to companies and industries seriously looking at perennials crops, take the brewing sector as an example, an industry that heavily relies on high quality soil to make high quality products. Unilever brand Knorr are also looking to implement 50 regenerative agriculture projects.
Perennials and regenerative agriculture have the opportunity to significantly help sequester carbon from the atmosphere while also improving soil health and biodiversity.
Once an idea happening on a small scale and in Indigenous Peoples' groups, regenerative agriculture and perennial crops are on the corporate agenda. This is goods news for the planet and good news for the future of food.
So — don't lose the plot! Action for change starts beneath our feet. Stay grounded. For now, we hope we've planted a seed in your head.
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