Press Release

Report Finds Carbon-Capturing Farming Can Make Agriculture Part of America’s Climate Solution

10/13/2021

WASHINGTON, October 13, 2021 ---- A new comprehensive review of existing research on soil health and carbon sequestration from a University of Maryland scientist shows that increasing the use of common agricultural practices that improve soil health will slow climate change while producing multiple other environmental and economic benefits.

In the report, “Increasing Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture: A Natural Climate Solution,” Dr. Sara Via discusses how rebuilding our degraded agricultural soils and acting on climate change are related problems that require urgent action.  

Dr. Via writes, “the practices recommended in this report provide a low-cost and immediately available way to reduce atmospheric carbon. Given the wide array of co-benefits associated with these practices, increasing their use is an investment in U.S. agriculture that will pay economic and environmental dividends for years to come.”

Despite decades of USDA outreach, a relatively small fraction of farmers uses the management practices recommended in the report. Dr. Via’s report discusses how barriers to the adoption of these practices can be identified using principles from social science, and suggests how these barriers can be reduced through policies that reduce the financial risk of changing management practices and facilitate learning interactions among farmers.

The report was published in collaboration with the Izaak Walton League of America and the National Wildlife Federation.

“The report explains why restoring the health of America’s soils is so vital, and it highlights the huge opportunity we have to help farmers and ranchers become part of our solution to climate change,” said Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Policy Director at the Izaak Walton League of America. “Dedicating funding in climate and infrastructure legislation to boost incentives and outreach for climate-friendly farm and ranch practices would be a down-payment on that opportunity.”

“This report shows that agricultural conservation practices that boost soil health and naturally sequester carbon also can have incredible benefits for water quality, wildlife habitat, and even producers’ bottom lines,” said Aviva Glaser, Senior Director of Agriculture Policy, National Wildlife Federation. “The $28 billion for climate-smart agriculture that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have proposed as part of the Build Back Better Act would help ensure that funding is available to enable farmers and ranchers to adopt these critical soil health practices.”

Sara Via is Professor and Climate Extension Specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park.  Via earned a Ph.D. in Zoology at Duke University.

For nearly 100 years, the Izaak Walton League has fought for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conserving natural resources for future generations. Today, the League plays a unique role in supporting local community-based conservation and shaping national policy. www.iwla.org.

The National Wildlife Federation, America's largest and most trusted conservation organization, works across the country to unite Americans from all walks of life in giving wildlife a voice. We've been on the front lines for wildlife since 1936, fighting for the conservation values that are woven into the fabric of our nation's collective heritage. www.nwf.org.

Contacts:

Sara Via, Professor, University of Maryland, svia@umd.edu

Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League, dhovorka@iwla.org,  (402) 804-0033

 Aviva Glaser, Senior Director of Agriculture Policy, National Wildlife Federation, GlaserA@nwf.org, (202) 797-6616

 Michael Reinemer, Communications Director, mreinemer@iwla.com, 301-548-0150 ext. 224, 703-966-9574 

 

Increasing Soil Health and Sequestering Carbon in Agricultural Soils: A Natural Climate Solution (Summary)

By Dr. Sara Via, University of Maryland

Agriculture can become a significant part of the American climate solution by increasing the use of farming practices that improve soil health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and store carbon in the soil while providing economic benefits for farmers.

Although Earth's soil can store over twice the amount of carbon found in the atmosphere, agricultural soils worldwide have become severely degraded, losing a large fraction of their sequestered carbon and the ability to sustain productive crop growth in just the past 150 years.

Basic principles identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture can increase soil health and carbon storage by protecting soil organisms from disturbance or erosion and providing them with a constant food supply from living plant roots.  This report outlines 24 USDA-approved management practices that use these principles to rebuild degraded soils on farms and ranches, and it provides estimates of their CO2 reduction potential in representative states based on USDA models.

The report highlights some of the other environmental benefits the practices deliver: reduced erosion, less polluted runoff, improved water quality, reduced need for irrigation, increased biodiversity and improved wildlife habitat.

The estimated economic value of healthy soil to farmers is $40 to $140 per acre because healthy soil boosts production, saves farmers money on costly inputs like fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, fuel, equipment, maintenance, and labor, and improves the resilience of farms to climate change.

Despite the economic and environmental benefits of the carbon-sequestering practices discussed in this report, adoption rates remain low. Key strategies to increase adoption include increased outreach to farmers, well designed incentive programs, and accurate and up to date technical assistance.

Implementing these strategies and the other recommendations in this report will allow us to realize a significant and cost-effective opportunity to slow climate change, address other environmental problems, and provide economic benefits for America’s farmers and ranchers.

Key Recommendations

  • Make soil health a central focus of USDA programs, and boost soil health and carbon sequestration efforts at all levels of government.
  • Strengthen soil health education and outreach programs, and expand our capacity to deliver accurate and up to date technical assistance on soil health and carbon sequestration practices.
  • Expand existing incentive programs and develop and fund new ones to help farmers adopt these climate-friendly practices, and increase equity and inclusion in delivering USDA conservation programs.
  • Establish a National Soil Monitoring Network, fund regular soil testing by farmers to monitor changes in soil health, make USDA data more available to researchers, and increase funding for needed research.

Read the full report, “Increasing Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture: A Natural Climate Solution,” 

Sara Via, Professor, University of Maryland, Svia@umd.edu

 

    • Conservation
    • Farm Bill