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regenerative agriculture

Why Nature’s Path Embraces Real Organic & Regenerative Organic

in 2020/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Soil/Spring 2020

Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path Founder, and Dag Falck, Nature’s Path Organic Programs Manager

Pioneer organic farmers were the visionaries of their age. Like many other inspired thinkers born before their time, they viewed the ordinary in extraordinary new ways, working quietly and diligently towards an alternate approach, often years or even decades before the general population awaken to the same realizations.

Consider the doctor who was fired from his job in 1847 for suggesting that surgeons wash their hands before operating on a patient. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis and his new “idea” of practicing basic sanitary procedures has saved millions and millions of lives.

At the center and core of Nature’s Path Foods is the goal of creating an agricultural system that aims towards healing the soil, land, water, air and all of us who rely on these essential and natural elements.

All around the world, people are waking up to the direct connection between how we farm locally and the massive collective impact this has on the stability of the global climate. This awareness has led to a will to do something about it. And we welcome the conversation on how we better reach that goal.

Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, humanity was excited with a “new form” of agriculture that increased yields and reduced backbreaking labor. It was clear that the invention of mechanical tools and chemicals that lent themselves to mass agricultural production of food and fiber was welcomed and celebrated worldwide.

At the same time, there was a handful of visionary individuals spread around the globe who had an awareness of a different sort. They observed how traditional agricultural practices had developed over thousands of years, being vital in support not only to people, but to all living things.

They saw the tiny organisms in the soil, the animals and people living above ground, all working together in cooperation in a way that provided calories and nourishment through the plants growing in the soil. This whole-system-approach is now recognized as having an intrinsic capacity for maintaining and perpetuating a complex balance where all parts co-exist in balance.

We call this system “nature,” which includes supporting the modulated climate on planet earth that makes our existence possible.

As if by some divine decree, this diverse core of individuals across the globe were awakening to this insight about the same time, being mostly unaware that others like themselves were all having the same revelations. The individuals and small groups inspired by this idea often felt isolated, and their efforts to reconnect with Nature as their role-model and teacher was certainly considered as going against the tide. In their experience, the system of cultivating the soil was not seen as having value, and these visionaries were often ridiculed as wanting to return to harsh and barbaric methods.

This was a key period in history where the concept of being “alternative” took hold. Carrying the torch for an idea not embraced by the mainstream society is a hard path with much struggle and little recognition. Especially in the early stages, visionaries are often exposed to ridicule and direct opposition from the mainstream way of doing things.

Imagine the frustration of Dr. Semmelweis, when he met resistance to something as simple as washing hands before surgical procedures. He clearly saw the death toll resulting from not doing so.
Fortunately for us, the visionaries who came before our time were provided with an extra dose of resiliency and energy that allowed them to keep going against all odds. They never gave up and they often did not receive any recognition in their own lifetimes. And the issues that they fought for didn’t see the light of day until generations later.

Organic farming is one of these alternatives.

The early organic farming pioneers bravely blazed the way forward. They lived and died believing in their vision, but never saw any real uptake on any large scale. Years later, organic agriculture started to grow as a movement, and with it, organic food and fiber became available around the world.

Even if organic agriculture is just a drop in the bucket compared to the growth of chemical and industrial monoculture, we have arrived at a moment where the pioneers of the organic movement and their vision for a healthy and truly sustainable way of agriculture are becoming recognized by an ever-growing segment of society. It can no longer be denied that our very survival as a species depends on shifting our current conventional agriculture model towards the kinds of organic practices that nurture and support nature’s wholistic system health. This is the birthing room that today’s Regenerative Agriculture movements have been born in.

Is Nature’s Path excited about regenerating agriculture? You bet!

Yet in the last few decades of false starts and opportunistic profiteering muddying the waters of the soil health movements, we’ve observed label claims like “natural” that have no proper definition, with no standards and no certification or oversight. This has confused consumers and provided a mockery of the soil health movements with deeply authentic goals to improve conditions for all life on earth. The organic movement has always been in front and center of this conversation.

Our highest hopes for the latest movement to hit the scene is that it will drive a sincere and intensely practical revolution for how we care for the thin crust around the earth that feeds all life here. Our thin layer of top soil, and the new movement recognizing its paramount importance has taken on the name of Regenerative Agriculture.

The three key concepts that gave rise to the recent iteration of the regenerative agriculture movement are that:

  • Soil which is nurtured to support a largely unseen microbial network will grow healthier plants,
  • The plants grown in healthy soil provide healthier nutrition for people and animals, and
  • The big “Aha!” realization is that this very same healthy soil actually sequesters enough carbon from the atmosphere to heal our catastrophic global climate disruption.

Nature’s Path Foods is deeply concerned over the disastrous effects of climatic change felt by people in most parts of the world, and vocal with our message that the problem of climate change must be recognized as the most critical issue of our age.

How amazing is our discovery that organic farmers indeed hold the knowledge to reverse a climate calamity? Nature’s perfect mechanism of photosynthesis can draw carbon down out of thin air, and lock it into living soil. By simply taking better care of the soil and nurturing the life that lives below our feet, we can contribute so importantly to the most existential crisis humanity has yet faced.

The life in our soil can hold much more carbon if we only treat it well and allow it to flourish instead of constantly applying practices that diminish its fertility and vitality.

At this point please allow us to make an introduction. Dear regenerative movement: Meet the organic movement.

We have a lot in common and could benefit from sharing ideas and best approaches. The organic movement brings decades of hands-on experience in carrying an unpopular torch and what it takes to keep it burning despite opposition from powerful vested interests.

Our common bond is capturing carbon to reverse climate crisis. Where the divergence happens is in the details of the plan to accomplish this.

There are two main challenges: One is that according to the latest science, there is very little time to make enough of an impact to actually affect the climate— so we need to be in a hurry by necessity. The other is that if the scale of adoption is not massive, then the outcomes won’t be big enough to make a difference.

Reaching large scales of adaption in a hurry is undeniably the key to success. We will even venture to guess that most people with a stake in one or more of the myriads of today’s regenerative initiatives are with us on this assessment so far—that we need to scale up in a hurry.

Here is the point where we face a wide divergence of approaches. Two key strategies to help reverse the climate crisis. If we are to rise above our respective positions in this massive puzzle to save soil, environment, climate and humanity, we will need to find ways to synchronize our efforts. The first logical step in addressing both speed and scale is to tap into everyone’s efforts at the same time.

Our conflict centers around these two opposing theories:

A) That carbon intensifying farming can be achieved by adding practices to any existing form of agricultural system today, including “conventional.” Versus;
B) That even with the best added practices, success cannot be achieved without also addressing the removal of those practices that have the most grievously detrimental effect on the life in the soil.

A is the conventional regenerative movement’s belief, and B is the organic belief. We have to be clear about this and not settle for a compromise where we say we promote carbon capture, while also allowing use of the methods that basically make that intent ineffective.

“Regenerative Agriculture” is easily co-opted and used as a form of greenwash and duplicity. Regenerative Organic agriculture does not employ fossil fuel-based synthetic fertilizer, toxic pesticides or GMOs, and agricultural practices cannot be labeled as Regenerative if they are harming people and polluting our planet.

We simply and clearly cannot call it Regenerative Agriculture by introducing a few time-honoured organic practices such as crop rotations, compost and ruminant pasturing into any practice that allows the use of toxic chemicals and GMOs.

Reaching scale quickly cannot be done with clever wording alone. The practices actually must have a positive effect on carbon capture.

We must directly address the applications of agrichemicals that are working counter to actual carbon capture and diligently weed out these practices, while requiring agricultural producers to add regenerative practices. Carbon intensifying farming cannot be achieved by adding practices to today’s conventional systems of heavy reliance on synthetic fossil fuel-based agrichemical inputs that kill the life in the soil, which is responsible for the capturing of carbon.

To meet the goal of scaling-up solutions to the climate crisis, we must evaluate which of two critical practices have the most detrimental effects on the life in the soil:

  1. Is it the practice of using agrichemicals on the soil to control weeds, disease, and fertility, with the consequences of negatively affecting soil life, or
  2. Is it the practice of tillage, which addresses weeds, disease, and fertility, but which may expose the soil to baking in the sun, eroding in rains, and the resulting loss of soil life?

We agree that tillage needs to be reduced and be carefully practiced with discretion. But even in its most extreme form, it is not thought to be anywhere near as detrimental as agrichemicals.

The fork in the road where we are standing today looks like this: The south fork is going along without confronting the status quo of industrial agriculture, while adding carbon-capturing practices. The north fork is confronting the status quo, and adding carbon-capturing practices.

As part of our commitment to continue raising food on a compromised planet, we all have to wrestle with these issues and decide which fork in the road we will follow. All we can offer is the suggestion that we all look clearly and dispassionately at the issues. For Nature’s Path, the north fork is the one we choose to take. In our assessment, chemicals have a strong detrimental effect on the ability of our topsoils to capture carbon and do not belong in a food production system in the first place.

Tillage can be moderated. Before agrichemicals, there was no alternative to tillage, and we refuse to believe we’re stuck with putting poisons on our food and fiber-producing fields in order to save our climate. Organic farmers have long proven that food can be produced without chemicals, using some tillage as a tool.

Our hope is that the diverse regenerative agricultural movements will seek to find existing systems that already embody the solutions we disparately need to implement, and deeply study the successes and challenges in these systems to see how they can be scaled up quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at historical examples where sustainable, regenerative practices have been employed over the ages. In Asian wet rice farming, abundant soil fertility has been consistently maintained, producing bountiful harvests on the same plots for over 2,000 years. The greatest input we can add to our farmlands is the wisdom of cultures around the world who have been growing organically for hundreds of generations before chemical agriculture was introduced in the 20th century.

Since the recent invention of “conventional agriculture”, we have been steadily eroding soil fertility and rapidly increasing the destruction of our natural environment— while decreasing the nutritional content of our food.

We should view and treat our soil as a bank containing the present and future wealth of nations. Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s utilize the momentum already built by the worldwide organic agriculture movement. It has not yet reached the scale we need to solve the climate crisis, but there is no comparable system of agriculture that is as well defined and that has as much success to show.

Let us all join ranks with organic and make it the kind of movement that can change the world on a large scale. With your help, we can get past the tipping point and make the kinds of changes in our food system that we need to survive.

In the end, organic agriculture is really just good farming. It treats natural soil life, insects, animals, people, air, water and earth with integrity. Our support of the Real Organic Project is not a radical move— it’s simply a clear statement for the preservation of integrity in organic.

Together we offer the strong voice needed to stand up against the practices now tearing the fabric of the planet apart. And as the Real Organic Project continues to raise this voice in support of integrity in the face of well-entrenched and well-financed opposition, Nature’s Path hopes that it won’t stand down or give in.

Organic knows what it’s like to be a threat to the world economy’s largest interests. If healthy soil is the solution we need, then the chemicals that kill the life in the soil must be prohibited.

That’s doing, versus promising.


Pioneer, entrepreneur, artist and visionary, Arran Stephen’s organic legacy sprouted more than 50 years ago with just $7, a $1,500 loan and a dream. After opening the first vegetarian restaurant in Canada and the first organic cereal manufacturing facility, he is now leading future generations down a path of organic food and agriculture practices so we may all leave the Earth better than we found it. naturespath.com

Recognized as an expert in the organic industry, Dag Falck has served as Organic Program Manager for Nature’s Path Organic Foods since 2003. Prior to joining the company, he was an organic inspector for 14 years.

Ask an Expert: Organic Agriculture 3.0

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

History of the Debate About the Future of Agriculture

Thorsten Arnold

This article was first published by the Organic Council of Ontario on January 18, 2019, and is reprinted here with gratitude.

The organic farm and food industry is facing major challenges. IFOAM, the international federation of organic agriculture movements, is spearheading a debate on how the organic movement can tackle these in the future. This blog summarizes the history of this debate and some questions of interest for Canada.

In 2015, Europe’s major organic farmer associations identified major challenges, with ongoing relevance for the present. Most importantly, the growth in organic production has been slow and farm conversion to organic practices are stagnating. Even if the current growth of 5% per year is sustained until 2050, the organizations concluded that the impacts of organic agriculture would remain insignificant with respect to the movement’s goal of reducing the adverse impacts of agriculture on the planet’s ecosystem and resource base. The organizations also identified several structural barriers within and outside of the organic sector, and posed the question, what could the next development phase of organic agriculture, coined Organic 3.0, look like?

Organic agriculture is classified into three development stages. Organic 1.0 describes the early period, when farmers responded to the industrialization of farming with a call to respect natural cycles and soil health, and retain a lifestyle that is in tune with nature. This early phase was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s agricultural courses but also with the warning about “Limits of Growth” by the Club of Rome. Organic 1.0 was characterized by a colorful and incoherent movement that was innovative but failed to link into the mainstream food system. Around 1970, a growing number of unsubstantiated organic/biological/ecological claims increasingly confused consumers and retail traders, highlighting the need for harmonizing the “organic trademark”. European farmer associations reacted by defining a number of guidelines and private organic standards (e.g. Demeter, Bioland, Naturland, BioSwiss, BioAustria), many of which are popular today. During the early 90s, governments throughout the world adopted national organic standards and equivalence agreements between these. This global harmonization enabled international trade in organic goods and also opened retailers to organic products. The successful shift from ideology to standard-driven production is subsumed as Organic 2.0. Today, private and national standards co-exist in many European countries, with private standards being widely recognized by consumers as more stringent and small-scale, whereas national standards cater to industrial organic production and processing.

IFOAM International did not favour a two-tier system, as many member countries do not share Europe’s history of successful private premium organic standards. In a follow-up paper (Nigli et al., 2015), the authors of Biofach 2015 re-formulate the five challenges of organic agriculture as (1) weak growth in agricultural production, (2) the potential of organic agriculture to provide food security, (3) competition from other sustainability initiatives including greenwashing, (4) transparency and safety in value chains, and (5) the need to improve consumer communication. While authors agree that a two-tier system is not necessary, they voice concern about the organic label losing its leadership claim amongst a multitude of emerging sustainability labels. Authors see the current stagnation of organic growth, and the slow speed of innovation in national standards, as a fundamental threat to the organic movement and its goals.

In 2016, IFOAM responded in a paper that gives direction to Organic 3.0. In recognition that “promoting diversity that lies at the heart of organic and recognizing there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach”, IFOAM identified six features that Organic 3.0 should address (IFOAM 2016, p3).

Fig.2 Toward six features of organic agriculture for true sustainability (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)
  • Feature #1: A culture of innovation where traditional and new technologies are regularly re-assessed for their benefits and risk.
  • Feature #2: Continuous improvement towards best practice, for operators along the whole value chain covering the broader dimensions of sustainability.
  • Feature #3: Diverse ways to ensure transparency and integrity, to broaden the uptake of organic agriculture beyond third-party certification;
  • Feature #4: Inclusiveness of wider sustainability interests through alliances with movements that truly aspire for sustainable food and farming while avoiding ‘greenwashing’;
  • Feature #5: Empowerment from the farm to the final consumer, to recognize the interdependence along the value chain and also on a territorial basis; and
  • Feature #6: True value and cost accounting, to internalize costs and benefits and encourage transparency for consumers and policy-makers.

With some further guidance to different players in the organic movement, IFOAM called upon national and regional associations to fill these features with meaning. Since then, organizations across the globe have engaged in a more focused discussion about the future of organic agriculture.

Fig.3 IFOAM proposes changes to how the organic movement operates (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)

What Does the Future of Organic Look Like?

North America’s organic associations remain sceptical about a two-tier approach to the organic label. Still, farmers who strongly exceed the national standards feel insufficiently represented by the organic associations and unable to compete with some of the largest organic production corporations. Next to the Demeter biodynamic certification, there are at least two recent private initiatives that promote premium organic certification. Currently in its piloting phase, the Rodale Institute’s Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) integrates animal welfare and labour fairness requirements and uses three tiers to reward leadership. Secondly, the Real Organic Project is an “add-on label to USDA certified organic to provide more transparency on these farming practices”. USDA organic certification is a prerequisite to participate in this add-on program. This family farmer-driven project embraces centuries-old organic farming practices along with new scientific knowledge of ecological farming.

In the face of these international developments, Ontario’s organic organizations must respond to the grassroots emergence of a de-facto two-tier system. This is not only driven by farmers who feel insufficiently represented by the “mainstream” national organic standards, but also by consumer understanding of the organic label. Organic-critical mainstream articles play a major role in consumer perception, such as a recent Toronto Star article “Milked”, which found less-than-expected differences between the milk from a large certified organic brand and conventional milk. Even though the article’s findings were based on misleading and unscientific grounds, it still points to a growing concern from consumers about the differences across the organic sector. How can consumers learn about these differences? And how do we, as part of Ontario’s organic movement, promote the national organic standard without abandoning those innovators that exceed the COS requirements, and strive for further recognition?

Organic 3.0 aspires to build leadership within the organic sector as well as bridges with mainstream agriculture. This means innovating beyond the COS requirements and sharing experiences with the entire agriculture sector. As Prof. Caradonna, U of Victoria, reports, many non-organic farmers are already taking up some of organic’s proven practices: cover cropping, reduced tillage, and smarter crop rotations. How can we strengthen this cross-over to maximize benefits for our shared planet? And, what can the organic sector learn from the innovative non-organic producers, e.g. for no-till field crops? How can the farming sector better generate, accumulate and pass on knowledge that is independent from input vendors, whose advice is biased by self-interest? How can farmers learn from each other to sustain farm profits, healthy people, and our beautiful planet?


Thorsten Arnold is a member of the Organic 3.0 Task Force of the Organic Value Chain Roundtable. Thorsten also serves on the board of the Organic Council of Ontario and currently works with EFAO as strategic initiatives & fundraising coordinator. Together with his wife Kristine, Thorsten owns Persephone Market Garden.

Feature image: Fig.1 Evolution of the organic movement (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)

Further reading:
OCO’S response to Toronto Star’s article Milked.
Organic agriculture is going mainstream, but not the way you think it is.

References
1. Niggli, U., et al. (2015). Towards modern sustainable agriculture with organic farming as the leading model. A discussion document on Organic: 3. Jg., S. 36.
2. Arbenz, M., Gould, D., & Stopes, C. (2016). Organic 3.0 for truly sustainable farming & consumption. 2ndupdated edition: IFOAM Organics International: ifoam.bio/sites/default/files/organic3.0_v.2_web_0.pdf.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Peeking Behind the Wall

in 2020/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Past Issues/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Anna Helmer

Before I get rolling on this, the fourth installment of Biodynamic Farm Story, I need to remind anyone still reading that I am pushing this farming method because I believe in it. It works for the plants, the soil, the farm, the people, and the world. I think it should be in the very thick of the mix at any conversation about the future of farming. Just so we are clear.

In this article, I will approach the odder, less willingly grasped aspects of Biodynamics. I am doing so because you can’t write about Biodynamic farming without talking about things like stars, planets, and esoteric life force theories. It’s like calling yourself a potato farmer but not growing a red potato. Further elaboration on this metaphor will not be provided.

There is an upside. While I cringe trying to seriously relate certain aspects of Biodynamic practice to skeptical farmers, I absolutely love that there is a farming method such as this one to hold in contrast to mainstream farming practices and the cheap, processed and ubiquitous food that emanates from them. For arguments sake, consider a Biodynamic can of pop. It would cost around $7,000, there would only be six produced per year, and probably it would be served in an earthenware bowl. The calculation is suspect. I had to account for all the Biodynamic Preparations and the years of using Biodynamic methods that would have to be applied to heal the earth from the assault of the chemicals necessary to make the high-fructose corn syrup. I have no idea. I know for certain, however, that the farms from which spring grocery store pop would struggle to produce even close to six other vegetables that could be eaten without processing.

The point, and I think I have one, is that Biodynamic farming offers a charming counterpoint. For every bit of nano-chemical, crop protection, and data science gobbledygook, Biodynamics has planetary conjunctions, compost preparations, and etheric formative forces. Both systems feed people but one is making them fat and sick, the other is not.

Digging up the horns containing BD 500.

I therefore insist that Biodynamic farming is totally legit, notwithstanding the fact that engaging in it requires leaps of faith, suspension of beliefs, and cognitive dissonance. It’s as easy as changing your mind. Those devoted to the cycle of soil testing and amending are not expected to cease those activities; they are merely asked to accept that they need to do more to enable their plants to access the infinite energies contained in the universe.

It’s secretly super easy to be a Biodynamic farmer. To start the transition, accept that lots of stuff goes on that you don’t know about and wouldn’t understand anyways. That done, move on to the idea that your plants probably understand the Biodynamic system better than you. Next steps: use the preparations, plan farming activities using the handy calendar provided, fill out your certification application papers, and provide the small fee in a timely fashion. That’s all there really is to becoming a Biodynamic farmer.

There is more, and some may wish to do more, and for them there is limitless scope and material available. Speaking for myself, I really have to admit that I find Biodynamic farming fun as long as I don’t have to think too hard about it.

As I expected would happen when I began this journey to acquire an understanding of how Biodynamics works, I have crashed hard into a wall of resistance around certain aspects of the practice. This is the same wall that most practical farmers, knowing it is there, avoid by avoiding Biodynamics entirely. I privately thought of it as the Wall of Woo-Woo. This was in error. I bungled through the Wall of Woo-Woo some time ago, right around the time I accepted as fact that the regular application of BD preparation 500 works both on the plants (allowing them to access the infinite energies of the universe) and also me (allowing me to understand that it’s been working all along whether I believed it or not).

The Wall of Woo-Woo was nothing compared to this one I find myself at right now. I might call this one the Wall of Wacko if I was in private. This is a different wall. It’s thicker, taller, and I have not found a way in.

I am not certain I want in.

I question whether I need in.

Really, I just don’t understand the concepts.

Behind this wall I find the advanced elements of Biodynamics. There are references to other, non-agricultural lectures given by Dr. Steiner in which I have not one whit of interest due to the fact I can’t follow the thread of the argument and potatoes are not mentioned once. There is elaborate reference to astrology and astronomy. There are practitioners who seem judgmental and vehemently devoted to doctrine. At least part of the strength of the wall lies in my strongly held pre-conceived notion that it would be impossible to be business-like once through the wall.

But the other day my dad said something that reminded me that there has already been a slight breach. Long story short, visitors to the farm had commented on the good feeling they experienced when walking the fields. Later on, Dad said that it was probably Grandma Anne (his mom, dead these 36 years) communicating from beyond. Huh? He was laughing as he said it, yet quite serious. It reminded me of why we have never cleared that perfectly farmable piece of land in the middle of the field: the same Grandma Anne said there were fairies there.

So. I have a direct relation who probably was totally in to all the stuff I can’t get my head around. Perhaps she is behind the wall. A spy, as it were. I might leave it at that.


Anna Helmer farms with her friends and family in the Pemberton Valley and continues to resist change and shy away from controversy.

Feature image: This is where the fairies live on this cut-throat business-like Biodynamic farm. All photos: Anna Helmer

Organic Stories: Covert Farms, Oliver, BC

in 2019/Climate Change/Crop Production/Fall 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Water Management
Covert Family Farm - Portrait proud family vintners in vineyard

Fighting Drought through Complex Ecosystems

By Emma Holmes

Irecently had the pleasure of visiting Covert Farms Family Estate in Oliver, where Gene Covert, a third-generation farmer, gave me a tour of his family’s 650 acre organic farm, vineyard, and winery. Gene’s grandpa George Covert bought the desert-like piece of land back in 1959, and although some laughed, thinking the land would not be suitable for agriculture, he, his son, and eventually grandson, Gene, have built the farm into a robust, flourishing, certified organic farm that embraces biodynamic, permaculture, and regenerative farming methods.

Gene studied ecosystem complexity as a Physical Geography student at UBC and has carried this learning through to his farming career, approaching it with a high level of curiosity for the natural world and experimentation. His wife, Shelly Covert, a holistic nutritionist, has been co-managing the family farm and in 2010 they were awarded the Outsanding Young Farmer Award BC/Yukon. Gene and Shelley are deeply connected to their land: “The relationships of our land are complex and most have yet to be discovered. As we learn more we find interest, intrigue, and humility.”

Like many places in BC, Oliver is expected to face increasing warmer and drier conditions. Already a drought prone desert, it is more important than ever to find ways to slow the water down, trap it at the surface, give it time to infiltrate, and store it in the soil.

The secret to storing more water lies in soil organic matter. Soil organic matter holds, on average, 10 times more water than its weight. A 1 percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold approximately 20,000 gallons more water per acre.1

The Covert’s guiding philosophy is that “only by creating and fostering complexity can we hope to grow food with complex and persistent flavours. Flavours are the ultimate expression of the mineralization brought about by healthy soil microbial ecosystems.” To increase the organic matter content of his sandy soil, Gene took inspiration from organic and regenerative farmers in other agricultural sectors and began experimenting with cover crop cocktails, reduced tillage, and integrating livestock into his system.

Cover crop cocktails. Credit: Covert Farms

Cover Crop Cocktails

Cover crop cocktails are mixtures of three or more cover crop species that allow producers to diversify the number of benefits and management goals they can meet using cover crops. Farmers like Gabe Brown are leading the way and driving the excitement around cover crop cocktails, and research is following suit, with universities starting research programs such as Penn’s State Cover Crop Cocktail for Organic Systems lab.2

To help him in meeting the right mix for his system, Gene uses the Smartmix calculator, made by farmers for farmers3. He has found that seven or more species affords the most drought tolerance. He uses a combination of warm and cool season grasses, lentils, and brassicas. Some of the species in his blend include guargum, a drought tolerant N-fixing bean, radish to break up soil at lower depths, and mustards as a cutworm control.

Gene plants Morton lentils right under the vine to fix N and suppress downy brome. This type of lentil was developed by Washington State University for fall planting in minimum tillage systems. Crop establishment is in the fall and early spring, which is when evapo-transpiration demand is minimal, thus improving water-use efficiency.

The diverse benefits of his cover crop include N fixation, increase in soil organic matter, weed control, pest control, and increased system resilience in a changing climate.

Gene Covert. Credit: Covert Farms

Low-Till

Frequent tillage can negatively impact soil organic matter levels and water-holding capacity. Regular tillage over a long-time period can have a severe negative impact on soil quality, structure, and biological health.

The challenge for organic systems is that tillage is often used for weed control, seedbed preparation, soil aeration, turning in cover crops, and incorporating soil amendment. Thus, new management strategies need to be adopted in place of tillage. Cover cropping, roller crimping, rotational grazing, mowing, mulching, steaming, flaming, and horticulture vinegars are cultural weed control practices that can be used in organic systems as an alternative to tillage. The most successful organic systems embrace and build on the complexity of their system, and utilize several solutions for best results.

Gene used to cultivate five to six times a year, mostly for weed control, but now cultivates just once a year to incorporate cover crop seeds under the vines. Instead of regular tilling to control weeds, he uses cover crops that will compete with weeds but that won’t devigorate the crop and that can be controlled through non-tillage management strategies like roller crimping and rotational grazing. For cover crop seeds between the rows, he uses a no-till seeder.

Intensive Rotational Grazing

Integrated grazing sheep or cattle in vineyards is not a new concept, but it became much less common since the rise in modern fertilizers. It has been increasingly gaining steam in recent years due to the myriad benefits it provides. The animals act as cover crop terminators, lawn mowers, and weed eaters while also improving the overall soil fertility and biological health4. The appropriate presence of animals increases soil organic matter, and some on-farm demonstration research out of Australia showed significant reductions in irrigation use, reduced reliance on machinery, fuels, and fertilizers, and increased soil organic matter.5

Incorporating livestock into a horticultural system adds a completely new management challenge and thus level of complexity. It comes with the risk of compaction and over grazing if not managed properly. The key is to move herds frequently, controlling their access to different sections and never letting them stay too long in one area. As well, the grazing window needs to be limited to after harvest and before bud-break to prevent damage to the cash crop

Grapevines and mountains. Credit: Covert Farms

Increased Resiliency

Since experimenting with and adopting these management practices, Gene has found his cost of inputs has dropped and he has noticed a significant increase in soil organic matter and reduced irrigation requirements. Based on his success so far, he has a goal of eventually dryland farming. No small feat on a sandy, gravelly, glacio-fluvial soil in a desert climate facing increasing droughty conditions!

On-Farm Demonstration Research

A farmer’s experience and observations are critical in problem solving and the development of new management practices. Increasing farmer-led on-farm research is fundamental to improving the resiliency of producers in the face of ongoing climate change impacts, such as drought and unpredictable precipitation.

Farmer-led on-farm research compliments and builds experience by allowing a farmer to use a small portion of their land to test and identify ways to better manage their resources in order to achieve any farming goal they have, including climate adaptation strategies such as increasing soil organic matter to reduce irrigation requirements. The beauty of on-farm demonstration research is that it is farmer directed, it can be carried out independently, and it uses the resources a typical farmer would have on hand.

If you’re inspired by an idea, or a practice you have seen used in another agricultural system and are interested in conducting your own field trials, I highly recommend the BC Forage Council Guide to On-Farm Demonstration Research: How to Plan, Prepare, and Conduct Your Own On-Farm Trials.6 It is an accessible guide that covers the foundations of planning and conducting research, allowing you to achieve the best results. While it was created for the forage industry, the guide covers the basics of research and is applicable to farmers in any sector.

My highest gratitude and praise for the farmers who are finding the overlaps at the edges of agricultural models, where one becomes another—and leading the way into the new fertile and diverse opportunities for sustainable food production in a changing climate.

Thank you to Gene Covert and Lisa Wambold for their knowledge, passion, and insights.


Emma Holmes has a BSc in Sustainable Agriculture and an MSc in Soil Science, both from UBC. She farmed on Orcas Island and Salt Spring Island and is now the Organics Industry Specialist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at: Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca

References and Resources:

1. Bryant, Lara. Organic Matter Can Improve Your Soil’s Water Holding Capacity. nrdc.org/experts/lara-bryant/organic-matter-can-improve-your-soils-water-holding-capacity
2. agsci.psu.edu/organic/research-and-extension/cover-crop-cocktails/project-summary
3. greencoverseed.com
4. Niles, M.T., Garrett, R., and Walsh, D. (2018). Ecological and economic benefits of integrating sheep into viticulture production. Agronomy and Sustainable Development. 38(1). link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-017-0478-y
5. Mulville, Kelly. Holistic Approach to Vineyard Grazing. grazingvineyards.blogspot.com
6. BC Forage Council. (2017). A Guide to On-Farm Demonstration Research. Farmwest.com. farmwest.com/node/1623

Adapting at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative

in 2019/Climate Change/Crop Production/Fall 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Organic Community/Pest Management/Seeds/Soil/Tools & Techniques/Water Management

Photos and text by Michael Marrapese

In 2018 Fraser Common Farm Co-operative—home of Glorious Organics—undertook a year long on-farm research project to explore how small farms could adapt to climate change. Seeing the changes in seasonal rainfall, climate predictions by Environment Canada, and new ground water regulations from the provincial government, the cooperative could see that water availability would eventually become a significant limiting factor in farming operations. 

The discussions about adaptation were complex and multi-factored. Every operation on the farm is connected to something else and many systems interconnect in differing ways throughout the season. Changing practices can be difficult, time consuming, and sometimes risky. 

During the year-long project, funded by Vancity, Co-op members worked to evaluate farming practices and areas of opportunity and weakness in farm management. The project generated several feasible solutions to decrease the demand on groundwater, buffer water demand, harvest rain water, and use irrigation water more efficiently. Some solutions were fairly straightforward and easy to implement. Others required more expertise, better data, and further capital.

Mark Cormier: Improving Water Practices

Mark Cormier explains how Glorious Organics uses edible, nitrogen fixing peas, and Fava beans for cover crops. He’s moved away from overhead spray irrigation to drip tape for the bulk of Glorious Organics’ field crops. He puts drip tape under black plastic row mulch. The plastic mulch significantly increases water retention and suppresses weeds. After the first crop comes off the field he rolls up the plastic and plants salad greens in the same row without tilling. Glorious Organics plans to double the size of the artificial pond and and dredge out a smaller natural spring basin to provide more water for the longer, drier summers the region is experiencing. Cormier notes that this year they are selling a lot of plums, a crop that they don’t water at all. 

Mark Cormier with Fava bean cover crop.
Mark with black plastic mulch and drip tape irrigation.
Plums in the upper orchard
Artificial pond and solar powered pumping station.

David Catzel: Developing Diversity

Catzel has several plant breeding and selection projects on the go to develop populations of productive, flavourful, and marketable crops. Preserving and expanding bio-diversity on the farm is vital for long-term sustainability. With his multi-year Kale breeding project, David has been seeking to develop a denticulated white kale and in the process has seen other useful characteristics, like frost-hardiness, develop in his breeding program. He’s currently crossing varieties of watermelon in order to develop a short-season, highly productive variety. His development of seed crops has also become a significant income source. He estimates his recent batch of Winter White Kale seed alone will net $1,500 in sales. As the Co-operative diversifies its product line to include more fruit and berries, organic orchard management practices have become increasingly important. Catzel has been instrumental in incorporating sheep into orchard management. A critical component of pest management is to keep the orchards clean and to remove any fruit on the ground to reduce insect pest populations. The sheep eat a lot of the fallen fruit and keep the grass and weeds in check making it easier to keep the orchards clean. 

David Catzel and the Kale Breeding Project.
David Catzel crossing Watermelon varieties.
David Catzel with his Winter White Kale seed crop.
David tending sheep.

Barry Cole: Gathering Insect Data

With the arrival of the spotted wing drosophila fruit fly, Fraser Common Farm was facing a management crisis. There seemed to be little organic growers could do to combat the pest, which destroys fruit before is is ripe. Infestations of Coddling Moth and Apple Maggot were making it difficult to offer fruit for sale. Barry Cole set about to gather meaningful data to help understand pest life cycles and vectors of attack. He’s set up a variety of traps and tapes and monitors them regularly to determine when pests are most active and which trees they prefer. The “Bait Apples” attract a large number of Apple Coddling Moths. The yellow sticky tapes help determine which species are present at various times in the season. Since many of the fruit trees are more than 20 years old, he also monitors and records tree productivity and fruit quality to better determine which trees should be kept and which should be replaced. 

The fake apple trap.
Identifying active pests.
Inspecting Early Harvest.
Barry Cole inspecting walnuts for pests.

Michael Marrapese is the IT and Communications Manager at FarmFolk CityFolk. He lives and works at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative, one of BC’s longest running cooperative farms, and is an avid photographer, singer, and cook.

Feature image: David Catzel’s watermelon varieties.

Clockwise from left: ; the fake apple trap; identifying active pests; Barry Cole inspects walnutd for pests; Mark Cormier with fava bean cover crop; plums in the upper orchard; David Catzel with his White Winter Kale seed crop. Credit: Michael Marrapese. 

Biodynamic Farm Story: Cosmic Compost

in 2019/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Preparation/Summer 2019/Tools & Techniques

Anna Helmer

Hello and welcome once again to The Biodynamic Farming Experience for the Celestially-Challenged: a partly-formed, poorly-articulated, and over-hyphenated chronicle of a particular journey in which a woman-farmer-of-a-certain-age-and-experience (me) delves into the theory and, more importantly, the practice of Biodynamic farming in search of fun and the future of farming.

Rambling along here, aren’t I? I do that when I am not sure of the destination. And now that I am in full digression, I can see that “journey” is not the right word as it would suggest both a destination and a plan, neither of which I can guarantee. Voyage of discovery? Too fancy. Is it a process? Nope. I don’t think that sounds like fun. Compost heap. I think it might be a compost heap: piling up ideas, layering with experience, mixing up theories (some quite junky), letting it sit. For absolute certain something good is going to come of it, but it might take a while depending on how raw the material is.

The bottom layer in my compost pile of cosmic cognitive sentience (how about that!) is a cover-to-cover reading of the original lectures (the Biodynamic farming origin story) delivered by Dr. Rudolph Steiner. I am just about done. I remain perplexed most of the time, although I experience (sadly random and rare) flashes of triumph when I realize I have managed to grasp a concept or follow an argument, very quickly snuffed out usually by the next paragraph. I persist however, because I find it fascinating.

Another batch of Biodynamic Preparation 500: cow horns neatly lined up at Helmers Organic Farm. Credit: Helmers Organic Farm

In the last article I mentioned Biodynamic Preparation 500, which we have been using for years on the farm. It’s easy to make. You just stuff a cow horn full of fresh manure and bury it a foot or two down in the soil for the winter. In the early summer, when dug up, the manure has transformed into a delightfully hummus-y, sweetly-smelling substance which is incorporated into water and sprinkled about the fields and gardens. Steiner manages to explain why the use of a cow horn is necessary, but I can’t. The point though, is to avail the farm of the powerful forces of the universe.

Well the thing of it is, I have discovered that BD 500 works not just on the crops and soil: it works on people too. If you are not picking yourself up off the floor after collapsing there in a dead faint of amazement, I have not expressed myself well. This reflects a problem with the writing, not with Biodynamics. You see, I myself have been made available to believe that the universe has an influence on the health of the farm because I have been using the Biodynamic Preparation 500. Probably it’s what’s made the lectures readable and fascinating too. I did try a decade or so ago but there was no joy.

I realize in fact, that it’s taken close to 20 years of using the preparation for me to get to this stage. I hope it doesn’t take everyone else that long to feel its affects. Steiner seemed to think about four years should do it.

To return to the point of this exercise: is Biodynamics fun? Is it the future of farming? I remain firm in my conviction that it might be both. It is certainly more fun than the organic certification process, which I find has gotten a little dry. It’s necessary of course, if we are keen to relieve certain large industry leaders of their self-appointed mantle of agricultural way-finders. It’s obligatory, if we want to sell to people who feel the same way we do.

Practicing biodynamic farming, while still offering the certification experience, brings some serious, additional motivation. I count inspiration, wonder, amazement, incredulity, reality-checks, positive feedback from customers, and tantalizing experiences of powerful forces among the benefits of the practice. Oh, and increasing yields of very tasty produce. Lovely things to add to a compost heap of galactic oomph. I think I am going to be a better farmer because of it. Certainly, the farm is better because of it.

The Biodynamic practice of filling cow horns for preparation of preparation 500 or “horn dung.” Credit: Sugar Pond (www.flickr.com/people/88927846@N00)

Could Biodynamics be the future of farming in general? There are snags. One of them has got to be that it can get a little bogged down in discussion, which I would like to flag as one of the biggest hinderances to farm productivity. A talking farmer is very often not a working farmer.

Another issue is this insistence on involving the position of the sun and the moon in relation to the stars and planets when making farming decisions. People like me, whose astrological understandings end even before the horoscopes page, are simply going to switch off when this topic arises. People who like a little more conventional science in their lives will also be left wanting, and very little apology is made for that. These are difficult aspects to accept, and in my case required 20 years of using BD 500 to get over.

Cynically, I would also suggest that the fact that Biodynamic farming does not require much in the way of support from the agricultural industry is a close-to-fatal flaw. Apart from the odd tractor, a few implements, and some cover-crop seed, Biodynamic farmers spend very little in the mainstream agricultural system. There is simply no need. Thus, there will be no corporate champion, with a big marketing budget, to help turn heads and change minds.

So, as far as the future goes, Biodynamic farming can be hazardously non-productive, bizarrely off-putting, and doesn’t contribute to the bottom line of the world’s largest companies. This is not promising…or is it?

It’s May, it’s go-time, and theoretical considerations on fun and the future of farming may not strike quite the right tone at your place just now. I completely understand. It would not hurt in the least however, since you have read this far, to throw a little Biodynamic 500 around as you carry on with the business of farming. At the very least, your soil and plants can get busy working with the infinite energy of the universe. You’ll get there too, although perhaps that doesn’t matter as much.


Anna Helmer farms with her family and friends in the Pemberton Valley and recently hosted a farm open house that could have gone really badly, but didn’t.

Feature image: Compost heap. Credit: Andrew Dunn (www.andrewdunnphoto.com)

Bringing Plants and Animals Together for Soil Health

in 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Soil/Spring 2019/Tools & Techniques

Crop-Livestock Integration at Green Fire Farm

DeLisa Lewis, PhD

What do the North American Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the current global experiences of climate change have in common? Of course, both are understood as environmental disasters with humans as major contributors. But, if you answered with either ‘farmers’ or ‘soils,’ or more ideally, both, you’d be hearing a celebratory ding-ding-ding right about now.

For farmers and their soils, however, the ‘answers,’,in the form our day-to-day management are not so simple. Environmental historians have uncovered a picture of the Dust Bowl that is also less simple than the above equation, (e.g. Worster, D. 2004; Cunfer, 2004). True to the story I would like to tell here, these historians do focus on some of the challenges of long-term management of soils. Geoff Cunfer, an environmental historian of the Great Plains, found just how much ‘manure matters’ and asserted, “Through 10,000 years of farming on five continents by hundreds of diverse human cultures, only a handful of solutions to soil fertility maintenance have emerged” (Cunfer, 2004: p. 540).

What I’ve learned from reading environmental and agricultural history accounts, as well as reviewing the findings from long-term agricultural research studies1 is that careful, and regionally specific considerations of soils and climates are key nodes for fine-tuning systems. Perhaps more importantly, farming operations, including organic ones, have become increasingly specialized with livestock and manure here and vegetables over there. The lessons from history and long-term agricultural research, point towards diversity, and combined strategies for soil fertility or soil health.

I did not reach a place of digging around the archives or agriculture research station reports until I had close to 15 years of practice with soil management on certified organic vegetables farms. My farming systems experience to that point was within specialized, vegetables-only operations where I managed the soil preparation of the fields as well as windrows of compost with the front-end loader on my tractor.

When I arrived in British Columbia to learn more about the science behind soil management practices, some of the immediate lessons learned centered on the very different soil types, climate characteristics, and economic and cultural realities here. I now have just over a decade of ‘living here’ experience in the Coast-Islands region of BC, and am moving into year five operating our family-owned farm in the Cowichan Valley. That background is meant to highlight that I am still learning, and what I want to share for the purposes of this article on soil health and climate change, is my journey so far with integrating livestock with vegetables on Green Fire Farm.

Although coping with ‘too much and too little’ available water is not new to farmers in the Coast-Islands regions of BC, frequent and extreme weather events do present a new set of challenges. Faced with the demands of producing high quality product in competitive markets, and rising costs for farm inputs, we decided to pursue a number of different strategies to meet the goals of farm profitability, risk reduction, and (my personal favourite) soil health.2 The overall strategy is diversification, both in the fields and in terms of different revenue streams for the farm.

The soils and climate of our farm are well suited to a mixed farming operation, with Fairbridge silt loam soils3 and a Maritime Mediterranean climate. The soil landscape would be described as ‘ridge and swale’, with differing slopes and mixed drainage patterns interspersed through the fields. The drainage limitations of these soils and the erosion prone sloping areas are key pressure points for early spring and late fall field soil preparations. Though I have attempted to address some of these potential challenges to soil health with carefully timed tillage,4 and the use of a spader to reduce mechanical disturbance, the loss of production from one to two weeks at both ends of the growing season can be a costly hit to our farm profitability.

With that in mind, I see necessity as a driver with my decision-making around farm enterprise diversification. I did not arrive on our farm in the Cowichan with all the knowledge or skills required to integrate livestock with our vegetable production, but I did arrive with a keen interest in learning what mix of systems could optimize the opportunities and limits of our farm’s unique mix of soils, climate, and markets. Nearly five years in, we grow and sell a diverse mix of annual vegetables, perennial fruits, hay, and pastured pork. In recognition of the limits to my own management capacity, the addition of each new layer of complexity to the system is small and incremental.

I braved the unknowns of bringing in weaner piglets in the first season because we did not have enough irrigation water at that time to set up the vegetable systems that were most familiar to me. We began our learning with pastured pig systems with a total of eight piglets.

Last spring, we found another certified organic farm in our valley who were ready to sell their small herd of four lowline Angus beef cows. With their mentorship and guidance, I’ve added a system of ‘modified’5 intensive grazing to our pastures. In addition to purchasing the cows, our investments were increases to our electric fencing equipment used with the pigs, additional livestock watering tanks, and a used set of haying equipment.

This spring, I plan to set up smaller paddocks using the electric fencing where I want the cows to terminate the overwintered cover crops. This would be my ‘holy grail’6 system for putting in practice both soil health principles and climate friendly strategies, and much additional research will be needed to evaluate the return on investment and to quantify the contributions to soil health or climate impacts mitigation.

Currently, I have more questions than answers with respect to a full assessment of how this crop-livestock integration performs on our farm. As one part of our response to that, we will be expanding our record-keeping systems in an effort to learn our way towards an evaluation. Connecting our farm efforts to the work of others as recorded in the pages of this magazine, Corine Singfield7 and Tristan Banwell8 are both carrying out promising on-farm research focusing on livestock integration and MIG. Stay tuned for more details!


DeLisa has two decades of experience managing certified organic mixed vegetable production systems. She was lead instructor for the UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture from 2011-2014, and her teaching, research, and consulting continue with focus areas in soil nutrient management, farm planning, and new farmer training. Her volunteer service to the community of growers in British Columbia includes membership on the COABC Accreditation Board and North Cowichan Agriculture Advisory Committee.

Endnotes
1. Examples of long-term agricultural research include > 100 years at Rothamstead in the U.K., Morrow plots and Sanborn Field (USA), > 40 years at the Rodale Farming Systems trial
2. See the ‘science of soil health’ video series published by the USDA NRCS, 2014
3. See the BC Soil SIFT tool for mapped and digitized information on your soil types and agricultural capability
4. Conservation tillage is recognized as a ‘climate friendly’ and soil health promoting practice, and there are many variations on that theme as farmers and farming systems. I use the term ‘careful’ tillage to emphasize attention to monitoring soil moisture conditions to reduce soil physical and biological impacts, and as an overall effort to reduce the number of passes with machinery. Not to be missed, in a discussion of soil health and climate friendly farming practices, are two recently published growers focused books on the no-till revolution in organic and ecologically focused farming systems. See what Andrew Mefford and Gabe Brown have to say in the recent issue of ‘Growing for Market’ magazine.
5. Management Intensive Grazing defined as emphasizing ‘the manager’s understanding of the plant-soil-animal-climate interface as the basis for management decision’ in Dobb, 2013 is a promising, climate friendly practice for BC growers. I use the term ‘modified’ to signal that I have not yet achieved the daily moves or high intensity stocking numbers often associated with MIG. Our paddock rotations have evolved to reflect our immediate needs for lower labour inputs and less frequent moving of the animals with their paddocks.
6. See Erik Lehnhoff and his colleagues’ (2017) work in Montana for an interesting review of livestock integration and organic no-till in arid systems.
7. See Corine Singfield’s article on integrating pigs and chickens into crop rotations in the Winter 2016 issue of the BC Organic Grower.
8. See Tristan Banwell’s article on Managed-intensive grazing in the Winter 2018 issue of the BC Organic Grower.

References
Badgery, W., et al. (2017). Better management of intensive rotational grazing systems maintains pastures and improves animal performance. Crop and Pasture Science.68: 1131-1140. dx.doi.org/10.1071/CP16396
Bunemann, E.K., et al. (2018). Soil quality – a critical review. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 120:105-125. doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.01.030
Cunfer, G. (2004). Manure Matters on the Great Plains Frontier. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 34: 4 (539-567).
Dobb, A. (2013). BC Farm Practices and Climate Change Adaptation: Management-intensive grazing. BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative. deslibris-ca.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/ID/244548
Lehnhoff, E., et al. (2017). Organic agriculture and the quest for the holy grail in water-limited ecosystems: Managing weeds and reducing tillage intensity. Agriculture. 7:33. doi:10.3390/agriculture7040033
Pan, W.L., et al. (2017). Integrating historic agronomic and policy lessons with new technologies to drive farmer decisions for farm and climate: The case of inland Pacific Northwestern U.S. Frontiers in Environmental Science. 5:76. doi:10.3389/fenvs.2017.00076
Richards, M.B., Wollenberg, E. and D. van Vuuren. (2018). National contributions to climate change mitigation from agriculture: Allocating a global target, Climate Policy. 18:10, 1271-1285, doi:10.1080/14693062.2018.1430018
Telford, L. and A. Macey. (2000). Organic Livestock Handbook. Ontario: Canadian Organic Growers.
Worster, D. (2004). Dust Bowl: The southern Plains in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press.
Province of British Columbia, Environment, M. O. (2018, May 09). BC Soil Information Finder Tool. gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/air-land-water/land/soil/soil-information-finder
Explore the Science of Soil Health. (2014). USDA National Resources Conservation Service. nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/soils/health/?cid=stelprdb1245890
Singfield, C. (2016). Integrating Livestock into Farm Rotations. BC Organic Grower. bcorganicgrower.ca/2016/01/integrating-livestock -in-the-farm-rotations/
Banwell, T., Tsutsumi, M. (2018). Organic Stories: Spray Creek Ranch. BC Organic Grower. bcorganicgrower.ca/2018/01/organic-stories-spray-creek-ranch/

Soil Health & Cover Crops

in 2019/Climate Change/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Seeds/Soil/Spring 2019

A Recipe for Success in Achieving Long Term Soil Conservation

Saikat Kumar Basu

Why Care for our Soils?

Soil is an important constituent of both agriculture and forestry; unfortunately, it is taken for granted most of the time. It is a cheap, easily accessible or available global resource for which we have often forgotten to take the necessary care. We have used it non-judiciously without proper planning and vision for the future.

The concept of soil health has always been there since the dawn of human civilization—but only quite recently have we started to better understand, appreciate, and care for our soils as part of sustainable agriculture. We as humans have possibly matured over time and realized that our exploitative and non-judicious use of our soil resources can limit our long-term agricultural productivity and jeopardize successful crop production.

Unless we are serious enough to take good care of one of our most abundant yet highly sensitive natural resources of this planet, the soils, we ourselves will be solely to blame for the degradation of our soils—thanks to the self-destructive approaches we’ve used to achieve very short-term objectives of making easy profits without thinking deeply about the long-term consequences.

Soil health today has emerged as an important aspect of proper soil management as a component of sustainable agriculture to help in quality crop production without depleting or damaging soil quality and helping in proper soil conservation at the same time (Fig. 1).

What Impacts Soil Health?

Several factors impact soil health, among the most important being over application of fertilizers and pesticides. The soil represents a dynamic ecosystem and an intricate playground of delicate physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. Any chemical application on the soil therefore has some positive or negative impact on the soil quality by interfering with the physicochemical and biogeological processes associated with soil formation. These changes include shifting the soil pH due to various anthropogenic activities that slowly impact the soil quality. Drastic reduction in pH makes soil acidic, while rapid increase in pH leads to alkalinity or salinity; both conditions make the soil unsuitable for a long time for quality crop production. Furthermore, increased emphasis on monoculture associated with our modern industrial agriculture year after year depletes the soil of essential macro and micro nutrients necessary for maintaining optimal soil health (Fig. 2).

Fig 2. Increased emphasis on crop monoculture is detrimental to long term soil health.

Over application of synthetic chemical fertilizers and various pesticides to secure crop production adds too much pressure on our soil, impacting not only the physicochemical and geological processes active in the soil, but also negatively impacting the soil macro and micro flora and fauna devastatingly over a long period of time. Several beneficial microbes like soil bacteria, Cyanobacteria, soil fungi, soil borne insects, spring tails (Collembola), earthworms, and other critters essential for maintaining soil health suffer population collapse due to non-judicious over application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Many such chemical residues remain in the soil for prolonged period and often percolate deep into the soil, reaching the groundwater table or adjacent surface fresh water resources via surface run off, with long term negative impacts on both soil and water. Often the beneficial soil macro and micro flora and fauna are altered or replaced by harmful species that prove detrimental to soil health and significantly impact crop production and forest ecology. Random unplanned crop rotations and fallow harm our soil more than we actually realize; making them susceptible to weed and pest infestations (Fig. 3), loss of precious top soil and lower crop production due to poor soil health.

Fig 3. Untended soil is subjected to weed infestation that interferes with quality crop production.

Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Promoting Sustainable Soil Health

To maintain optimal soil health for long term success in achieving quality crop production we need to take necessary steps and plan carefully. This takes needs patience, and deeper understanding, as well as painstaking observations to implement good soil health practices on cropland.

Regular soil tests are important to ensure that we are aware of the excesses as well as depletion of necessary macro and micro nutrients in the soil. We also need to look into the topography of the crop field, the low and high spots in the field, the areas impacted by acidification and salinity issues, detailed history of fertilizer and pesticide applications over the years and the successive crops grown. Any past issues associated with the soil should be recorded for future reference. The nature of pest and weed infestations should be recorded to identify any specific patterns with respect to local pest and weed populations. Such detailed record keeping together with advanced GPS- and GIS-generated high-quality images of the field over the years will provide a farmer or crop producer or a professional agronomist ample reference to make judicious decisions to secure comprehensive soil health strategy and crop management for the future.

Based on the above information, we need to adopt a specific crop rotation plan to ensure that the soil is not exhausted of essential soil nutrients. Application of fertilizers and pesticides should follow manufacturer’s guidelines stringently to avoid over application (Fig 4).

Fig 4. It is important to keep track of weed and pest species impacting crop production in a particular field for making judicious decisions regarding appropriate chemical applications at the appropriate stage and dosage following manufacturer’s instructions.

It is also important to note if soil compaction is causing a problem for the field. If this is an issue, then highly mechanized farming activities and movements of heavy vehicles need to be restricted to a specific easily accessible area to reduce negative impacts of soil compaction on the field.

Intercropping could be practised depending upon the farming need and also to use the soil resources judiciously. This can enhance crop production and add crop diversity to the field important for maintaining soil health.

Role of Cover Crops in Promoting Long-Term Soil Health and Soil Conservation

Cover crops are an important aspect for maintaining general soil health if used with scientific outlook and proper planning. Several cover crops choices are available. Annual and perennial legumes, various clovers and sweet clovers, bird’s-foot trefoil, hairy vetch, common vetch, cicer milkvetch, sainfoin (Fig. 5), fenugreek, fava beans, soybeans, field pea or forage pea, cowpea, chickpea, green pea, black pea, different species of beans, oil crops such as annual and perennial sunflower, safflower, flax, forage canola, different mustard species (Fig. 6), brassicas such as forage rape, turnips, collards, radish, forage crops such as tef grass, Sudan grass, sorghum, sorghum x Sudan grass hybrids, corn, cereals such as winter rye, wheat and triticale, different millets, such as Proso millet, Japanese millet, German millet, red millet, special or novelty crops such as hemp (Fig 7) , chicory, plantain, phacelia, buckwheat, and quinoa are only a handful of choices to mention from a big basket of abundant crop species currently available across Canada.

Fig 5. Mustard cover crop in full bloom.
Fig 6. Perennial forage legume sainfoin is an excellent cover crop that can be successfully used in crop rotation cycles. Sainfoin is also exceptional for pollinators, attracting bees and other insects in large numbers.
Fig 7. Hemp is a new speciality crop for Canada and has been generating serious interest among farmers for agronomic productions. Hemp has been found to attract diverse species of insect pollinators too.

Several grass species such as orchard grass, tall fescue, short fescue, meadow fescue, creeping fescue, chewing fescue, festulolium, timothy, annual and perennial rye grass, Italian rye grass, and various other forage and native species are being used in specific legume-grass mix, in highly planned and organized crop rotations or in soil reclamation and pollinator mixes for attracting insect pollinators to the crop fields and in checking soil erosion effectively.

Cover crops should be selected based on the agro-climatic zone and soil zones of the region and used in planned rotations. Species or different appropriate cover crop mixes are to be selected based on the long-term objective of the crop production. For example, cover crop mixes used as pollinator mixes could not only be planted in the field during a fallow; but can also be used in agronomically unsuitable areas, along field perimeter, under the centre pivot stand, hard to access areas of the farm, shelter belts or adjacent to water bodies or low spots in the field too.

Forage cover crops could be used where the field is partly subjected to animal foraging or grazing or ranching. Similarly, oil crops, pharmaceutical or neutraceutical crops, or specialty or novelty cover crops could be used in crop rotations with major food or industrial crops grown in the particular field in a specific agro-climatic region.

Fig 8 Cover crops rotations can be an effective long term solution for managing optimal soil health with long term positive impacts on soil quality and soil conservation.

Cover crops not only play an important role in crop rotation cycle; but, also help in retaining soil temperature and moisture as well as protect top soil from erosive forces like wind and water. The presence of live roots in the soil and a rich diversity of crops stimulate the growth and population dynamics of important soil mega and micro fauna and flora for sustaining long term soil health, soil quality and soil conservation. Cover crops help in balancing the use of essential soil macro and micro nutrients in the soil, as well as promoting better aeration, hydration, nitrogen fixation, and recycling of essential crop minerals, assisting bumper production of food or cash crops due to improvement in soil quality for successive high-quality crop production.

It is important for all of us to understand and appreciate that soil is a non-renewable resource and needs special care and attention. Unless we are careful to use this special resource so deeply associated with our agricultural and forestry operations judiciously, we may be slowly jeopardizing crop productivity—and our common future—in the not so distant future.

Proper planning and scientific soil management practices can play a vital role in keeping our soil productive as well as healthy. Use of crop rotations and cover crops are some of the important approaches towards long-term soil health, soil conservation, and crop productivity. We need to learn more about our local soil resources for our future food security and incorporate more soil friendly practices to prolong the life and quality of our soil.


Saikat Kumar Basu has a Masters in Plant Sciences and Agricultural Studies. He loves writing, traveling, and photography during his leisure and is passionate about nature and conservation
Acknowledgement: Performance Seed, Lethbridge, AB

Featured Image: Fig 1. Scientific management of soil health contributes towards long term high quality crop production as well as soil conservation. Image Credit: All photos by Saikat Kumar Basu

Footnotes from the Field: Climate Change

in Footnotes from the Field/Spring 2019

Are We on the Brink of an Ecological Armageddon?

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O.

The United Nations’ 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report identified that “biodiversity is an essential prerequisite for the maintenance of ecosystem services providing manifold benefits to human well-being.”

How is Climate Change Impacting the Biodiversity of our Planet’s Ecosystem?

Regional climate change hot spots have begun to undergo dramatic biodiversity reductions and, in some cases, ecosystem collapse due to temperature related food chain disruptions. Scientists in the field of phenology, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena relating to climate, plant, and animal life have found that rapid climate change is causing a decoupling of once synchronized light-sensitive cycles from temperature-sensitive cycles.

Slower shifts in climate over geological time frames are well recognized natural and cyclic phenomena. Climate studies have demonstrated that a climate shift 6,000 years ago in northern Africa converted the Sahara grassland savannahs to desert sands. Archeological evidence has found cave paintings in the desert showing mermaids and swimmers in the now-dry local lakes.

How Can We Know that Human Activities are Actually Contributing to an Increase in Global Temperatures?

As the Industrial Revolution was being propelled forward by the burning of fossil fuels, the Greenhouse Effect began building as those fossil fuels released greenhouse gases. The Industrial Revolution began in the 1760’s in Europe and had rooted in North America by the 1820’s.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by 39 percent and methane levels have risen to the highest concentrations in at least 650,000 years. These greenhouse gases prevent thermal radiation from leaving the Earth’s surface atmosphere with the ocean acting as a heat sink. The upper ocean layer’s heat content has increased significantly more in recent decades. As the ocean absorbs heat, waves, tides, and currents, move  that heat from warmer to cooler latitudes, and to deeper levels. Eventually this heat energy re-enters the land systems by melting ice shelves, evaporated water (rain), or by directly reheating the atmosphere. Heat energy stored in the ocean has a long life span—it can warm the planet for decades after it was absorbed.

Early oceanographers recorded ocean temperature data from 1872 to 1876 aboard the HMS Challenger. The ship sailed 69,000 nautical miles, recording 300 ocean temperature profiles at several depths. Fast forward to today’s Argo Project headed up by oceanographer Dr. Dean Roemmich. The Argo Project uses 3,000 free-drifting floats for long-term monitoring of global ocean temperatures and salinity every 10 days. In a recent scientific paper Dr. Roemmich reported the results, comparing today’s ocean temperatures to those taken by HMS Challenger’s crew. The study revealed an overall average temperature increase of 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit (0.59 degrees Celsius) at the ocean’s surface over the past 135 years.

Rising Ocean Surface Temperatures Directly Influence Global Weather Patterns

NASA scientists have developed computer simulations of historical weather data. These data described the ocean temperatures that created the weather conditions leading to the North American Dust Bowl from 1931 to 1939, considered to be the most significant meteorological event of the 20th century. NASA scientists found that the Atlantic Ocean surface temperature had risen by 1 degree Farenheit, and that the Pacific Ocean had experienced a cooling La Niña cycle. The combination triggered the drought weather patterns for the America Plains.

The Dust Bowl eroded 100 million acres into stripped and lacerated wastelands spanning Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, with dust storms severely affecting a total of 27 states. Farms in the Dust Bowl lost an average of 480 tons of topsoil per acre. By 1940, the Dust Bowl conditions had prompted the relocation of 2.5 million people. The infamous Black Sunday storm on April 14, 1935 measured 200 miles across by 2,000 feet high with winds at 65 mph. The dust blocked the sunlight causing temperatures to drop 25 degrees Farenheit in one hour. During one severe two-hour period on Black Sunday, the violent storm stripped away twice as much soil as had been dug out over seven years to build the Panama Canal.

Hugh Hammond Bennett became known as the father of soil conservation in his work as founder and head of the US Soil Conservation Service. Bennett identified poor farming practices, deep plowing, denuded soil, removal of trees, and drought as the main causes of the Dust Bowl.

Under Bennett’s leadership, the US Soil Conservation Service initiated a 30-year program to restore and mitigate the damages of the Dust Bowl, including the replanting of denuded land. Bennett also set up programs to teach farmers better land management techniques such as leaving crop stubble in the field after harvest. Additionally, in the 1930’s, the US government purchased 11.3 million acres and replanted native grasslands. However, damage to the land was so severe, that by the year 2,000 some areas were still barren of growth and blowing dust.

Light and Temperature-Sensitive Ecosystem Cycles

Bennet stated, “the Kingdom of Nature is not a democracy; we cannot repeal natural laws when they become irksome. We have got to learn to conform to those laws or suffer severer consequences than we have already brought upon ourselves.”5

Here we are some 80 years after Bennett’s warning, and status updates report that climate change is moving forward unabated. An important factor in climate change is the disruption of ecosystem relationships by decoupling synchronized light-sensitive cycles from temperature-sensitive cycles.

Farmers are familiar with counting heat units to time the application of pest controls. This is because many insects—as well as reptiles, and amphibians—use temperature-sensitive cycles as cues for hatching emergence. Sex selection for some reptiles, such as crocodiles, is temperature based—the temperature of incubation will determine the sex of the offspring. This leaves many reptiles at-risk: an entire sex can be removed from the reproductive landscape in a few breeding seasons.

Phytoplankton communities are losing biodiversity in the face of higher ocean temperatures as natural selection is for more heat-tolerant groups. Phytoplankton make up only 0.2 percent of global primary producer biomass, yet they are responsible for about 50 percent of the world’s primary food production. In addition, phytoplankton are key components in the global carbon cycle. Reduction in the biodiversity of phytoplankton communities changes the primary producer profiles and reduces the resilience of the ocean ecosystem.

The concept of an Ecological Armageddon is emerging — Dr. CA Hallmann reports an 82 percent decline in flying insects at 63 protected sites in Germany, over a 27-year study period. Hallmann notes, “loss of insects is certain to have adverse effects on ecosystem functioning, as insects play a central role in a variety of processes, including pollination, herbivory and detrivory, nutrient cycling, and providing a food source for higher trophic levels such as birds, mammals, and amphibians. For example, 80 percent of wild plants are estimated to depend on insects for pollination, while 60 percent of birds rely on insects as a food source.”

In Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest, researcher Bradford C. Lister found that biomass loss  increased from 10 to 60 times over the 30-year study period. Lister’s analysis revealed a synchronous decline in lizards, frogs, and birds that eat insects. Lister determined that the forest temperature had risen 2.0 degrees Celcius over the study period—a temperature change that prevented insect eggs from hatching, and reducing food supply for animals higher up the food chain.

Light-sensitive activities for mammals and birds include migration, breeding, and predation. As well, some plants are reliant on light-sensitive cues for growth stimulation.

For example, caribou populations in the Artic are in decline due to the decoupling of temperature and light-sensitive cycles. Pregnant caribou migrate to birthing grounds based on light cues to time their arrival with the emergence of nutrient-rich plant growth. However, due to rising artic temperatures, the plants are germinating earlier. When the pregnant caribou arrive to their feeding grounds, plant nutrition has already decreased—resulting in malnourished caribou mothers producing fewer calves. Another light-sensitive lifecycle example is the change in the Arctic mosquito cycle. Migrating birds rely on the larval Arctic mosquitos as a rich food source, but the mosquitos are hatching earlier under warmer temperatures. When birds arrive, the mosquitos are in their adult form, and the birds are without a source of food. The now unchecked mosquito population impacts the caribou lifecycle when caribou calves are predated to death by unusually gigantic swarms of blood-sucking adult mosquitos.

The butterfly effects of climate change on the intricacies of the planetary food web are only just emerging. Hopefully, we can adapt before an Ecological Armageddon occurs.


Marjorie Harris (BSc, IOIA VO) is an organophyte, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

References:
Roemmich, D, Gould WJ, Gilson J. 2012. 135 years of global ocean warming between the Challenger expedition and the Argo Programme. Nature Climate Change. 2:425-428.  10.1038/nclimate1461
NASA Explains the Dust Bowl Drought: nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2004/0319dustbowl.html
Handy Dandy Dust Bowl Facts: kinsleylibrary.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Handi-facts.pdf
The Dust Bowl: u-s-history.com/pages/h1583.html
The Dust Bowl, an illustrated history, Duncan & Burns, 2012 (pages 160 – 162)
Climate Change: Ocean Heat Content: climate.gov/news-features/      understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content
Temperature and species richness effects in phytoplankton communities. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548109/
Lister, B.C. Department of Biological Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic University, Troy, NY 12180 pnas.org/content/115/44/E10397.short
More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005: was called for by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000 in his report to the UN General Assembly, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century.

California Programs Show How Farmers Are Key to Reversing Climate Change

in 2019/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Winter 2019

Shauna MacKinnon

From extreme flooding to drought and previously unheard of temperature variability, climate change is a serious matter for BC organic growers. While agriculture is feeling more than its share of climate change impacts, a set of solutions exist where farmers and ranchers play a key role. Land-based climate solutions can avoid and absorb enough greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be equivalent to a complete stop of burning oil worldwide.

This contribution is too important to ignore. An article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assessed 20 cost effective land-based climate solutions applied globally to forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. These conservation, restoration, and land management actions can increase carbon storage and reduce GHG emissions to achieve over a third of the GHG reductions required to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated emissions reductions are not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts: we need to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. Farmers and ranchers can help do this through practices that sink carbon in soil and vegetative cover.

In California, the fifth largest exporter of food and agriculture products in the world, climate change poses a major threat—drought, wildfire, and a reduction in the winter chill hours needed for many of the state’s fruit and nut crops are already taking a toll on production. California is a leader in climate change policy with ambitious GHG reduction goals, but the state is also recognizing that reductions alone are not enough. California is implementing programs and policies that put the state’s natural and working lands, including wetlands, forests, and agricultural lands, to work sinking carbon.

Field of green rye and legume with mountains in the background and blue sky
Rye & legume cover crop at Full Belly Farm, Guinda, California. CalCAN Farm Tour, March 2017. Photo by Jane Sooby

Carbon Farming: Agriculture as Carbon Sink

Dr. Jeffrey Creque, Director of Rangeland and Agroecosystem Management at the Carbon Cycle Institute in California, is a carbon farming pioneer. It all started with a conversation between himself and a landowner in Marin County. “We were talking about the centrality of carbon to management and restoration of their ranch and watershed,” explains Creque. “That led to a larger conversation about carbon as something they could market and then how exactly we could make that happen.”

The carbon farming concept was founded on early research in Marin County that showed land under management for dairy had much higher carbon concentrations than neighbouring land. This led to research trials by University of California, Berkeley in partnership with local ranches that showed a single year of compost application yielded higher annual carbon concentrations for at least 10 years. In the initial year the compost itself was responsible for some of those carbon additions, but additional annual increases in soil carbon came from carbon being pulled from the atmosphere. The one time, half inch application of compost stimulated the forage grasses to increase carbon capture for a decade or more.

This was enough for researchers to take notice. Producer partners were happy to see the increased yields in forage production that resulted from the compost application. Those first results led to the development of a carbon farm planning tool. “After seeing those results everyone was excited about compost. But we wanted to see what else we could do,” states Creque.

Using the existing USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service farm planning process as their template (the US equivalent of Canada’s Environmental Farm Plan), Creque and his colleagues re-formulated the approach by putting the goal of maximizing carbon sequestration at the centre of the process. The carbon farm planning tool was the result. The first farm in Marin County completed a Carbon Farm Plan in 2014; today, 47 farms across California have completed plans and about 60 more are waiting to begin.

Along with compost applications, other carbon farming practices include riparian restoration, silvopasture (the intentional combination of trees, forage plants, and livestock together as an integrated, intensively-managed system), windbreaks, hedgerows, and improving grazing practices. Over 35 practices are considered in carbon farm planning. For high impact, riparian restoration is one of the best performers. The high productivity of riparian ecosystems means a large amount of carbon can be sunk in a relatively small part of farmers’ and ranchers’ total land area.

Preparation for planting of a one mile windbreak on a Carbon Farm in NE CA. Photo by Dr. Jeff Cheque, Carbon Cycle Institute

Impact and the Potential for Scaling Up

The adoption of carbon farming practices on one California ranch is equivalent to taking 850 cars worth of carbon dioxide out of the air and putting it into the ground. This ranch has also tapped into new markets for their wool by being eligible for the Climate Beneficial program offered by Fibershed, a network that develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers. A win-win at the farm-scale. But collective impact holds the most potential. “No one farm can ameliorate climate change, but collectively with many farms involved they can have a big impact,” Creque emphasizes.

The implementation of carbon farming practices in California is greatly helped by numerous federal, state, and county level programs that offer cost share contributions. Farmers and ranchers can receive direct grants to implement carbon farming practices from programs such as the national Environmental Quality Improvements Program and California State’s Healthy Soils program. But it has been challenging to convince the government agencies involved in managing climate change of the valuable role agriculture can play.

More and more local climate action plans are being developed, but most fail to consider what natural or working lands can offer to GHG mitigation strategies. “The beauty of agriculture land is that since we are already managing them, not as big of a change is required to manage them differently,” Creque concludes.

Rye & legume cover crop at Full Belly Farm, Guinda, California. CalCAN Farm Tour, March 2017. Photo by Jane Sooby

The Role of Organic Producers

Under their Climate Smart Agriculture initiative, California offers programs on irrigation efficiency (SWEEP), farmland conservation, manure management, and incentivizing farm practices that store carbon in soil and woody plants (Healthy Soils). Each of these programs, funded in part by the State’s cap and trade program, plays a role in either decreasing the amount of GHG emitted from the agriculture sector or increasing the amount of carbon stored in soil and woody plants.

The Healthy Soils program has been particularly popular among organic growers. In the first year of funding over 25% of applicants were organic producers, when they make up just 3% of the state’s total producers. Jane Sooby, Senior Policy Specialist at CCOF, a non-profit supported by an organic family of farmers, ranchers, processors, retailers, consumers, and policymakers that was founded in California, explains why: “Organic farmers have a special role to play because they are already required to use practices such as crop rotation that contribute to carbon sequestration, and they are rewarded in the marketplace with a premium for organic products.”

State programs like Healthy Soils and SWEEP are a start, but more can be done, suggests Sooby. These programs are competitive, and they can be complicated and time consuming to apply to which makes it difficult for smaller scale producers to access the available resources. Sooby would like to see California provide financial incentives to all farmers who are taking steps to conserve water and reduce GHG emissions.

CCOF has engaged directly with government to make their programs more accessible to organic farmers and ranchers at all scales. What more is needed?

Sooby likens the current climate change crisis to the all-hands-on-deck approach of the World War II effort: “Climate change is of similar, if not more, urgency. Governments need to draw up plans for how to support farmers and ranchers in sequestering as much carbon as possible and helping them transition to clean energy solutions.”

Learn more:
California Dept. of Food and Agriculture – Climate Smart Agriculture programs: cdfa.ca.gov/oefi
Carbon Cycle Institute: carboncycle.org
Climate Beneficial Wool: Fibershed.com
CalCan – California Climate & Agriculture Network: calclimateag.org/climatesmartag


Shauna MacKinnon has been working on food and agriculture issues for well over a decade. From social and economic research to supporting research and extension she has been honoured to work with many great food and farming organizations. She currently coordinates the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program for the BC Food & Agriculture Climate Action Initiative, but has contributed this piece as an independent writer.

Feature image: Implementation of a rotational grazing program on a Marin Carbon Farm. Photo by Dr. Jeff Cheque, Carbon Cycle Institute.

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