Have you increased your soil organic matter? Then we desperately need to hear from you! Give us your “I increased my soil organic matter” scream!
When I was in college, I was taught that it was impossible to increase your soil organic matter in an economical manner. Why, to get an increase in one percentage point of organic matter on an acre you would have to layer 200,000 pounds per acre of decaying crop residue or manure on it to get that, I was told. There just isn’t enough crop residue or manure to go around, and we just have to expect that we will have a slow decline in soil organic matter over time and that we will all eventually face a Malthusian starvation event when our soil productivity slowly goes away. What a grim outlook.
Now we have a better understanding of just how soil organic matter is actually made. We now realize that very little is produced through the decay of crop residue and that most of it comes from microbes feeding on root exudates, and that tillage breaks soil organic matter down faster than it is made in the tillage-based cropping systems which were common when I was in college (and still all too common now). We also have heard testimonial after testimonial from customers across the country who have successfully increased their soil organic matter from a combination of no-till and cover crops. We know that increasing soil organic matter is not only feasible, but that the agricultural practices that increase soil organic matter are more profitable than using status quo methods. But all too often, the stated opinion from official sources is that soil organic matter is difficult if not impossible to increase.
Now, we are facing another predicted apocalypse in climate change. If you read the IPCC report from the United Nations, the predictions are indeed quite grim. Alarming might be a better word. But also alarming to me is that among the group of roughly three thousand of the top scientists from across the globe there is very little consideration of the potential to sequester carbon in soils as a practical means to avert climate change. I think this is a major omission that needs to be addressed. There are major policy decisions that will be made based upon this report, and if we do not provide more accurate information than what these folks are receiving then those policies not only might fail to really address the problem, they may actually make it worse.
I had a policy maker ask me recently “Why don’t farmers believe in climate change? Don’t they see the effects of it every day?” and my reply was, “Most farmers do believe in climate change. We see our rainfall getting less frequent and more severe when it occurs, and we see our winters getting milder. We see armadillos and other animals that used to be only found in the south now moving north. We do believe in climate change generally. What we don’t believe in are a lot of the measures that are proposed to combat climate change. Some are just stupid, like getting rid of “farting cows” and replacing them with fake meat. And we are suspicious in just who is making money from these policy changes, because it seems like every one of these proposed policies involve us handing more money to the government and watching it disappear into a black hole with no tangible results and no accountability.”
I believe the real prevention of climate change lies beneath our feet. Farmers feet, that is. Let’s look at some figures to put it into perspective. Currently there are about 875 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Roughly 240 billion tons of that total is an increase since the Industrial Revolution began about 200 years ago. Worldwide, there are about 4 billion acres of cropland, and another 17 billion acres of pasture and rangeland. Hypothetically, if we could increase soil organic matter on these acres by one percentage point, it would take the equivalent of 378 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, that is more than 50% more than what has been put there in the last 200 years! I have heard many of our customers tell stories of how their soil organic matter has increased by well over a percentage point since adopting soil health practices on cropland. I have also heard of dramatic increases in soil organic matter from rangeland after converting to managed rotational grazing systems and from interseeding legumes and forbs. These are the stories that need to be told to policy makers. If resources are going to be allocated, lets allocate those resources to people who are going to make a real, effective difference. If the predictions in the IPCC are to be believed, it is absolutely critical that we act immediately to prevent those changes. If they are wrong, well, the worst thing that will happen is we have covered the world in better soil. Oh shucks!
We know the truth and we need your help!
By: Dale Strickler (Green Cover Sales Agronomist and Author)