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Better Than Organic [Agriculture
Posted on November 3, 2015 @ 06:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One problem with organic certification is that it does not speak to the issue of carbon farming which is becoming a big issue in farming these days. It is possible on an organic farm to lose soil organic matter through tillage practices and still call yourself an organic farmer.

For farms to become better than organic, they would need to be doing all the organic stuff plus adding soil organic matter back into their soils. The good news is that this can be done in a very profitable way.

One outfit that is doing this is a 4 acre farm in Sebastapol California called Singing Frog Farms. They practice no till farming in which they add lots of compost and plant an understory of plants under their growing vegetables so they have a continuous cropping system going. The end result is that over 4 years they have gone from 1% organic matter to 8% organic matter.

I predict that carbon farming of this sort will be increasingly recognized and supported by local consumers and possibly by governments in the form of tax credits. Subsidized carbon farming has the potential to change farming in some major ways as the current subsidies on corn, for example, are encouraging some fairly bad carbon management practices in agriculture. Imagine what might happen if the subsidies shifted explicitly towards supporting carbon farming practices instead?

Putting carbon into the ground rather than the atmosphere is the major key to managing carbon greenhouse gas levels. To get there we need to be better than organic and start supporting and adopting carbon farming practices.

Keep in mind, however, that urban lawns are also a target for better carbon management practices. There is over 40 million acres in the US devoted to lawns. Can we speed up the sequestration of carbon in urban and suburban lawn areas? More trees, more plants, less mowing and keeping organic residues in the local landscape are some ways to do this. Don't throw that pile of leaves out to the curb, figure out some way to get it into the soil. We could turn city lawns into "better than organic" landscapes.

There is actually no accepted definition of what it means for a lawn to be organic. Because it typically doesn't produce edible goods for sale we don't really care enough to come up with an organic certification protocol for lawns. Perhaps if lawns could have organic certification we would have companies that would treat them with less chemicals than we currently do. Instead of pursuing organic lawn certification, an alternative route would be to certify lawns as being carbon neutral or carbon sequestering and manage them accordingly. You could be offsetting carbon in your own backyard.

There is some debate as to the effectiveness of compost in sequestering carbon because as piles of compost reduce in size they are also giving off carbon back to the atmosphere. Putting organic residues onto the soil or into the soil in a timely manner in the form of mulch or buried mulch might reduce the amount of composting work required and delay the release of carbon sufficiently that your carbon budget is on the positive side for your accounting period.

What shall we do with wastewaters and sewage in a carbon neutral landscape? They both have the potential to positively impact soil carbon and nutrient profiles rather than being treated as waste. Should a carbon farmed lawn deal with issues of waste water and sewage/manure handling as well? To dive deeper into backyard carbon sequestration read Why Not Start Today: Backyard Carbon Sequestration Is Something Nearly Everyone Can Do.

This blog was inspired by the beginning of a talk by Toby Hemmenway to promote his new book The Permaculture City. He used the phrase "better than organic" to refer to carbon farming. My last blog included a video by carbon farmer Gabe Brown and Toby's talk got me thinking about this topic again and connecting some more dots.

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