Many of my Canadian neighbours are grumbling about the proposed carbon tax. Personally, I don’t have an issue with paying a carbon tax, but why are we going that route when we haven’t we put our efforts to growing healthy soil?
Growing soil offers a cheap and effective strategy to offset and reduce carbon levels in our atmosphere. Washington, DC food policy and farming reporter, Georgina Gustin, is yet another ‘clarion’ calling our attention to this fact; a fact that should be hard for my neighbours to ignore and incite all Canadians to ask our elected officials for policies and programs encouraging farmers to use their soil to store carbon.
Now I’m not talking about piping CO2 into the ground. Gustin and many others are talking about growing better soil; specifically to increase the organic matter content in the soil. Scientists have long told us that soil has the capacity to eliminate our carbon problems, estimating that soil has the capacity to store about twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and about three times more than trees and other vegetation. All we need to do is encourage farm practices that will increase the amount of soil organic matter.
For every 1% increase of organic matter in the soil, up to 2% of carbon is removed from the atmosphere. According to Gustin, “The world's cropland has the potential to store 20 billion tons of carbon on about four billion acres over a 25-year period. That is enough to offset as much as 15 percent of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning each year.”
With our vast expanses of crop and grazing lands, here is an opportunity for Canada to show leadership. France is doing just that – taking leadership with a national initiative to boost its organic carbon in soil by four parts per thousand, “which it says is enough to offset annual increases in overall carbon emissions.” What’s Canada doing? I haven’t heard much in the way of policy or program initiatives.
We have a lot of land in Canada – a huge potential to bank soil organic matter and carbon. If sequestering carbon isn’t a big enough benefit, there are other great side effects of healthy soil – better crops, better water cycling, less fertilizer and herbicide inputs, cleaner water, higher resilience to pests and climate change.
How can we encourage Canadian farmers to change their practices to grow better soil? A carbon credit program is one incentive but likely complicated, and does it actually put real-time money into the farmer’s jeans? A simpler incentive? Gustin’s article suggests that paying the farmer to grow healthy soil will produce willing participants. Would you rather pay carbon tax or pay your farmer to grow better soil? I choose the latter. At least I’d know this tangible, measurable practice will give results; and the food produced off that land will be better for my health, my community and the environment. Let’s call on our elected officials for policies and programs encouraging farmers to use their soil to store carbon. After all, the world is fast approaching a tipping point in terms of its atmospheric carbon load.