Usually watching a U.S. House of Representative sub-committee hearing isn’t too exciting. But a recent hearing of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development focused on precision agriculture and bringing greater broadband power to rural America.
During that testimony, a very interesting concept came to light – utilizing agriculture to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and return it to the soil using plants.
One of those testifying was Dr. David Potere of Indigo Ag. He mentioned a program, the Terraton Initiative, that has a goal of removing one trillion tons of carbon dioxidefrom the atmosphere, and through plant photosynthesis, transfer that into soils around the world.
The Terraton Initiative website noted that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, 250 years ago, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmospherehas seen a dramatic increase. In April 2019, the Earth hit a new record high of 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphereand that amounts to a total increase of 1 trillion metric tons over the last 250 years.
In defining the new initiative, the term word “tera” means 1 trillion, so a teraton of carbon dioxideis 1 trillion tons of the product. The word “terra” is Latin for “Earth.” Thus, the Terraton Initiative represents the awesome potential of the soil beneath our feet to absorb and store one trillion tons of atmospheric carbon, or the amount produced since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The plan is to utilize the 3.6 billion acres of crop land across the earth to accomplish this feat.
According to David Perry, CEO of the Terraton Initiative, the soil before it was cultivated was about 3 percent carbon, but after years of tillage and farming, that has dropped to an average of only 1 percent.
“Getting those soils from 1 percent back to 3 percent would sequester about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, pulled out of the atmosphere and put back into the soil,” Perry said. “We know that we can do this, because there are farmers doing it today.
Removing the carbon dioxideis actually accomplished through photosynthesis – the natural process where plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it is used to grow leaves, stems and roots. In addition, some of the carbon is released by the plants’ roots into the ground as simple sugars. This contributes to a healthy soil ecosystem that is rich in nutrients, according to the Terraton Initiative website.
By adopting regenerative farming practices, farmers can lock down this carbon in the soil, rather than releasing it back into the atmosphere through practices such as tillage.
With this initiative, farming has the potential of being the solution to the climate problem instead of one of the big reasons the problem exists, as some now claim. It will put the farmer in the role of the hero in the climate challenge. It makes perfect sense to pursue this course and see agriculture not only provide ample food, fiber and fuel in the future of human-kind, but also be the mitigating factor in the climate challenge.
Agriculture is a wonderful industry!