How our farming practices address climate change

We grow cover crops like Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) to support our soil health.

As greenhouse gases continue to trap heat at increasing levels in our planet’s atmosphere, a correlation between human activity and climate change continues to rapidly shift our attention towards a recent sharp increase in our Earth’s average temperature. “We are at the most critical moment in the history of our species, as man-made change to the climate threatens humanity’s security on Earth. In 2012, total annual global emissions of greenhouse gases were approximately 52 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). These emissions must soon drop to a net of 41 GtCO2e if we are to have a feasible chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, above which point we dare not pass.”Regenerative agriculture can help reverse this trend. This approach adopts the benefits of preserving and enhancing a farm’s soil biology associated with organic farming.  However, the crux of regenerative farming is based on a broad understanding of our earth’s carbon cycle and taking steps to sequester this element back into our soil.

For beginners, carbon is stored in the Earth’s oceans, rocks, soil and decaying life.  On the other hand, it is also released into the atmosphere through respiration of living organisms and burning of fossil fuels. Upon release, carbon readily bonds with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide (CO2). Once combined, carbon dioxide is referred to as a greenhouse gas that efficiently traps heat in our planet’s lower atmosphere, similar to how a greenhouse holds heats for growing plants.

So, let’s discuss the immediate fact that the vast majority of our agricultural land is managed using modern, industrial farming methods. Crops are grown using synthetic fertilizers and chemical herbicides to offset the expense of farming. Ammonium nitrate and urea dominate the fertilizer market.  Both offer elevated percentages of nitrogen, which is the primary nutrient consumed during crop development, at the lowest cost. Produced commercially using synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide, these fertilizers release CO2 as a by-product.  It enters the atmosphere during all stages of processing, transportation and enzymatic breakdown of fertilizer granules in the field.

Next, a deadly combination of pre- and post-emergent herbicides, pesticides and mono-cropping systems also keep yields at a maximum and the cost of production at a minimum. These industrial practices are ecologically relative to desertification. Deep, repetitive plowing releases additional carbon into the atmosphere, while our reliance on agricultural chemicals reduces the microbiological activity of soil and its capability to efficiently store carbon in the soil. So, you can see how our earth’s natural carbon balance between soil and air gets quickly disproportionate through industrial farming.

Fortunately, our planet’s recovery systems are very resilient for those paying attention to carbon data. According to the Rodale Institute, “On-farm soil carbon sequestration can potentially sequester all of our current annual global greenhouse gas emissions of roughly 52 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Indeed, if sequestration rates attained by exemplar cases were achieved on crop and pastureland across the globe, regenerative agriculture could sequester more than our current annual carbon dioxide emissions.”2

Farms that adopt no-till or reduced tillage practices decrease the rate of carbon released into our atmosphere. Also, an organic approach to fertility using naturally derived minerals, compost and organic matter will increase carbon absorption back into the earth. And planting cover crops between planting rotations increases CO2 absorption from the atmosphere back into soil through photosynthesis.

Farm Manager Matt inspecting soil quality ahead of the growing season.

At Herb Pharm, we have always been committed to regenerative organic farming practices on our farm. We build topsoil fertility through reduced tillage, perennial herb and cover crop rotations, applying naturally derived nutrients from manure, compost and mineral-based nutrients. This allows our soil to regenerate microbiologically. We strive to go beyond organic standards by avoiding natural pesticides or fungicides. These substances, although naturally derived, are highly concentrated enough to kill soil micro-organisms and disrupt native pollinator habitat. And we choose to grow our crops in small perimeter fields that generously increase the access from our field edges into surrounding ecological buffers.

Finally, there is another sustainable component that is not so much inherent in our approach to farming, but rather our approach to how we make herbal extracts. Our process is a very efficient and conservative method towards honoring each plant in a remarkably resourceful manner. This overlooked benefit of land and resource reduction is not often transparent on the grocery shelf. Still today, we supply retail chains with our extracts across the country by growing only an acre or less of each herb. And land-soil preservation is an often-unspoken benefit to advance carbon sequestration in the near future.

So it is important for me to say, “thank you” for supporting our approach to growing herbs and enhancing the wild corridors that surround our farmland.  Ethical choices made by the consumer will play a large role in how farms impact climate change in the near future.

1, 2: Rodale Institute “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming”