Organic Regenerative Agriculture Essential to Reversing Climate Change
In the winter of 2014, activists from around the world founded an international organization to raise awareness about the amount of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) that result from industrial food and agriculture. But, more importantly, the organization is dedicated to promoting the fact that organic, regenerative farms, ranches, forests, and gardens have enormous capacity to sequester those greenhouse gasses. The organization is called Regeneration International, in honor of Robert Rodale, who coined the phrase regenerative organic agriculture. More and more worldwide research studies are demonstrating that regenerative organic agriculture is an essential solution to climate change and food security.
Climate activists like 350.org have been successful in focusing the nation’s attention on fossil fuels, fossil fuel emissions, and tar sands. Up to this point, however, they have concentrated their activist efforts on only about half of the emissions—those from fossil fuels. Regenerative organic agriculture is the complimentary and necessary other half of the fossil fuel based climate change movement. The regenerative movement is anxious to illustrate that the other half of the emissions are mostly from industrial food and agriculture systems both nationally and internationally. In 2009, World Bank Group scientists concluded that animal agriculture alone was responsible for 51% of the world’s GHG emissions, while other scientists concluded that food and agriculture’s emissions combined were from 44-57% (UNCTAD, 20).
In spite of such widespread agreement about the emissions from food and farming, regulators at the USDA the EPA, and the state of Vermont, estimate that only 10-12% of GHGs come from the food and agriculture sector. The government underestimates of emissions have allowed state, federal and international regulators, to completely ignore agriculture as a problem or a solution.
While in Paris for the COP 21 talks, we observed that this was the first year agriculture was even mentioned in the negotiations process. The French 4/1000 initiative – their commitment to provide incentives for farmers to increase organic matter in their soils by 4 parts per 1000 - paved the way for getting key issues related to carbon draw-down on the table. Many other countries pledged to institute similar programs as well. It remains to be seen whether they will actually be successful in instituting the soil building programs or find the funding to support them. We saw the negotiators begin to pay attention to soil as a solution, but wonder if actions will happen soon enough.
In order to continue the work of promoting regenerative agriculture back home, we decided to start Regeneration Vermont and focus on dairy and vegetable farming in our state. Our efforts are concentrated on education and activism. We are promoting no-till and minimum till. We are attempting to educate consumers and legislators about regenerative farming practices for Vermont. We are also informing Vermonters about the damaging nature of industrial dairy farming.
About 75% of Vermont’s farm income comes from dairy farmers who manage about one million acres in the state. Dairy is dominant, but vulnerable. We analyzed the state’s data and in the last six years and found that herbicide and fertilizer use have soared. Ninety thousand of the 134 thousand cows in Vermont are locked up 24/7. Only 870 of the more than 6,000 dairies that flourished in Vermont in the 1970s survive today. While 200 of them are organic, almost 670 of them are producing chemically contaminated milk, polluting our waterways, damaging our soils, and are significant contributors to climate change.
But it’s about more than targeting and putting a stop to toxic, climate-threatening agriculture. The regenerative agriculture that will replace it will not only put a halt to GMOs, toxic pesticides and factory animal production, but also employ practices that enhance soil quality and, as a result, sequester more and more carbon from the atmosphere. We are seeking to hasten the necessary transition that puts agriculture in its rightful place as a solution to many of our ecological woes, rather than the cause.
To support this need for good food and farming, we also need to encourage the growing demand for organic products from the millions of conscious consumers whose awareness of their role is hopefully growing. There is hope, but it’s up to all of us to work for the change that is essential to the future health of our planet.