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Fostering Sustainable Agriculture through Research, Education and Policy since 1984

Sustainable Conservation Farming Is Important to Our Future

During the month of May, I had the opportunity to attend an Iowa County pasture walk, several meetings on cover crop research/education. I also spent a warm Sunday afternoon listening to Madison-based Meteorologist Bob Lindmeier talk about the realities and consequences of climate change. So the question is, “What do the first two events have to do with last one?” The answer is: Carbon Sequestering.

At the Iowa county pasture walk, the focus was on Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing and how when done correctly, it improves soil health and reduces runoff into nearby streams and rivers. Much emphasis was placed on the ability of well-managed pastures to absorb heavy rain fall if grass height is kept at four inches or greater as compared to traditional pasture grazing with bare spots and compacted ground. Recent research is proving economic viability and enhancements in soil health for both conventional and organic farmers who incorporate cover crops into their farming operations. This is in addition to basic reductions in nutrient and soil losses that improve the clarity and quality of water in our streams and rivers.

Contrary to some recent reports, climate change is real and caused by increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) produced largely by our dependence on the use of fossil fuels in our daily lives. Scientifically, we have known since the mid-1900s that CO2 and other greenhouse gases are causing the earth to warm at a faster rate than at any other time in our planet’s history.

The solution to climate change is rather basic: We need to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through life style changes (reduce our use of fossil fuels) or find innovative ways to remove it from the air. As farmers and ranchers, you hold a key part of the solution to climate change in your hands. Plants take CO2 from the atmosphere and utilize it during growth. As the plant dies and decomposes, carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. The scientific community refers to this as carbon sequestering.

Both organic and conventional farming operations around the world can play a key role in removing carbon from the air, but farming practices must be changed. Planting cover crops, utilizing no-till farming and managed grazing methods are only practiced by a small percentage of farmers around the world. Each time we till the land or mismanage our pastures, we release sequestered carbon from the soil into the air. As good stewards of the land, it is time for us to be leaders by example on climate change. Take the time this growing season to evaluate your current farming practices. Think about planting cover crops after the fall harvest or consider purchasing a no-till drill or planter for your operation. If you don’t rotationally graze your pastures, contact your local NRCS office and work with a specialist to design a grazing plan.

When you get a few minutes this summer to relax on the front porch and watch your children or grandchildren playing in the yard, ask yourself, “What can I do, right now, to insure the next generation will continue farming this land?”

Perry Brown
Executive Director