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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - June 2019

Carbon farming enables young farmers to tackle climate change

Imagine cows grazing on lush pastures, moving to a new field every day. They always have new fresh pasture available and none of the fields are over-grazed. In this way grass can develop strong and deep roots that can assimilate and store carbon from the atmosphere. At first glance, carbon farming does not look all that different from conventional farming, but when you take a closer look, you see pastures with different varieties of grasses and other plants that form an oasis for pollinators.

On an arable farm, carbon farming also requires some changes to traditional practices. Introducing crop rotation, with legumes and plants that bring a lot of organic matter to the soil, is a good way to start trapping and storing carbon and improving soil quality. When a section of land has time to rest and fix nitrogen and carbon in the soil, it produces better yields when, for example, wheat crops are grown. By sowing crops together with legumes, a 100% coverage of the land is achieved even after a crop is harvested. This helps to fertilise the soil and mitigate nutrient runoffs.

Young farmers the driving force for carbon farming

Eurobarometer shows that the 25-29 age group is more likely than any other age group to see climate change as the biggest threat to the world. This is naturally manifested in everyday choices. Young people are more willing to act on climate change than anyone else. We are currently seeing school strikes and protests where young people are demanding that adults take action. In a few years, these young people will become the ones who can make a difference through their consumption choices, through political activism, or via their occupation.

Young farmers, fresh out of universities after studying the best practices, have the latest science-based knowledge. They are looking for long-term solutions to use on their farms, solutions that result in not only higher yields but also lower costs. Practices such as carbon farming will help fight climate change. We believe that young farmers, by applying carbon farming on a small scale, have the biggest potential to change current farming practices, by showing results that are good for the climate, the yield, and their economy.

Carbon farming a lucrative business

Carbon farming can improve the quality of soil and help reduce erosion. When more carbon and organic matter is introduced to the soil, its microbial diversity grows, which helps the transformation of nutrients available for the plants. When the soil becomes healthier, it can hold water better and the nutrients are not washed away from the growing plants. This all results in reduction in long-term production costs and more consistent yields.

In 2016, Unilever carried out an international study which revealed that a third of consumers are now choosing to buy brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. The hype of sustainable products is still on the rise, which gives more and more incentives for farmers to switch to environmentally friendly production methods. This way, farmers could reach the consumers willing to pay higher prices for responsible and sustainable produce.

Carbon farming helps fight climate change

The total amount of carbon in the earth’s surface is estimated to be around 3170 gigatonnes, and nearly 80% of this carbon is found in soil, according to a study from Iowa State University. Traditional farming practices rely on tilling and monoculture, which contribute to erosion and the release of large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Carbon farming can bind carbon in the soil and, by feeding this ecosystem with carbon from the atmosphere, biodiversity is also supported. An increase in the level of soil organic matter by just 1% in the top 30 cm of soil can store 154 tons of CO2 per hectare, according to a peer-reviewed study by Dr. Ch. Jones. An increase of this magnitude is immense, showing the tremendous potential of these farming methods .

The potential of carbon farming both strengthens the bioeconomy and serves as a solution to the global climate crisis. However, naming a group of sectors ‘bioeconomy’ does not change anything. The transition is driven by conscious people who want to make a difference, where terms and definitions matter less. In farming, changes are usually introduced only when there is a generational change. Young farmers can be the drivers of change. However, they do not need to do things differently because of the bioeconomy – what they do is making a difference for the planet.