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Regenerative Agriculture could sequester 100% of global carbon emissions, Rodale report says

A new white paper released by Rodale Institute, a global leader in regenerative organic agriculture, concludes that a global switch to regenerative crop and pasture systems could sequester – or ‘drawdown’ – more than 100% of global annual CO2 emissions.

The white paper, titled Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution, builds upon claims first made by Rodale Institute in the widely read 2014 white paper, “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming,” integrating the newest research data while providing actionable steps for consumers, policymakers, farmers, and more.

The new publication sets out to show that a global switch to a regenerative food system could not only feed the world while reducing chemical exposure and improving biodiversity and soil health but could also be the key to mitigating the climate crisis. The paper was compiled through peer-reviewed research data and interviews with leaders in the fields of soil microbiology, ranchland ecology, agronomy, and more, as well as research conducted in Rodale Institute’s world-renowned long-term comparison trials, including the 40-year-old Farming Systems Trial.

“Rodale Institute has been a leader in research about the impact and benefit of regenerative farming systems since Bob Rodale first started using the term in the 1980s,” said Dr. Andrew Smith, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Scientist of Rodale Institute. “A vast amount of data on the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural soils has been published, including from Rodale Institute, and recent findings are starting to reinforce the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices in the fight against the climate crisis.”

The report says: 

  • That that shifting both crop and pasture management globally to regenerative systems is a powerful combination that “could drawdown more than 100% of annual CO2 emissions”, pulling carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.
  • With appropriate grazing management, livestock can increase carbon sequestered in the soil “that more than offsets their greenhouse gas emissions”.
  • Crop yields in regenerative systems have been shown to “outcompete conventional yields for almost all food crops, proving that regenerative can feed the world while stabilizing the climate, regenerating ecosystems, restoring biodiversity and enhancing rural communities”.
  • Eaters, farmers, and policymakers can make a difference in the climate crisis fight by:
    • Supporting and implementing regenerative practices
    • Encouraging adoption of regenerative systems by peers and governments
    • Divesting from systems that destroy soil health

Rodale Institute launched the paper on September 25th at The Crop Trust’s Food Forever Experience, held in partnership with Pocono Organics. The Food Forever Experience is held on the UN Global Day of Action, which encourages people to support the Sustainable Development Goals, including climate action.

“Humans broke the planet with grave agricultural malpractice,” said Tom Newmark, Chairman of The Carbon Underground, a contributor to the paper. “With this white paper, Rodale Institute shows us how regenerative agriculture has the potential to repair that damage and actually reverse some of the threatening impacts of our climate crisis. This is a compelling call to action!”

But some climate experts and campaigners say the claim is overstated and warn that “overselling” regenerative approaches could be counterproductive. 

Talking to the US food website Civil Eats, Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, said that “achieving 100% of our annual carbon dioxide emissions is not feasible”, and  the wider “scientific data doesn’t support these claims”. Jon Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, said that regenerative agriculture’s carbon storage potential was more likely to be around 10%, putting it on a par with solar or wind energy. He told Civil Eats that “preposterous claims that are easily debunked” raised undermining the message about regenerative agriculture’s major potential for climate change mitigation”. 

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