When Michael Doall was a teenager, he hated seaweed, and so did everybody else he knew on Long Island. It was an icky nuisance that brushed against your legs at the beach, fouled your fishing hook and got tangled around the propeller of your boat. Only later, as a marine scientist and oyster farmer, did he develop a love for sugar kelp, a disappearing native species that is one of the most useful seaweeds. Now he is on a mission to bring it back to the waters of New York.
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When he saw a roiling thunder bank of black clouds blowing into Salem, South Dakota, last month, farmer Kurt Stiefvater thought it would take 20 minutes to reach his property. It took five. “I couldn’t believe how fast it was moving,” he says of the over 100-mile-per-hour gusts.
Critical topsoil is eroding at an alarming pace due to climate change and poor farming practices. The United Nations declared soil finite and predicted catastrophic loss within 60 years. The world needs soil for farming, water filtration, climate mitigation, ecosystem services, health care and more. The impact of soil degradation could total $23 trillion in losses of food, ecosystem services and income worldwide by 2050, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. According to the UN, soil erosion may reduce up to 10 per cent of crop yields by 2050. That’s like removing millions of acres of farm land.
This dusty town in San Benito County, about an hour by car southeast of Santa Cruz, is the site of Paicines Ranch, an experiment in creating a diverse ecosystem dedicated to regenerative agriculture and soil health.
The 10 acres of nebbiolo growing on this remote ridge about 25 miles west of Geyserville and 10 miles from the Pacific in northern Sonoma County, make the vineyard unusual enough in California. The other grapes make it positively singular.
The vast Mississippi River watershed contains famously fertile soil, making the cropland of the American Midwest some of the most valuable and productive in the world. The watershed is also projected to flood more frequently and intensely as the climate warms, meaning more of that prized farmland will end up underwater, more often.
In western Maryland this March, the proverbial lion and lamb seemed to be running circles around each other. Instead of warming up gradually, the temperature rose and fell unpredictably. Warm sun alternated with freezing rain. In response, Ron Holter’s Jersey cows seemed to be clinging cautiously to their winter coats. A patchwork of fuzzy spots remained on top of their emerging summer hides, as they nursed a group of calves testing out wobbly legs.
Westside Elementary opened its doors nearly a century ago here in the San Joaquin Valley, among the most productive agricultural regions on earth. As recently as 1995, nearly 500 students filled its classrooms. Now 160 students attend and enrollment is falling fast.
It’s an unseasonably warm February day near Turlock, California, and farmer-researcher Jonathan Lundgren is handing out tiny white balls of clay. A group of us have gathered at the edge of the almond orchard at Burroughs Family Farms, a 400-acre organic, regenerative farm in the San Joaquin Valley, for a field day. Lundgren, who is visiting from South Dakota, has invited us to replicate an experiment that he and the scientists he works with use often.
Last week, Soilworks portfolio company Grassroots Carbon announced its first tranche of rancher payments for delivered soil carbon credits, the first of its kind for delivered credits to ranchers (various groups have provided transition finance of some sort with expected carbon credit outcomes.) While the quality of soil carbon credits and the increasing prominence in carbon credit buyer portfolios have been previously discussed by us here at The Regeneration Weekly, we must endeavor to understand how putting cash in ranchers’ pockets changes the attractiveness of the profession – and incentivizes a shift to regenerative practices on each ranch.