Climate change is real, and agriculture was to blame for 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Leaving political nonsense aside, we must all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint to save our delicate planet for our children. The first step in making a change is assessing our current level of impact.
As a livestock farm, we’re responsible for emissions from our animals, the vehicles we drive, and the materials that we use on our farm. The vast majority of our emissions bill is the feed that we buy for our pigs and chickens.
This is a rough estimate, but gives an idea of the proportion of emissions sources. The Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit groups feed inputs into the “Livestock” category, which obscures actual emissions from our animals (farts, burps, etc) but pigs and chickens aren’t ruminants and thus don’t have much methane-producing gut bacteria.
The zeros on the chart above are noteworthy. We grow forage crops for our pigs, but because we don’t harvest the crops we grow for cash, we’re happy to avoid spending money on fertilizer inputs. Our only fertilizer is manure, which stays where the pigs leave it. Part of the beauty of a pasture rotation system is that manure is managed through paddock size and stocking density.
Ok, now how do we make this right?
Through the planting, preservation, and restoration of five acres of fir, maple, fruit, and nut trees we’ve sequestered around 25,000 kg of CO2. We’re happy with this, but there will soon come a time when we’ve planted trees on all of our 30 acre farm and we’ll still be buying pig and chicken feed.
Our efforts to improve soil health, however, have nearly limitless potential to sequester carbon. The 32,000 kg we’ve locked up above are a mere 0.1% increase in soil organic matter. How is this possible? Every acre of soil weighs around 1,000,000 kg, and soil organic matter is around 70% carbon. Over 5, 10, or 30 acres this starts to add up! We’ve accomplished this modest increase by aggressively seeding forage and cover crops, to harvest sunlight and rainwater and convert them to plant biomass and carbon-rich roots.
As great as this sounds, the flip side is pretty terrifying. If our farm were losing organic matter (as many are), this 32,000 kg would be yet another item on our tab, and we’d be way in the red.