Commentary: To improve our climate, safeguard what’s underfoot

By Jeff Moyer

In 2021, we are faced with a choice: Do we continue the path of climate degradation or take bold steps toward change?

One of those bold steps has been under our feet all along: regenerative organic agriculture.

Jeff Moyer

Rodale Institute has been researching regenerative organic farming for over 70 years and recently published a white paper inviting us all to take action. The science documents that if we were to implement regenerative practices on all global crop and grazing land, we could sequester more than 100% of our annual carbon dioxide emissions. This is the single most important step we can take.

The science is simple, using the process of photosynthesis to capture carbon in the atmosphere and relocate it to the soil. Regenerative organic agriculture has a unique ability to trap carbon underground in the soil. Using practices like cover cropping, no-till management and well-managed livestock grazing, in addition to eliminating the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, this method of farming improves the health of the soil and its ability to store carbon.

Through practices like tilling and heavy chemical use, conventional agriculture damages the soil-microbiome, stripping it of the bacteria, microbes and fungi critical to the sequestration process.

In addition to acting as a carbon sink, regenerative organic farms boast benefits such as improved human health, cleaner water, improved biodiversity and more. Organic farming has also proven to be more profitable for farmers. Changing how we grow food is a win-win-win for the climate, farmers and our health.

The benefits are obvious. So why isn’t it being prioritized?

According to the 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic Survey, there are only 12 certified organic farms in Delaware, making up less than 1% of total U.S. organic sales in 2019. However, Delaware boasted over 268 million head of broiler chickens that year.

If Delaware farmers could capture the potential of these animals to improve soil health through regenerative organic practices, the impact on the climate could be monumental. It is critical that we give farmers the resources, education and training they need to realize the potential of a regenerative organic future.

That’s why Rodale Institute initiated our farmer consulting service, where trained agronomists and horticulturalists advise and assist farmers looking to transition any portion of their acreage to organic and regenerative organic practices that can help sequester carbon.

Eaters also must play a role by putting the pressure on brands to take regenerative organic seriously as a climate solution and reward those that do so — like those that carry the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) label. Products bearing this high-bar certification are grown with the highest regenerative organic standards for soil health, animal welfare and farmworker fairness on the market today. By purchasing ROC-labeled products, consumers encourage other brands to enter the regenerative organic supply chain.

In 2020, regenerative organic agriculture finally reached the national policy stage — but it still has a long way to go. Getting policymakers, farmers and consumers to see regenerative organic agriculture as a tool in their climate change toolbox takes education, outreach and trailblazers willing to push the envelope.

As of this writing, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., has not co-sponsored the Agriculture Resilience Act, introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. This bill is one of the first pieces of national legislation to recognize the importance of agriculture in combating the climate crisis and pushes for more research and programs to increase soil health, incentivize pasture-raised livestock and more. We must put pressure on our policymakers to take a stand and publicly support a role for regenerative organic agriculture in the fight against climate change.

We don’t have the luxury of leaving a climate mitigation strategy on the table. We must use every solution at our disposal.

The year 2021 is a chance to do things differently. Let’s not waste it.

Jeff Moyer is the CEO of Rodale Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to growing the regenerative organic movement through research, farmer training and consumer education. To learn more about Rodale Institute’s work on climate change and to download the newest white paper, visit rodaleinstitute.org/climate2020.