What if we were able to sequester all the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the only by-product was healthy soil?
Farming Carbon is the story of farmers and ranchers turning to the microbes beneath our feet to return atmospheric carbon to the ground to make more resilient soil, healthier food, and a more stable climate.
In 2014, third-generation Montana rancher Steve Charter learned that the federal government had sold the mineral rights under part of his ranch to a private coal company. Within a few years, A strip mine will lay waste to his otherwise productive summer grazing range. In order to keep his ranch financially viable, he would have to run his three hundred head of cattle on half the land. In arid eastern Montana, traditional grazing wasn’t going to work on so few acres. His situation required a drastic shift in thinking.
Steve turned to carbon farming, a series of new agricultural practices that focus on the trillions of bacteria and fungi that are the key components of
healthy soil. Until recently, these microbes were a mystery. New research is unlocking the secrets of this unseen biomass, revealing that these microbes are the force that delivers nutrients to plants, and helps soil resist climactic events such as drought and flood. These microbes build soil heath by taking the carbon that plants capture from the atmosphere and locking it in the ground. That rich, black soil that will grow almost anything? That’s the carbon. And the more carbon that’s anchored in the soil, the healthier and more productive the land becomes.
The carbon locked in our soil isn’t just a benefit for farmers, removing the carbon trapped in our atmosphere means a more stable climate.
“If agricultural land increased its soil carbon by half a percent, all agricultural land across the planet, that would actually sequester all the excess carbon currently in the atmosphere. And we’ve got guys who are increasing their soil carbon by four percent.”
-Nicole Masters, Director, Integrity Soils
The potential environmental and human impacts of these practices may be huge.
Farming Carbon will follow Steve as he experiments with intensive grazing techniques and organic inputs in an effort to save his ranch. Steve’s hands-on experience will serve as the backdrop for a story about the science of healthy soil and carbon sequestration. The film will explore how pushback from the
agriculture industry has hampered soil research as well as dig into the risks farmers face when challenging the status quo. Farming Carbon will feature the voices of soil experts including Nicole Masters, Director of Integrity Soils; Rattan Lal, Director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center; and Kristine Nichols, soil microbiologist with the USDA Great Plains Research Lab. These experts will weigh in on the science behind soil’s ability to capture carbon and grow better food as a result. Farmers like Gabe Brown who have pioneered these practices in their own fields will also describe the challenges of implementing these new techniques on an agricultural scale and the results they’ve achieved.
Over ninety minutes, Farming Carbon hopes to illustrate the food-based benefits of good soil practices as well as provide a blueprint to saving the world.
Follow the project as it unfolds here.