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How regenerative farming could help Canada meet its new carbon emission targets

Reference: CBC News

Standing in a field of alfalfa, 79-year-old Carl Israel picks up a handful of soil, smells it and remarks on its sweetness.

"I remember my dad saying … that when you're out there all day on the plow, you really get an appetite because of the smell of the soil."

That same soil, crucial to healthy crops and livestock, could also play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and help the Canadian government meet ambitious targets it announced recently.

Carl's grandson Brett, 24, says that by adopting a series of regenerative farming techniques like the ones used by his family's 3Gen Organics operation, farmers can reduce agricultural emissions while simultaneously improving soil health.

"Farmers are on the forefront of climate change, we are seeing more intense weather systems," Brett Israel said. "So we need to build resilient systems to overcome these issues and enrich the environment around us."

Building those resilient systems starts with allowing soil to capture and sequester more carbon through cover cropping, promoting crop diversity, protecting watersheds and integrating livestock into the farm system, according to Claudia Wagner-Riddle, an agro-meteorologist at the University of Guelph who studies agricultural emissions and greenhouse gases.

Agriculture is responsible for 10 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. As part of its strategy to address climate change, the government earmarked $270 million in its April 19 federal budget to support agriculture and climate-smart solutions, including regenerative farming.

"They [regenerative practices] are making the system more resilient to extreme climate events or weather events," Wagner-Riddle said, adding that keeping carbon sequestered in the soil in organic compounds means it is not easily accessible to be returned to the atmosphere. "That is the magic of carbon sequestration."

Brett Israel switched to regenerative farming five years ago, which includes rotating through 20 different types of crops on his organic pig farm in Wallenstein, Ont.

"We've been able to integrate forages back into our cropping system, keeping the ground covered over winter, reducing our tillage which helps us sequester more atmospheric carbon into our soils, and ultimately trying to balance our livestock with our crop land."

Crumbling soil in his hands, tracing the intricate root systems and nitrogen nodules, Israel says planting crops like alfalfa, oats or winter wheat throughout the year instead of leaving the ground bare over the winter — a practice called cover cropping — makes his soil healthier.

"The cover crop might not be feeding my physical livestock or feeding people, [but] it's feeding the biology below our ground right now."... Read More