California is turning to dirt to help in the fight against climate change. The state’s Healthy Soils Initiative draws on farming and land management techniques to build organic soil matter. The goal is to slash greenhouse gas emissions and sequester more carbon.
Multiple state departments and agencies, led by the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture, are utilizing money from California’s cap-and-trade program to target soil in the battle against climate change. According to the initiative’s website, around 75 percent “of the carbon pool on land” is found in soils, and about one quarter of the world’s biodiversity resides in soil. The initiative’s website quoted Governor Jerry Brown as saying, “As the leading agricultural state in the nation, it is important for California’s soils to be sustainable and resilient to climate change.”
How will the state boost soil health? A 2016 action plan pointed to agricultural practices like “planting cover crops, reducing tillage, retaining crop residue, managing grazing and adding compost.” Grist used farmer Doug Lo, who cultivates almond orchards, as an example. California is giving Lo $50,000 to try different techniques, such as putting composted manure around the trees and planting clover between the trunks as ground cover. In theory, the farming practices could help the soil absorb 1,088 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere yearly. “We’re trying to sequester some carbon,” Lo told Grist. “It should also help with the water-holding capacity of the soil, and the flowers in the cover crop should feed bees after the almond bloom is over.”