As we’ve come to understand, measuring soil carbon is difficult. The science isn’t perfect, and policy is still evolving. However, soil carbon estimation is necessary for the future of our planet. At Regrow, we believe we cannot afford to deprioritize our efforts in soil carbon estimation, no matter how much work is being done in other industries.
In a recent article we discussed the debate around soil carbon measurement, including our appreciation for recent funding in this sphere. But it’s important that we understand why there’s urgency around soil carbon sequestration, and how we can prioritize it alongside our other climate efforts.
Funding the Research
In 2021, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification reported that a $15.2 billion annual investment in research and innovation in sustainable agriculture could help us meet future food demand, support climate action under the Paris Agreement, and appropriately foster continuing development for agriculture.
That’s a lot of money. But it’s only a fraction of the estimated $700 billion spent annually on subsidizing global agriculture, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Though the source of these budgets is not the same (research funding is generated and allocated differently than subsidization), the subsidization numbers highlight the importance of research funding in the context of agriculture. As our climate continues to shift, we will put an increased strain on our agricultural systems and our subsidization funds won’t cover as much ground.
This is why it’s essential to fund research in sustainable agriculture, not only in the short-term, but in our long-term mitigation strategies. Building soil health and measuring the impact of healthier soil can help us produce food efficiently in the short-term and it can remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere over time.
A Long-Term Investment
We recognize that it will take time for scientific methodology to evolve. However, each innovation brings more value to the outcomes of soil health and more support for sustained efforts in transforming our food systems. Not to mention, our current soil carbon estimation methodologies are much more accurate than you might expect.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need urgent, unprecedented, systemic change in a number of areas to halve our emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. The panel also explicitly cited a need for carbon removal technologies and investment as part of this plan. If we miss this window, we are in danger of allowing the Earth to warm by 2 degrees celsius, which could have catastrophic impacts on our people and our environment.
Building soil health — the kind of soil health that helps pull greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere — can take years, if not decades. That’s why it’s essential to build our soil health now, while we can take advantage of the time we have. And that’s why it’s essential to invest in soil carbon estimation, so we can understand our impact and refine our strategy within the next decade.
Progress for Soil Carbon Estimation
Today, we do have scalable ways to model nutrient cycling (including carbon) in agricultural soils. Regrow uses a model called DNDC, which has been peer-reviewed in more than 500 publications and has been shown to have 95% accuracy on agricultural land (predicting soil carbon levels within 0.05 tons of carbon per acre).
This model is scalable across regions and crop types, ensuring its relevance for growers with a wide range of resources.
Recent investments in sustainable agriculture and carbon farming, including the USDA’s $1 billion fund for climate-smart commodities, also spur hope for progress in soil carbon estimation.
As the science behind these methods becomes more widely accepted, we will strengthen our carbon markets, incentivize more sustainable farming practices and transition more acres to climate-smart agriculture. We appreciate all parties working to accelerate soil carbon estimation, and we look forward to our shared efforts in building soil health across the globe.
Learn more about Regrow’s efforts in carbon farming.