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Meet a Carbon Farmer | Carbon Farming Principles, Management Strategies & Benefits for Farms, Ranches

This article excerpt originally appeared in the May 2018 Vol 48, No. 5 issue of ACRES USA magazine. It is written by Abbey and Spencer Smith. Readers may view and download a full PDF of this article. 

Introduction to Carbon Farming

Loren Poncia stands in front of a room full of farmers. The high ceilings of the meeting room, with its large wooden beams, catches the natural morning light giving the room a church-like feeling. The audience listens attentively. The story Loren tells this standing-room-only audience is that of his ranch, Stemple Creek in Marin County, California. This session is part of the Eco-Farm 2018 Conference in Pacific Grove, California. It is titled Carbon Farm Planning for Multiple Benefits. Loren shows photos of Stemple Creek in the 1990s–a deep cut through dry, barren ground. He shows pictures of it in 2015–green, sloping, shaded by willows. He shows pictures of it today–bigger, brighter, full of life. How did this happen? What did Loren and his family do to create this transformation on the land?

They started paying attention to the soil. Specifically to the carbon in the soil, says Jeffrey Creque of the Marin Carbon Project. When we do this, we acknowledge the dynamic system we are all dependent upon: the soil. The Poncia family, who have lived and ranched on  Stemple Creek Ranch since Loren’s great-grandfather immigrated from Italy, was the first in the United States to implement a carbon farm plan. Wool from their sheep are part of the Climate Beneficial Wool program that Fibershed facilitates, according to Fibershed.com.

The term “carbon farming” has been around about 15 years. It refers to “any practice that results in net increased carbon capture on the farm or ranch,” said Creque. Sometimes people use the terms regenerative agriculture and carbon farming interchangeably. Dr. Rattan Lal and Eric Toensmeier appreciate the preciseness of the term “carbon farming,” because it emphasizes the farming of carbon into the soil as a valuable farm product and it implies that farmers should be paid for the product.

Why Carbon Farming Matters

In California a small organization called the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) lobbies for some of the $1.5 billion in cap-and-trade dollars to be allocated to regenerative farming. So far, they secured $9 million for a Healthy Soils grant program offered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“We are in competition with big ag (for funding),” said Brian Shobe, associate policy director for CalCAN. Why is Shobe, a young North Dakotan, throwing his energy and career into convincing farmers and politicians to “do more than whisper” when it comes to regenerative farming and ranching? (Regenerative agriculture builds soil through production instead of mining and depleting it, which agriculture does today and has done for thousands of years.)

“We have three to 10 years,” said Tim LaSalle, Ph.D., a regenerative agriculture specialist. “Soil is our avenue.” He is referring to the brief window of time to mitigate climate change. Don Wilkin, Ph.D., an associate professor emeritus of Natural Resources at Arizona State University, agrees…

 READ THE FULL ACRES USA ARTICLE