Dr. Nichols of the Rodale Institute talks about soil as our most important resource and how to manage it properly to sequester carbon, reverse global warming, solve food & water insecurity, and promoting human health. She also talks about the new 4p1000 initiative put forth by the French in conjunction with the COP21 talks in Paris.
So, tell us about the 4P1000 we've been hearing so much about. What is the initiative and why is it so groundbreaking?
Well, the initiative is so groundbreaking I think because it is really looking at trying to come up with a viable solution to climate change. And really looking at agriculture and agricology in the soil as a big potential for that, so the whole idea is what they want to do is they want to increase the amount of carbon in the soil every year by point-four percent. Which sounds like a very small number but its very significant over time, I mean in ten years your looking at increasing carbon very significantly in soils.
It's something that can be a very strong type of thing to be able to solve the carbon problem that I had discussed here and the carbon problem is really this whole idea of the fact that focus too much on what we call issues and decided that those are problems like too little water, too little nutrients, not the right weather patterns all those types of things but what we really have in the end is the fact that our soils are starving for carbon. And if we can get more plants growing and manage the growth in plants appropriately we're going to be able to get more carbon into the soil and get more productivity out of the soil, manage water better, and um... provide for resiliency to allow plants and crops to continue to grow under climatic uncertainty that we're heading towards.
And what are some of the strategies for success in that in getting that carbon back in the soil?
The strategies for getting that carbon back in the soil are to increase your plant production which means not necessarily growing fence-row to fence-row and narrowing your row spacing but actually getting your plants to produce more. So, getting more vegetative growth in your plants. Some of that can be supplemented by doing things like cover crops. So, your adding an additional green growing crop, keeping it in a vegetative phase or its going to be putting more carbon below ground as apposed to putting carbon above ground into the grain.
um... so that can be an important component of it. Getting more plants there growing, keeping the soil covered with living plants, making sure that you have a good diverse crop rotation to add that diversity to feed diverse number of different organisms that are in the soil.
You have a whole plath row of organisms representing millions of different species in the soil and what you need to have is that great diversity so that you retain that resiliency of function and can manage diseases and pests and water and nutrients throughout the growing season.
Um... so its very important to be able to have a good crop diversity when we have a mono-culture system. I acquaint this to the donut-dot and basically what we've done is we've fed our soil donuts and I use donuts not just because you know donuts are something that many people can relate to, wanting to eat some... a bunch of. But, donuts, it's important because the donuts are basically allot of what our mono-cultures are. Very high carbon so very high sugar types of things that isn't very good for the entire system to function. There's not allot of protein, there's not allot of other nutrients involved in that and thats what our mono-culture are based on are these um... donut-type crops rather than based on very diverse crops. So, the crop rotation can be important, again keeping your soil covered with a living plant can be important, keeping your soil, reducing the amount of disturbance that you have in your soil which can cause from excessive tillage.
Tillage can be a tool to have to help to manage some pests, um... but you need to utilize tillage appropriately, utilize the appropriate tools, and make your decisions to utilize tillage as sort of a last resort.
What are the other things I can do? If I did have cover crops, companion crops, could I manage weeds better that way so I wouldn't have to use tillage as a tool? And then, you know also be looking at I think livestock are a very important tool to be involved in this. Having a grazing animal is very important to being able to stimulate more carbon cycling in the system. It's stimulates the roots, breaks off root hairs, which feeds more biology. So you get more of the carbon flowing through the biology and when you do that you have different biological organisms that are now gonna take some of the more labial carbon, carbon rapidly turns over and actually to secure that using biological, chemical and physical methodologies so that its going to stay in soil for decades rather than just a year or two.