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Farmers look to cash in on carbon

Scientists believe the biggest, least invasive and most accessible source of carbon storage may be to change the way we farm, so that we leave soil planted with something green all year, stop plowing and return all possible plant matter to the soil.

Called regenerative agriculture, it’s being taken up by millions in America, Europe and Australia.

Far from being a bother and a duty, it can make money for farmers, because scads of corporations, manufacturers and travel industries will buy the carbon they don’t put into the air.

The principles of RA will be taught virtually on two Saturdays by Cultivate Oregon at a symposium called “Enabling Regenerative Agriculture: Getting Paid for Improving Soil Healthy.” Details are at soilsymposium2020.org.

The goal, says teacher Ray Seidler of Ashland, is to set up a carbon farming incentive program in the state. They want to teach “Oregon working farmers” how all plants are created from carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, and a lot can be stored back in the ground instead of becoming green waste and adding to greenhouse gases.

“We’re educating farmers that they have a marketable quantity in their soil,” says Seidler. “It has value. So far, there’s an incredible amount of interest in this program. It’s being highly talked about and practiced around the world.

“It can remove hundreds of millions, even billions of tons of carbon from the air. It takes a lot of farmers. We’re talking about a need for many millions of acres throughout the planet.”

The virtual symposium will be held on Saturdays, Nov. 10 and 17, and features international experts from Australia, where regenerative agriculture is quite advanced, says farmer Rhianna Symes of Phoenix.

The states of California and Washington already have a carbon farming incentive program in place. Cultivate Oregon is offering the symposium free but is asking donations to help pay for the carbon incentive program, she notes.

They say the average carbon footprint of one American, 16 tons, at $50 a ton, can be wiped out with a donation of $240 — used to buy carbon from farmers.

Many corporations in America, such as Walmart, have set dates for becoming carbon-neutral by offsetting their carbon emissions, she says. “They want to pay farmers to sequester carbon, and the symposium wants to bring everyone into the room to learn how to enter the marketplace.”

In Australia, the emissions reduction program is already managing half a million acres, which is greater than the U.S. because, she says, their government has invested $2 billion. It shows the technology is low-tech and already exists, so “we don’t have to wait for legislation or inventions to move ahead.”

In addition, regenerative agriculture benefits farmers because soil is more fertile, erosion is reduced and they spend less on fertilizers and pesticides.

“So just park that plow in the barn and let climate mitigation heroes have at the carbon,” she says.

Sponsors of the event include the Oregon State Grange, Shop’n Kart, Ashland Food Co-op, Southern Oregon Climate Action Now and Our Family Farms.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Dr. Ray Seidler stands in his lavender garden generated from recycled materials at his Ashland home.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Dr. Ray Seidler shows household recycled materials used in his garden at his Ashland home.