Healthy soils are paramount in the fight against climate change

The paramount importance of healthy soils as a means to fight climate change is a key message in the UN landmark report published by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in 2019. The report was a leading force in highlighting nature’s dangerous decline and acceleration rates of extinction. However, despite its clear message that echoes research available for decades – like the Royal Society on land carbon sink from 2001 – healthy soils, alongside tree planting, are still not seen as a top priority for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

The interconnectedness of soil health, biodiversity, and climate change must be understood

Joanna Lewis, Strategy Director at Soil Association, calls out the importance of soil health and its interlinkage with biodiversity and climate change by commenting, ‘’We simply cannot halt climate change without halting soil degradation as soils hold 3X more carbon than the atmosphere.’’ However, only healthy soils and forests can store carbon efficiently.

The benefits of purposeful soil health practices like cover cropping and no-till are in favour of the farmer and the soil, even if we discount the benefits for climate change mitigation. According to the American Society of Agronomy, using a continuous living cover with no-till greatly reduces soil erosion and manages soil temperature.

Viewing soil health through a climate change lens, the Food and Agriculture Organization highlights how conventional farm management practices that are unhealthy for soil release stored soil carbon. Minimizing soil disturbance allows for more continuous covering of plants and residues to establish essential, living soil ecosystems while also retaining a dynamic composition of microbes and acting as a carbon reserve. 

The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) assesses the interconnection between soil health and climate change

The CFT is a tool that helps to understand exactly this interconnection between soil health and climate change by assessing and observing reductions in GHG emissions and linking them to changes in land use and other agricultural practices. Amongst other insights like input, energy and irrigation efficiency, the CFT sheds light into what growers contribute to soil health and biodiversity. If efficient inputs and regenerative land use management are applied, improvements in soil organic matter & soil organic carbon can be observed. The CFT also allows identifying what type of agricultural practices benefit species diversity on farms.

The agricultural sector faces many challenges in feeding the growing population, navigating through systemic risks, and the effects of climate change. The decade of action is now, and digital systems like the Cool Farm Tool can help mitigate climate change within the agricultural sector by learning from science, understanding what is happening on the ground, and creating a knowledge tool that can be applied by supply chain actors (SCAs) as well as the growers themselves. Eventually, the Cool Farm Alliance (CFA) tries to go beyond the CFT and see how to collaborate with others having the same goals, create knowledge and drive change in the sector. Initiating a soil working group to look at the possibilities for more accurate sequestration calculations coming from practices such as cover crops is just the start of this exciting and meaningful journey.