GRN Reports

With carbon dioxide emissions creating climate chaos and governments stalemated over solutions, it’s time to look at a simple solution that could save humankind; a solution that’s simple, low-tech and right under our feet.

That’s what the Rodale Institute argues in a white paper on “Regenerative Organic Agriculture,” in which the institute details how organic farming could sequester 100 percent of the world’s current annual CO2 emissions.

Yes, 100 percent. That eye-popping claim is based on studies of soil that show it’s an excellent medium for sequestering carbon, if you treat it right.


“Regenerative organic agriculture for soil-carbon sequestration is tried and true: Humans have long farmed in that fashion, and there is nothing experimental about it,” the Rodale authors write in the report, “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change.”

“…Farming trials across the world have contrasted various forms of regenerative and conventional practices and studied crop yield, drought impact, and carbon sequestration… Taken together, the wealth of scientific support for generative organic agriculture has demonstrated that these practices can comfortably feed the growing human population while repairing our damaged ecosystem.”

Based in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, the Rodale Institute has been advocating for organic methods since its founding in 1947. It maintains extensive research plots and produces courses and events to train people in organic farming at its 333-acre farm.

To publicize its latest paper, Rodale Institute’s Executive Director Coach Mark Smallwood is walking 160 miles from Kutztown to Washington D.C. to deliver the report to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Smallwood left Oct. 1 and is due to arrive tomorrow. He hopes to win USDA support for more trials of regenerative farming.

Smallwood and is team also are raising money on Crowdrise to spread their message that we should return to traditional farming methods both to reduce the greenhouse gases put out by modern chemical agriculture and to build lands that can sequester carbon emissions overall.

This type of farming isn’t just sustainable, it goes beyond that to be regenerative or replenishing. Robert Rodale, son of organic farming pioneer J.I. Rodale, coined the term “regenerative agriculture” to capture how this type of farming mimics nature by restoring itself via biological diversity on the farm and reliance on internal methods.

Regenerative farming uses cover crops, residue mulching, composting, crop rotation and no-till conservation to manage crops and pests, instead of spraying with chemicals and dousing cropland with synthetic fertilizers, which damages the soil and produces toxic runoff.

This regenerative approach builds the soil structure and microbiology, creating rich soil capable of holding or fixing carbon.

While regenerative farming is, in part, a return to the old ways, it’s also a highly evolved, deliberative and transformative approach that could immediately begin drawing down carbon emissions across the planet, as tests in the US, Egypt, Iran and Thailand have shown, Rodale reports.

“Farming becomes, once again, a knowledge intensive enterprise, rather than a chemical and capital-intensive one,” the report notes.

The report also takes on the argument against organic farming: That its crop yields are not as great as those produced by modern chemical farming.

Rodale responds by saying that comparisons between organic and conventional chemical farming have often unfairly looked at organic farms that “mimic conventional.”

When true organic standards are followed, they produce competitive yields for corn, wheat, rice, soybean and sunflowers, Rodale maintains.

Most importantly, Rodale’s research shows that organic systems are more resilient and produce better yields under challenging conditions, like drought.

Not that converting to organic, regenerative farming would be a slam-dunk. The vast majority of farmland in the US is farmed using chemicals, and much of it is owned by corporations that work hand-in-hand with the big GM (genetically modified) seed and pesticide manufacturers.

Less than 1 percent of all US cropland and less than 1 percent of all US pasture lands were in organic production as of the last census. For farms to obtain certified organic status, they must go three years without using chemicals.

The problem of scale aside, the Rodale Institute report goes on to argue that chemical farming is not needed to feed the anticipated 9 billion residents of planet Earth, as is often argued by those who want to continue genetically modified, pesticide-dependent farming.

“We currently overproduce calories,” Rodale reports. “In fact, we already produce enough calories to feed nine billion people. Hunger and food access are inequality issues that can be ameliorated, in part, by robust support for small-scale regenerative agriculture.”