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Can increasing carbon sequestration in soils—through practices broadly referred to as regenerative agriculture—be a leading climate solution? Our read of the evidence suggests that soil C sequestration has limited potential to mitigate climate change. 1/…
Although regenerative agriculture has no universal definition, it is often used to describe practices aimed at promoting soil health & restoring soil organic C.

Practices include no-till, cover crops, diverse crop rotations, improved grazing, and reduced chemical inputs. 2/
There is broad agreement that regenerative agriculture practices are good for soil health and have other environmental benefits, including water retention and reduced water pollution. 3/
The thinking behind regenerative practices as a climate mitigation strategy is to remove carbon dioxide out of the air by storing it as organic carbon in soils. But there are some practical limitations to achieving soil C sequestration at scale. 4/
There’s limited scientific understanding of what keeps soil carbon sequestered, resulting in uncertainty around practical potential. Effects can be complex, site-specific and hard to predict. And they are reversible (e.g., plowing up soils after years of no-till). 5/
Studies that demonstrate soil C sequestration on a study plot often fail to account for off-farm effects. But if the C sources (e.g., soil amendments) would have otherwise been stored/used elsewhere, it simply moves C from one place to another, achieving no GHG reduction. 6/
Practices can also face barriers to wider adoption. For example, a recent study estimated using cover crops across 85% of US cropland could sequester ~100Mt CO2/year. But cover crops still only occupy less than 4% of US cropland, despite their many benefits. 7/
Given these and other scientific and practical challenges, one cannot simply multiply observed soil C benefits on one study plot across millions of hectares of land to obtain estimates of real-world climate change mitigation potential. 8/
That said, soils naturally store massive amounts of C, and the scientific understanding behind this process is still emerging. If future research finds new ways to sequester C or dramatically changes our understanding of existing approaches, our conclusions would change. 9/
Fortunately, there are many other ways to reduce food/ag/land-related GHG emissions. Our Creating a Sustainable Food Future report lays out a five-course menu of solutions to feed 10 billion people by 2050 while driving emissions toward net-zero. 10/…
As governments seek to build back economies and food companies chart ambitious climate strategies, we recommend decision-makers select from this broader menu of solutions to reduce agricultural emissions, build resilience, and contribute to a sustainable food future. 11/11
PS - don’t miss this long read by @hbottemiller about recent conversations in the US about how to pivot American agriculture to help combat climate change and build resilience. It’s striking how dominant the soil carbon sequestration idea is.…
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