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Can we stop stupid politics from ruining carbon farming?

| | September 4, 2019

It seems like every Democratic presidential candidate wants to get farmers sucking carbon out of the air and sticking it in the ground. Call it regenerative agriculture, carbon farming, soil carbon sequestration, but, boy have the candidates found an idea they love. Among the more popular names, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and Joe Biden, have included it in their platform.

The science is straightforward enough. Planting a cover crop after harvest, when the acres might be bare and vulnerable to erosion, helps capture carbon. Farmers can keep that greenhouse gas in the ground if they stop plowing, because turning over the dirt with a plow releases soil carbon. These are relatively simple practices that many farmers have already adopted …. But there’s still reason for caution: Politics has a way of distorting science.

Some of the candidate’s proposals use unrealistically large numbers for the carbon that farming could suck up, said Mark Bomford, director of Yale’s Sustainable Food Program. “I suspect this overstatement has less to do with misunderstanding the science, and more to do with what inevitably happens to communication of the science when it enters the arms race of political rhetoric,” Bomford said.

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