Before leaving office, Gov. Jerry Brown set a goal for California to be carbon neutral by 2045. That will likely mean not just reducing carbon emissions — from electricity production, cars and buildings — but also absorbing carbon that’s already in the air.
California’s Healthy Soils initiative is now in its third year, and it’s designed to be part of the state’s climate strategy. A state report finds that farms and forests could absorb as much as 20 percent of California’s current level of emissions.
“I think there’s great potential for agriculture to play a really important role” in reaching the state’s climate goals, says Kate Scow, professor of soil microbial ecology at the University of California, Davis.
As we talk, she’s standing in a large wheat field at Russell Ranch, 7 miles west of the campus, where the university plants crops to study sustainable agriculture.
“Soil is alive,” she says. “There’s farmers that know that.”
To show me, Scow starts enthusiastically digging in the dirt. “All right, see, we’re starting to hit the mineral soil,” she says.
This is where the carbon is stored. Plants soak up the carbon dioxide in the air to build leaves and stems. Their roots pump the carbon down into the earth. Then, when the plant dies, its organic matter gets broken down by microbes and fungi. [Continue reading…]