What’s the connection between soil and food and climate change? That’s the question that David Abazs, executive director of the University of Minnesota Extension Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and long-time Finland farmer, set out to answer at the second Community Partners EngAge climate program Tuesday, Oct. 29.
Abazs studied the connection between soil quality and agriculture production while working on a demonstration grant research project at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center farm. He set out to find which would be the best way to amend the soil to ensure the best growing conditions and to keep the carbon captured in the soil.
"We had the opportunity to do research on how to better prepare a field for planting by raising the soil's pH levels," Abazs said.
Different sections of soil were amended with lime, ash, biochar or a combination of the previous three. Biochar is anaerobically combusted wood that acts like a nutrient sponge because it’s heavy with carbon.
The best combination was the biochar and ash as it kept the organic matter high and lowered the acidity of the soil.
“Some people farm for the food; I farm the soil,” Abazs said. “That’s what I’m looking for when the growing season is done: How is the soil faring?"
For example, Abazs said he noticed that foods in the brassica family, such as broccoli, emit a chemical that will kill off fungi in the soil.
“And we like the fungi and want to keep it healthy,” Abazs said. “So we know we have to plant a cover crop the next season, usually of oats, and let the fall kill the crop and incorporate the dead plants into the soil at the start of the next year to rebuild the organic matter.”
Proper soil care can also help prevent the release of carbon into the atmosphere, as according to Abazs, agriculture is currently responsible for a quarter to a third of the carbon in the atmosphere.
“But these are things that farmers can do to retain that carbon and stop the contribution,” Abazs said.
Consumers can also help by choosing products created by farms using best practices. Abazs encouraged buying local produce as it reduces the carbon footprint by reducing transportation, buying grass-fed meat (if you have to buy meat) and supporting farmers.