Other than rain and sunshine, virtually no commodity – or the processes associated with obtaining and managing them – comes without cost in this world, a fact which falls into Robert A. Heinlein’s “TANSTAAFL” file (There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch). Even something as essential as carbon sequestration, a potential solution to soaring carbon emissions worldwide, comes with a price tag as well as its own economy of scale.
In Canada, the government has handed a portion of its role in combating climate change over to its farmers. Tilling methods (or not tilling at all) are believed to play a part in carbon emissions. The deeper one tills the soil, the more carbon is released as it is warmed by exposure to sunlight. Shallower tilling methods, as well as variations in crops, are now being seen as a better way to keep carbon underground.
Regulation: A Necessary Evil?
In Eastern Canada, where tilling practices were already conducted at shallower depths (approximately 12 cm) than in Western Canada (closer to 30 cm) due to soil conditions, specific crop rotations are being considered as a requirement, with red clover being thrown into the mix based on its biomass yield. Agricultural engineers say that biomass has as much to do with soil-based carbon sequestration as its order in the rotation does. Provincial governments in places like Ontario and Alberta, however, have more regulatory control over farming than that which is found in the United States.
In a capitalist society, profit motive is about the only way to budge the entrenched industries that are viewed as being the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. Big Oil and Big Coal make it a regular practice to sniff out (and then snuff out) advances in clean-air technology, from solar power to hydrogen fuel cells. So finding ways to make soil sequestration financially appealing to Big Agriculture – carbon-limiting crop rotations leading to higher yields would do the trick – will be the key to getting American farmers to join their Canadian counterparts as part of the solution.