Produced by Soil Health Institute (2018)
Thanks to the new field of Carbonomics, more and more US farmers are learning that the carbon content of soil is even more essential to plant health than nitrogen. Largely due to industrial agriculture, the Earth has lost half of its topsoil in 150 years. Fortunately, however, thanks to the increasing adoption of regenerative agriculture across the US, American topsoil is gradually being restored.
Although the primary motivation for the move to regenerative agriculture is to improve soil health, crop yields and the nutritional quality of food, this is also one of the most cost effective ways to reduce atmospheric CO2 by sequestering carbon.*
Increasing the carbon content of soil also helps it retain water. This, in turn, prevents contamination of waterways through fertilizer runoff.
The main regenerative farming practices Living Soil explores are cover cropping and intercropping. Cover cropping refers to alternating food crops with with cover crops designed to replenish carbon and nitrogen (if nitrogen-fixing legumes are used). Intercropping refers to growing cover crops alongside food crops, which can be helpful in diminishing insect pests as well as replenishing carbon and nitrogen.
According to filmmakers, Maryland has the largest cover crop movement in the US. Several years ago, a massive fish kill in Chesapeake Bay (stemming from fertilizer runoff) led to an unusual collaboration between state farmers and the environmental movement. By jointly lobbying the state legislature, they won state subsidies for farmers willing to plant cover crops. As of 2018, 60% of Maryland farms featured cover crops in winter – in contrast to 15% in 1990.
In the documentary’s most interesting segment, the filmmakers visit three farms practicing no-till (ie plow-free). There is growing evidence that breaking up the soil through plowing or cultivation damages delicate fungal networks plants rely on for essential nutrients.
*According to Dr Zach Bush, the enhanced fungal and bacterial activity of healthy soils also has a positive impact on human health. See The Shikimate Pathway: How Vaccines, Environmental Toxins and 5G Damage Human Immunity