Agriculture could pull carbon out of the air and into the soil — but it would mean a whole new way of thinking about how to tend the land.
By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFFAPRIL 18, 2018
A steaming pile of manure mixed with straw bedding at West Marin Compost in Marin County, Calif. Jonno Rattman for The New York Times
When John Wick and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, bought their ranch in Marin County, Calif., in 1998, it was mostly because they needed more space. Rathmann is an acclaimed children’s book author — “Officer Buckle and Gloria” won a Caldecott Medal in 1996 — and their apartment in San Francisco had become cluttered with her illustrations. They picked out the 540-acre ranch in Nicasio mostly for its large barn, which they planned to remake into a spacious studio. Wick, a former construction foreman — they met when he oversaw a renovation of her bathroom — was eager to tackle the project. He knew the area well, having grown up one town away, in Woodacre, where he had what he describes as a “free-range” childhood: little supervision and lots of biking, rope-swinging and playing in the area’s fields and glens.
The couple quickly settled into their bucolic new surroundings. Wick began fixing leaks in the barn. Rathmann loved watching the many animals, including ravens, deer and the occasional gopher, from the large porch. She even trained the resident towhees, small brown birds, to eat seed from her hand. So smitten were they with the wildlife, in fact, that they decided to return their ranch to a wilder state. For nearly a century, this had been dairy country, and the rounded, coastal hills were terraced from decades of grazing. Wick and Rathmann would often come home and find, to their annoyance, cows standing on their porch. The first step they took toward what they imagined would be a more pristine state was to revoke the access enjoyed by the rancher whose cows wandered their property.
Within months of the herd’s departure, the landscape began to change. Brush encroached on meadow. Dried-out, uneaten grass hindered new growth. A mysterious disease struck their oak trees. The land seemed to be losing its vitality. “Our vision of wilderness was failing,” Wick told me recently. “Our naïve idea was not working out so well.”
Wick was especially bothered by the advance of a prickly, yellow-flowered invasive weed called the woolly distaff thistle. He pulled it, mowed it, doused it with herbicides. But the distaff kept moving into what had been pasture. He thought about renting goats to eat the weeds and brush, but they were too expensive. He even considered introducing wild elk, but the bureaucratic hurdles seemed too onerous.
Then Wick and Rathmann met a rangeland ecologist named Jeff Creque. Instead of fighting against what you dislike, Creque suggested, focus on cultivating what you want. Squeeze out weeds by fostering conditions that favor grasses. Creque, who spent 25 years as an organic-pear-and-apple farmer in Northern California before earning a Ph.D. in rangeland ecology, also recommended that they bring back the cows. Grasslands and grazing animals, he pointed out, had evolved together. Unlike trees, grasses don’t shed their leaves at the end of the growing season; they depend on animals for defoliation and the recycling of nutrients. The manure and urine from grazing animals fuels healthy growth. If done right, Creque said, grazing could be restorative.
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The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) filed a CR-101 to initiate a rule change to expand the apple maggot quarantine area into parts of Okanogan County. During the 2017 survey season, WSDA’s apple maggot survey program identified a reproducing population of apple maggot in the pest free area of the Methow Valley. The Apple Maggot Working Group (AMWG) recommended that WSDA initiate the rule change, after reviewing WSDA’s survey data presented at the annual meeting in February. The AMWG includes member stakeholders and cooperators from county, state, and federal government agencies, industry representatives and academia, and who provide guidance and recommendations to WSDA’s Apple Pest Certification Program.
Updates to WSDA’s current rule making activity, including the rule change to the apple maggot quarantine boundary, can be followed at the following website address;
More information on WSDA’s apple maggot program can be found at:
In an article on the Daily Press website, NASA Langley scientist touts biochar: as an ‘environmental superstar.’
From the article:
“Biochar can be made from common organic waste material — from chicken and cow poop to sticks and brush from your yard. It can make environmentally unfriendly synthetic fertilizers obsolete. It can trap nutrient runoff before it pollutes places like the Chesapeake Bay. It can even filter out toxic heavy metals from water.”
The Washington State Soil Health Committee has funded two grant projects featuring biochar. One of the biochar projects is in San Juan County and the other is in Mason County. Below are the summaries of each project.
San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.
Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.
The San Juan Conservation District also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.
Mason County Conservation District:
The goal is to fill the knowledge gaps on the effects of biochar in the Mason County region. The project will involve measuring the effects of biochar on the balance of pH, the retention of nutrients, the amount of soil microorganisms in local soil types, and crop yield.
International team of researchers has illuminated unprecedented detail of biochar's seemingly miraculous properties
Date: October 20, 2017
Source: Colorado State University
Summary: New research has demonstrated how composting of biochar creates a very thin organic coating that significantly improves the biochar's fertilizing capabilities.
Click here for the full story.
Edaleen Dairy, Lynden, WA
Edaleen dairy is a 1,800 wet-cow dairy in Northwest Washington State producing an approximate 7% total solids manure wastewater from a combination of alley-scrapers, maternity barn flush and parlour/wash water. This manure wastewater is then pumped to a DVO mesophilic mixed plug-flow anaerobic digester that practices limited co-digestion with off-farm organics (<5% volume). Effluent from the digester is then sent to a GEA/Houle two-stage, slope-screen solids separator for separation of fibrous, coarse solids. The resulting liquid, still containing large amounts of suspended solids and associated nutrients, is sent through a DVO Phosphorus Recovery System, which is a modified dissolved air flotation (DAF) system. Separated solids are a wet but stackable product rich in nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Final liquid wastewater is then sent to lagoon for storage and subsequent land application.
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Pagliacci Pizza has been locally owned and operated since 1979. Their current seasonal pizza, the Quattro Stagioni, features Delicata Squash, one of many seasonal items sourced from local farms throughout the year. The Delicata is grown at Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center in Carnation, using Cedar Grove’s organic compost.
In 2006, Pagliacci was one of the first restaurants in the Puget Sound region to begin an organics recycling program in its restaurants. The company worked closely with Cedar Grove and local public utilities departments to help develop commercial composting programs and support the infrastructure for what would become the region’s composting program.
"Working with local seasonal foods everyday inspires us to look after our environment. We actively seek fresh ways to use less and use wisely whether it’s composting boxes and food waste, saving water and energy, or doing our part to bring ’green’ power to the Pacific Northwest from local utilities.", said Matt Galvin, co-owner.
“Closing the urban food loop is a new challenge and opportunity in our modern regional food system. To have a local composting facility gather ‘waste’ from local restaurants and grocers opens opportunities to apply compost with greater impact. Oxbow’s organic production farm grows fresh Delicata squash, Lacinato kale, and summer squash in that very compost —and Pagliacci then purchases the veggies from Oxbow to nourish the population!” said Adam McCurdy, farm manager.
In 2016 alone, Pagliacci diverted approximately 750 tons of food scraps from the landfill to be composted locally at Cedar Grove. Because food waste in a landfill creates methane gas, diverting food scraps to composting can help in reducing effects caused by climate change. Additionally, when used in farming, compost sequesters carbon in the soil, so the benefits of creating compost and then using compost in agriculture are significant.
“Pagliacci’s commitment to sustainability is making a direct impact on the carbon footprint of their restaurants and the local food system,” said Karen Dawson, director of marketing and community relations, Cedar Grove.
Well before Seattle’s city ordinance, they also took the bold step of procuring and using compostable or recyclable food service ware in their restaurants, working closely with Cedar Grove to ensure that each product going in the compost bin was actually compostable at their facilities. Not only this, but they purchase pizza boxes that are FSC Certified, meaning responsibly sourced from sustainable tree farms in the region.
Pagliacci’s sustainability efforts do not end with their pizza or pizza boxes. In addition to sourcing local produce and their robust composting program, they also purchase green power from Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy and have since 2006. Those local utilities draw renewable energy from Washington State Dams, the Stateline Wind Project and the Hanford Solar Facility – resources generated right in Washington State.
Pagliacci also prioritizes using Green Seal certified cleaning products and secured LEED certification for its delivery kitchen in Madison Valley since the location opened.
The Quattro Stagioni Primo will be available until next week. With cream-coloring and green stripes, delicate squash is known for its culinary quality. The flavor has a hint of brown sugar, and when roasted with crimini mushrooms, red onions and radicchio in homemade garlic oil, the sweetness of the squash is complemented nicely by the bold, slightly bitter flavor of the radicchio. Creamy fresh mozzarella over an Italian tomato base finish off this savory spectacle.
To find a Pagliacci near you, click here.
To learn more about Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center, click here.
To learn more about the benefits of compost in agriculture, click here.
To learn more, and to order online, please visit www.pagliacci.com.
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Improving soil health in farmlands could capture extra carbon equivalent to the planet-warming emissions generated by the transport sector, one of the world’s most polluting industries, experts said Tuesday.
Soil naturally absorbs carbon from the atmosphere through a process known as sequestration which not only reduce harmful greenhouse gases but also creates more fertile soil.
Better soil management could boost carbon stored in the top layer of the soil by up to 1.85 gigatonnes each year, about the same as the carbon emissions of transport globally, according to a study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal.
“Healthier soils store more carbon and produce more food,” Louis Verchot of the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.
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Thank you for attending WORC's 2017 Annual Conference!
"Bringing Our Soils Back to Life"
November 14-15, 2017
Semiahmoo Resort, Blaine, WA
Your participation was appreciated!
Evaluation Survey - please click here to complete the survey. Your feedback is greatly valued!
Speaker Presentations - please visit our website for presentations from the conference.
Thank you again to all of our wonderful sponsors!
The Washington State Department of Ecology is preparing the latest draft of the rule, along with responses to previous comments. We will update you on the general process at the same time. If you know someone who may be interested in this rulemaking and might benefit from joining our ListServ, please pass this message along to them.
The Solid Waste Handling Standards ListServ is the best tool for keeping up to date on rule development. You can join, resign, and otherwise manage your subscription to this ListServ by clicking here.
Thank you for your interest in the Solid Waste Handling Standards.
Senior Biosolids & Rules Policy Analyst / Statewide Coordinator
Statewide Resources Section
Waste 2 Resources Program
Washington State Department of Ecology
P.O. Box 47600 Olympia, WA 98504-7600
Carbon Logic, the first product line to be produced by Ag Energy Solutions Inc., of Spokane Valley, is going to pot—yes, the green leafy stuff.
Ag Energy originally was formed in 2010 to make equipment to convert agricultural waste into energy. For now, however, the company has pivoted its mission to market the byproduct the equipment produces, says David Drinkard, Ag Energy CEO. And one of its first customers is the marijuana industry.
“We originally started building a gasification system that can take agriculture waste and covert it to make energy,” Drinkard says.
The heart of the system is a machine called an integrated biomass platform, which “cooks” feedstock, such as wheat straw, and converts it into two products; a synthetic flammable gas and a carbon-rich solid called biochar, he says.
“We were planning on selling the equipment.” Drinkard says of Ag Energy’s original mission. “The idea was for farmers to use agricultural waste to generate synthetic gas to fuel water pumps and sprinkler systems.”
During the development process, however, Ag Energy determined the biochar that the integrated biomass platform produces has more potential value than the energy the IBP produces, he says.
Click here to read more.
A pioneering program in California aims to sequester carbon, improve water resources and boost plant growth, by treating the soil beneath farmers’ and ranchers’ feet as part of a living system.
Soil’s ability to capture carbon and store water has led to an upsurge of interest in this often overlooked natural resource.
In California, a new program called the Healthy Soils Initiative is about to put unorthodox farming practices to the test. With modest grants of up to $50,000 administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), a network of farmers and ranchers throughout the state will embark on a series of experiments in carbon farming.
The term refers to improving soil health by biological processes that limit the amount of synthetic chemicals applied to crops and adopting techniques aimed to reduce nutrient loss.
Kevin Muno is among the converts. He and his business partners at the Santa Ysabel Ranch run a cattle operation called the Land of Milk and Honey. Located about 40 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, it is the southernmost of the ranches testing the efficacy of carbon farming methods in California.
According to Muno, his goal is to restore the ecology of the landscape through a series of practices that he calls regenerative agriculture. The aim is to improve soil quality and to promote vigorous plant growth. By demonstrating the ecological services that carbon farming can provide, he and his partners believe they can prosper and conserve resources. “Humanity can benefit,” says Muno. “People in the city like clean air and water in their reservoirs. If we manage the landscape correctly, we can have those things.”
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What if we could combat climate change by making mountains of charcoal? It's not as crazy as it sounds.
Here's the backstory: Part of the mission of Ecology's Waste 2 Resources program is supporting recycling in the state. That's not just bottles and cans and newspapers, it's also food and grass clippings and other organic material. That's what composting is all about – recycling organics.
A lesser-known part of that organics recycling work is what's called "waste to fuels." Anaerobic digesters are one example of this – digesters capture the methane from decomposing cow manure plus other organic material like food and green waste, and repurpose it as natural gas, either for heating or generating electricity.
Another example is biochar. And here's where we get back to saving the planet.
Biochar sounds sort of mysterious, but you might have a bag of it already out by the grill.
"This term 'biochar' is a new term – we used to call it 'charcoal,'" said Mark Fuchs, a hydrogeologist with Ecology's Eastern Regional Office in Spokane.
"It's pretty cool stuff that we're looking at," said John Cleary, an Ecology engineer also working on waste to fuels. "We're trying to find new ways to look at waste."
Charcoal (and biochar) is produced when you partially burn woody debris, removing moisture and volatile compounds. To produce biochar efficiently, you use a process called pyrolysis, where the wood is heated in the absence of oxygen – meaning that you do as little actual "burning" as possible. After all the volatiles cook off, you're left with a block of what is mostly carbon.
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The NRCS works with conservation partners like the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to help farmers plan and implement conservation practices that benefit bees and other pollinators. Through a new certification program - Bee Better Certified - agricultural producers can inform consumers that they are farming in ways that benefit bees.
Funded by a grant from the USDA, the Xerces Society partnered with Oregon Tilth to develop and launch the Bee Better Certified program. The project received a $350,000 Conservation Innovation Grant in 2016 from the NRCS which Xerces matched to develop and test the first-of-its-kind program.
After piloting the program with 13 farmers over the past few months, Xerces and Oregon Tilth are now opening it to farmers nationwide.
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A discussion with Materials & Packaging Specialists, Natural Food Product Manufacturers, and Compost Operations Providers.
Join us at 10 am (PDT) on July 13, 2017 to explore the future of innovative design in compostable materials for food products.
Focusing on compostable flex packaging, materials specialists and the companies that are leading the way will discuss introducing new materials into the wider market.
Facility operators will discuss the end-of-life of these products, and how they are handled within the various processes of industrial composting. We will examine the support needed (e.g. proper labeling) and consumer education issues related to the disposition and viability of compostable packaging materials.
We hope to bring those responsible for the beginning of a product's life together with those who are ultimately left "holding the bag".
Produced by the California Resource Recovery Association’s Recyclers Global Warming Council (CRRA-RGWC), with web hosting provided the National Recycling Coalition (NRC).
Register today for this webinar & please share with your networks!