ROCK HALL, MD (CBS NEWS) - As severe weather and climate change impact farmers nationwide, there’s a new and growing movement of farmers fighting back through “climate smart farming.”
The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the farm’s resiliency to extreme weather. It all begins with the soil that can actually trap carbon.
Trey Hill of Harborview Farms in Rock Hall, Maryland is helping to lead the way.
“All by accident, it wasn’t intentional,” admits Hill, a fourth generation farmer and self-made environmentalist.
As part of a statewide push in the late 1990s to help preserve the Chesapeake Bay and prevent runoff from local farms, Hill began experimenting with what’s known as cover crops, intended to preserve and enrich the soil.
His farm produces soybeans, corn and wheat for business, but Hill plants a layer of the cover crops, such as rapeseed, cereal rye, and crimson clover on top to keep the soil better intact. It turns out the cover crops can also help fight climate change.
“These plants are sucking up carbon dioxide,” said Ray Weil, a professor of soil science at the University of Maryland.
“If we can take it out of the air and put it into the soil, everybody wins,” he continued.
Weil works with farmers, researching and promoting climate smart farming techniques. This method does not use traditional tilling, or plowing which churns up the soil.
“If we took all the farmland in North America and Canada and the US and farmed this way, it would make a significant impact on global climate change,” Weil argues.
While estimated impact varies, The Natural Resources Defense Council has calculated that planting cover crops on half of corn and soybean acres in the top 10 agricultural states could sequester more than 19 million metric tons of carbon annually, the equivalent of removing more than 4 million cars from the road.
“Farmland really has the capacity to sequester a lot more carbon,” said Hill. “By doing that we’re making the soil better, we’re building organic matter which makes it better for the next generation of farmers, but we’re also sequestering carbon to counter climate change which will hopefully make the environment a better place as well.”
Hill admits this type of farming isn’t for everyone and can be more challenging. It also requires the use of chemical herbicides to kill or get rid of the cover crop and that makes some uneasy.
However, for Hill the end goal is well worth it, in trying to leave a better environment for his children.
“‘What are you doing for climate change dad,” Hill said recounting a conversation with his daughter. “Well, this is what I’m doing—this is the best what I can do. Given what I know.”
Hill is currently enrolled in a pilot-program with a Seattle-based start-up called Nori, that’s using special technology to track his farm’s carbon removal.
Nori, which is working with several farmers nationwide, aims to create a marketplace that would incentivize and pay farmers to remove carbon.
The group’s co-founder, Christophe Jospe, says interested investors include food companies, airlines and large tech companies.