Fragile promises to take back farmers

With restorative farming, farmers strive to increase soil carbon storage. This is possible through minimal plowing, different crop rotation and green manure cultivation. The technology is very promising. According to a much-cited report from Britain’s Rodale Institute, it offsets all human greenhouse gas emissions, the multinational Nestl√© food company that wants to invest $ 1 billion in it in the coming years, and Alpro is committed to that.

In Flanders, farmer Bram Bombeek, a former N-VA spokesperson, is putting livestock on the map. Scientists from KU Leuven are starting to measure the carbon content in the grasslands there, and they will be replicating that at regular intervals. “The goal is to find out how quickly and deeply carbon accumulates,” says biologist Olivier Hounay (University of Leuven). “For example, we want to investigate if there is such a thing as a” neutral carbon steak, “as some claim.

In a report, scholars from the University of Oxford, among others, tempered enthusiasm. Solid research on carbon storage in pastures is scarce, and results are conflicting. Positive results in one place cannot simply be generalized. In the best case scenario, storage offsets a portion of the emissions from livestock farming. According to the researchers, the overly ambitious claims are unjustified. “The contribution that sub-grassland carbon storage can make to climate mitigation appears to be very small, even under optimistic assumptions.”

Rensky Hijbeck (University of Wageningen) adds that the carbon content in fields is always lower than under natural vegetation. “Simply because you are simply removing biomass from planting.” Pastures that are never plowed also do well. Hijbek and her colleagues concluded that the most effective way to store carbon in the land is to avoid nature to make room for more farmland and turn fields into grassland or nature.

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