Monday, April 23, 2007

Solving global warming through Agriculture

My previous posts focused on the conversion of deserts into an economic agricultural model using modern technology. That served the principal purpose of directing our thoughts to a clear thought experiment without letting ourselves and our audience been sidetracked by non critical issues.

More simply put - One acre of managed farm land can equal several tons of sequestered carbon and one acre of managed woodlot can equal around fifty tons per acre of sequestered carbon. This is around two to three pounds or about one kilo per yard.

We now confront the problem of the current agricultural paradigm. Why convert the desert when we do not have our own agricultural house in order. And once again, the problem continues to be a lack of a viable economic model. How do we fix this?

Virtually every farmer focuses his productive energies on crop production with an annual cropping cycle for simple economic reasons. At the same time, he commonly has tracts of waste land under his care which operates as a wild wood with limited input.

The reason for this is simple. There is no way to capitalize this investment so that there is a way for the farmer and society to benefit. The reason is simply that the time frames involved are far outside those of private capital. This has been the state of affairs for thousands of years with often disastrous results.

It is my contention that this can be completely changed by a wasteland management program.

Such a program would have the following characteristics:

1 A contract would be entered into that would be perpetual in nature between the newly created government agency and the individual landowner.

2 The land owner would contribute the right to manage the wasteland portion of his holdings under a general land management plan but retain title encumbered by a codicil as to fifty percent of the harvestable timber in favor of the new agency. The wasteland is effectively alienated from the crop land.

3 The agency, been able to plan harvesting into the distant future, can then underwrite the management costs over decades. These will obviously include planting and some direct maintenance costs and record keeping. It can also demand compliance, backed up by its direct claim on title.

4 The farmer then finds himself in the position of been able to augment his farm income primarily in the off season.

5 Additional augmentation will occasionally occur because of particular tree species, but the intent should be to avoid a mono culture type framework.

6 Woodland grooming will produce a great deal of waste wood annually. And since natural rotting is an unsatisfactory way of disposal, charcoaling can be implemented as the woodland develops.

It is very clear that a well developed woodlot will contain around fifty tons of carbon. If nothing else were to be done, that is were it could stay. Not a bad outcome at all.

However, we have learned that taking the extra step of charcoaling the waste wood, perhaps augmenting it with fertilizers , then folding it into the adjacent soils under tillage, will sequester the carbon for hundreds of years while providing a slow release source of nutrients. This was the basis of remarkably successful native agricultural methods in the Amazon.

In practice, the farmer is able to use the waste wood by charcoaling, as the center piece of his soil remediation program. This is a major break through in agricultural practice. Over the long term(many decades if not centuries), the combination will maximize the productivity of both woodland and cropland.

It is also easy to see that this method will eventually continue to sequester around a half ton of carbon per acre of woodland on an annual basis for centuries until it reaches a stable consumption/ production balance between farmland and cropland. We cannot predict were that may be, but would not be surprised to find that cropland is capable of holding several tons of additional carbon in this manner.

The fact that the farmer is able to gain the additional tangible profit of enhancing his soils will make him an enthusiastic partner.

A nominal business plan on a per acre basis drawn up in current dollars may look a little like this:

Agency cost - C, Wood Production - W , Agency dollar account - $

First decade C - $5,000, W - 0 , $ - ($5,000)
Second decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - ($2,000)
Third decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
4th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
5th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
6th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
7th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
8th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
9th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000
10th decade C - $2,000, W - 5 , $ - $3,000

By the third decade, it is reasonable to expect that the operation will generally carry itself. The model will need to be tweaked to ensure that all parties remain happy once that point is reached.

At this time all these numbers are based on guesswork and certainly should not be relied on.

Technical support and manufacturing for charcoaling equipment must also be worked out since the traditional methods used in the past are hardly satisfactory.

This technique can be implemented globally, although it will be best started in the areas of maximum development were a tradition of land title is well embedded and economic predation is not practiced.