biofuels

Carbon Farming to Reverse Climate Change

This paper outlines the global threat from Climate Change and proposes a simple economic model as a practical solution through which land use innovation can drive behaviour change and reverse global warming. The planet is warming, we are losing the race to save all the inestimable physical wealth and cultural value that humankind created over the centuries and yet we have singularly failed to use the most efficient tool for reducing carbon dioxide levels: photosynthesis. Nothing else comes close to sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, yet we neglect it.Two decades of policies to address the rising threat of catastrophic climate change have focused on reducing emissions. They failed, however, to slow the increase in greenhouse gas levels. Instead, directly and by default, government policies have brought about continuing increases instead.

Forestry and farming are the cheapest and most effective ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere, sequestering it in the vast unexploited reservoir of the soil and trees. Yet instead of actively pursuing these low-cost options we have deforested and degraded forest carbon and soil sinks.  How can we fix this?

The “4 per 1000” (‘Quatre pour Mille’) initiative launched at the Paris COP21 aims to do just that, by rewarding carbon farming.vBritain is a signatory and a Forum and Consortium member.  “4 per 1000” states that, if farming and forestry increased soil organic carbon annually by four parts per thousand per year, that would be enough to totally offset the annual 16 billion tonnes increase in greenhouse gas levels.  With carbon a marketable crop, we could stop worrying about global warming.

In 2015, the French National Assembly responded to ‘4 per 1000’ by setting a €56 (£50) a tonne carbon tax to comes into effect in 2020.

Carbon emissions reduction policies have failed so far:  

  • HM Govt has spent over £1.5 billion supporting Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the idea that you can capture CO2 emissions and bury them securely in the ground. For CCS to work and be effective it would cost at least €70 per tonne CO2 stored and require an increase in fossil fuel use of 35%.

  • The voluntary market has created credits for 1 billion tonnes of CO2 in the past 10 years. That’s a mere 1/500 of emissions. Cap and trade is subject to political vagaries. The European Climate Exchange and the Chicago Climate Exchange went bust in 2010 when EU political decisions led to a gross oversupply of carbon allowances.

  • The EU Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation requires mixing sugar beet ethanol, rapeseed oil or palm oil with petrol or diesel. 7 million tonnes of the world’s annual palm oil production of 66 million tonnes is burned as biodiesel, much more than is consumed as food in the EU. Land across the EU is degraded by intensive production of sugar beet and rapeseed for biofuel use, with negligible reductions and, even in some cases, increases in CO2.

The “4 per 1000” initiative is predicated on there being a price on carbon, whether emitted into the atmosphere or removed from the atmosphere. The Government sets a price for carbon and all emissions of CO2 are paid as part of a company’s tax bill, declared as part of its annual returns.  If a company can purchase carbon offsets for less it can deduct these offsets from its tax bill from carbon aware farmers. 

What would happen if there were a £50 per tonne CO2 price?

  • Nitrates, pesticides and herbicides would become uneconomic in many applications and farmers would minimise or abandon these inputs

  • Farmers would increase soil carbon by the use of grass leys and compost. They would minimise tillage and grow green manures to keep ground cover all year round

  • Carbon from straw, sawmill waste and forestry arisings would be converted into biochar (agricultural charcoal) then added to the soil to permanently enhance fertility and increase the carbon in the soil ‘carbon bank.’ Biochar is 80-90% pure carbon and stays in the soil for centuries.

  • Farmers would plant trees and hedgerows instead of growing rapeseed for biodiesel.

  • Wood burning would 10.5 billion be disincentivised. Wood would replace steel and concrete in buildings and homes. Wood is carbon negative. Modern cross lamination technology produces wood that equals or exceeds the strength, durability and load bearing capacity of concrete and steel.

  • The £1.5 billion Government subsidy to date wasted on carbon capture and storage research would be saved.

  • Peat use would end overnight - peat bogs capture more carbon than any land use other than salt marshes.

  • The sea would be more productive. Reduced fertiliser use and reversal of soil erosion would herald the end of harmful algal blooms that damage coastal ecosystems and fish stock populations.

Soil is the world’s most important and valuable commodity.  With a realistic carbon price, we would not suffer the resource misallocation of agricultural subsidies such as in the Common Agricultural Policy. 

Wind and solar are getting cheaper, but are nowhere near as competitive as 4/1000.  Money has been poured into supporting wind energy.  Every tonne of CO2 saved by onshore wind costs €162, from offshore wind £267.

A regenerating degraded forest can profitably generate CO2 savings for a cost of less than £5 tonne CO2.  Forestry management costs of planting, then thinning are minimal. Forests, pasture and arable farmland can easily sequester “4 per 1000 per annum.”  Yet we still lose 31 football fields per minute globally of productive agricultural land because industrial farming methods need take no account of carbon emissions.

How does a Carbon Price affect Fossil Fuel Prices?

A carbon tax would add $10 to a barrel of oil.  That is well within the range of fluctuations in the oil price (e.g. recent OPEC decisions).    

There is a financial opportunity. The Government simply establishes a tax that can be offset by carbon credits.  This then puts carbon dioxide, like any other valuable commodity, in the hands of markets.   

Fossil fuel emissions are 33 billion tonnes CO2 a year globally. At £50/tonne the market for carbon credits would be more than £1.5 trillion. If Britain leads on this by example then London would be the financial hub for carbon trading . The City of London has the depth of liquidity and the reputation for integrity that a global carbon market will need to succeed. 

The flow of cash into sequestration will be transformative.  Agricultural subsidies can fall away without impacting on land values.  Rural economies will be invigorated and farming can begin to remediate the misallocation of resources that current CAP policy encourages.

Auditing, validation and certification of carbon sequestration represents an opportunity for the certification industry, much of which operates out of the UK.

What is the scale of the opportunity?  Carbon sinks are primarily forests, fields and meadows.

The world has 1.5 billion hectares of arable land, 4 billion hectares of forest and woodland and 5 billion hectares of grassland, a total of 10.5 billion hectares that can be put to work removing CO2 from the atmosphere.  The annual net increase in CO2 levels is 16 billion tonnes.  If every hectare of our available land annually removed 4 tonnes CO2 then we would remove 41 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year, which would get us back to pre-industrial levels in just 35 years.

Is 4 tonnes CO2 per hectare realistic?

La Vialla, a biodynamic family farm in Tuscany, comprises 1440 hectares including arable, pasture, woodland, vines and olives. Taking this as an example and microcosm of the global distribution of land use types, the University of Sienna, using IPCC methodology has evaluated La Vialla’s annual carbon cycle for the past eight years. Calculations show that 4.24 tonnes of CO2e per hectare have been captured every year for the past eight years. 

 An obvious criticism of soil and forest sequestration is that it can be reversed through human and natural impacts.  A farmer can plough up the soil, a forester can chop down the trees and then much of the carbon captured is released back into the atmosphere.  An additional risk is that fire, war, flood or hurricane can reduce the carbon store.

A two-part payment can address this by providing:

  • a payment for the annual increment of CO2;

  • an additional ‘interest’ payment on the carbon that is stored in the carbon ‘bank.’

Soil is the foundation of our natural capital.  In a capitalist system it should be valued.

Farmers can insure against loss of carbon. Banks will advance loans against land to farmers who operate best practice carbon farming in the knowledge that the asset that is loaned against is increasing in value as its carbon content increases.

The cost of low carbon food would come down and the cost of high carbon food would go up. No longer would price be a barrier to eating food that is rich in nutrients, low in pesticide residues and which delivers tangential social and environmental benefits.

Carbon sequestration in farmland, pasture and forests is a cheap and effective way of reducing greenhouse gas levels.  Compliance with agreed Paris COP 21 targets will be unlikely if we continue to depend on technological solutions and biofuels to reduce emissions.  Using up precious soil and forests for the production of biofuels is wasteful, uneconomic and does nothing to help mitigate climate change. An economic incentive to maximise soil and forest sequestration of carbon dioxide is the most effective, practical and low- cost solution to achieving greenhouse gas reduction.

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Capitalism Must Price Carbon - Or Die

This was a speech I gave at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference in Llandovery, Wales in July 2017.

Please click here to see video clips of the Prince of Wales, Patrick Holden and myself during the conference, which was organized by The Sustainable Food Trust. It aimed to develop an agricultural perspective on the ideas propounded in the book 'Harmony' by HRH The Prince of Wales and Tony Juniper.

In 1967 Joni Mitchell wrote a song called Woodstock that included these lines:

“We are stardust, We are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

back to the garden”

We are indeed ‘billion year old carbon’ – the average person of about 80kgs/176lbs  contains about 15kgs/33lbs of carbon.  That ancient carbon is in our bones, our muscle, our fat and our bloodstream, as carbohydrate, fat, protein and other compounds.  The carbon in our bodies may have been previously in soil, in trees, in charcoal, in dinosaur turds, in mosquitoes, in honey...  It was everywhere before it ‘reincarbonated’ in us.  Carbon is immortal.   And it is stardust.

A billion or so years ago a very hot star kept getting hotter.  As it got hotter, it formed hydrogen, then carbon, then oxygen and then the other elements that we know.Sir Fred Hoyle, the great astrophysicist, described this as ‘stellar nucleogenesis’ – stars creating atoms.

When that star got too hot it exploded, became a ‘supernova’ and blasted its carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and rock into space.  Those chunks of rock and elements consolidated to form our solar system, with a sun that is still burning today with the remaining heat of the star that formed it a billion years ago.

Carbon is a promiscuous atom, it has 4 points where it can ‘mate’ with other elements.  That’s why there are so many carbon-based molecules and why carbon is the foundation of all living things.  Where there’s life, there’s carbon.

 According to Hoyle, life, in primitive form, was everywhere. This was called ‘Panspermia.’

Life in rock was called ‘Lithopanspermia.’

Life was fungi. That life bumbled along, depending on acid rain from the very CO2-rich atmosphere a billion years ago to break down carbon that was stored in rock. Then a miracle happened that changed everything.

Bacteria called cyanobacteria became able to combine carbon dioxide CO2 from the atmosphere with H2O water, using sunlight energy, to make carbohydrate C6H12O6, whilst excreting oxygen.  That carbohydrate was the sugar that is the basis of all living energy in plants and, eventually, in animal life too.

Once this happened, one can speculate that the rock-eating fungi saw their chance and organised the cyanobacteria into chain gangs, maximising their potential to capture carbon from the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, then at about 95% CO2.

These became algae, then simple plants, all busy making sugar to feed their own growth and, more importantly, to nourish the growth of the fungi that created them.

The fungi worked with other microbes in the soil, thriving on the sugar coming from the plants and delivering back to 'their' sugar-making plant all the mineral nutrients that they needed to grow.  Plants died and decomposed.  Fungi and bacteria died and decomposed. The carbon-rich detritus of their existence rotted down to become what we know as ‘soil’ – a most precious resource because it is the perfect habitat for fungi and bacteria and a rich source of recycled nutrients for plants.

This soil built up over millions of years, producing rich plant growth that eventually could support the large life forms such as dinosaurs and brontosaurs that existed in the ‘Carboniferous’ age.

This was the soil that early pioneers found in the American Midwest, rich in organic matter that ran very deep thanks to the 3 metre roots of prairie grasses.

When my great grandfather began to plough virgin prairie in Nebraska back in 1885, the soil on our farm contained over 100 tonnes of carbon as organic matter (organic matter in soil is approximately 50% carbon).  By the time I was born in 1944 this was down to about 20 and now it is closer to 10, totally dependent on fertilizer and pesticides.

Farmers are frugal, on our farm we grew and processed almost all the food that we ate, only buying in commodities like flour, salt, sugar and soap that we couldn't make on the farm.  Old calico flour sacks were washed and recycled as clothing, overalls for the boys and dresses for the girls.

Some enterprising flour companies printed pretty patterns on their flour bags when they realised this was happening.  My mother and her sister Thelma wore Nell Rose flour sack dresses.

The men were frugal too, but they were unwittingly wasting the most precious resource on the farm, the soil.  As the poet Wendell Berry put it:

 "We didn't know what we were doing because we didn't know what we were undoing." 

What we were undoing was all the decomposed plant matter that had been accumulating ever since those first Cyanobacteria sped up the process of life on Earth.

The destroyed soil lost its water holding capacity and lost its structure and integrity.  The result was the great Mississippi floods of 1927 when the river was 60 miles wide from April to October, sparking the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities as their farms were submerged for half a year.

Then in the 1930s the Dust Bowl triggered another migration, of "Okies" from their farms in Oklahoma, Kansas and western Nebraska as their farms became submerged in dust and dirt.  Richard St. Barbe Baker, an Englishman who founded Men of The Trees in 1926 and was a founder member or the Soil Association, helped restore the broken soils of the Midwest.  Operating under the banner of President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps he oversaw 3 million men who planted 10 billion trees between 1933 and 1940.  (These men also made good soldiers in WW2).

Tractors also played a destructive role, they could plough twice as deep as a horse-drawn plough, bringing up fertility and carbon from deeper in the soil.  My Uncle Floyd (pictured with me in 1947) still used horses to draw his 8-row planter because horses didn't compact the soil. Tractors did, weakening soil structure.

This experience alarmed people in Europe.  In Britain Eve Balfour wrote "The Living Soil" which proposed a new approach to agriculture that worked with nature and became known as 'organic farming.'

Eve Balfour collaborated with Dr. Innes Pearce who had shown at the Pioneer Project in Peckham that low income families did much better if they understood the basics of good nutrition and domestic hygiene.

Together they formed the Soil Association in 1947 on the premise that good farming would produce heathy food to nourish healthy people and create healthy societies.

My introduction to organic food and healthy eating came via the Japanese guru Georges Ohsawa, author of Zen Macrobiotics.  I imported the books to the UK and sold them via various bookshops.

I sold brown rice snacks at the UFO Club, where the Pink Floyd were the house band.  In February 1966 I opened a restaurant in Notting Hill to spread the macrobiotic message.  In 1968 my brother Gregory opened Seed restaurant, our larger restaurant in Bayswater, London.

Getting ourselves back to the garden

ZEN MACROBIOTICS - Taoism

  • Balanced - Yin and Yang
  • Organic - Sustainable
  • Wholegrain
  • Food for health
  • 'Justice' (Fair)
  • Japanese (Miso, Nori, Tamari)
  • No additives, no hormones
  • Avoid sugar
  • Eat only when hungry
  • Exercise and Activity

Like the Stoics mentioned in the Prince of Wales’ book "Harmony" we believed in "an attunement between human nature and the greater scheme of the Cosmos."  We saw this through the prism of Daoist yin and yang philosophy and saw it as the key to a long and happy life ('macro' = 'big, long', 'bios' = 'life').

When we launched a range of macrobiotic food products in 1970 we branded them "Harmony" with a trademark that was a Yin Yang symbol with leaves and roots.

The company went on to become Whole Earth Foods a decade later - unfortunately 'Harmony' was a brand we couldn't register in our key European markets.

When I launched Whole Earth cornflakes in 1997 a friend Dan Morrell, who had founded Future Forests (later to become the Carbon Neutral Company) asked me if I'd like to take the corn flakes 'carbon neutral' -  a term he originally coined. .  He then commissioned  Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management to measure the carbon footprint of the cornflakes.

To our pleasant surprise we had to plant hardly any trees to offset the carbon used in growing, shipping, processing, packaging and distributing the cereal because the increase in the organic matter on the farms where the corn was grown almost completely offset the carbon emissions from everything else.  That's when I understood that, if we priced carbon into the cost of food, people would farm in a very different way.  It is now urgent that we do so

The UN has said that we only have 60 years of farming left. Farming generates more than a third of the annual increase in greenhouse gas. 

Volkert Engelsmann of IFOAM has calculated that we are losing farmland at the rate of 30 football fields every minute.  None of these losses come from organic farming, which is restorative and regenerative.

Industrial farming wastes energy.  It takes 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy.  A farmer with a hoe uses 1 calorie of human energy to produce 20 calories of food energy.  On a calorie-for-calorie basis a farmer with a hoe is 240 times more carbon efficient than a farmer with lots of equipment and inputs.  More than 30 years of trials at the Rodale Institute farms in Pennsylvania show that organic farming can sequester 1 tonne of carbon per annum.  They have also shown that once the soil is in good shape, the yields match those of industrial farming.

There is an effort afoot to attempt to bring market forces into bringing an end to this potentially disastrous loss of viable farmland.  Part of this is to attempt to appeal to the self-interest of companies like Unilever and General Mills whose supply chain will suffer if farmland becomes unviable and unavailable.

The French National Institute for Agricultural Research published a report in 2015 that stated that if farmers could sequester 4 parts per 1000 of organic matter,  that’s 0.04%, every year in their soil that would be enough to totally offset the annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions that is causing climate change.  That’s without counting any transition to solar, wind or greater energy efficiency.  As a result the French National Assembly voted a carbon price of €65 per tonne to take effect in 2020 and to include agriculture.  French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll then announced his ‘4 per 1000’ initiative which became part of the Paris Climate Agreement. It was endorsed at COP 22 in Marrakech and  36 countries so far have signed up to participate in restoring soil, the capital base of every nation.

The Prince of Wales co-authored a children’s book called ‘Climate Change’ that shows how carbon goes into the atmosphere and how it comes back into the earth and the sea.  The net annual increase is 16 billion tonnes.

A 3000 hectare biodynamic farm called Fattoria La Vialla in Tuscany Italy has its carbon measured every year by a team from the University of Siena.  La VIalla are sequestering ‘7 per 1000’ every year.  If everyone farmed like those 3 brilliant brothers  in Italy, whose farm is roughly 1/3 pasture, 1/3 forest and 1/3 everything else (grape vines, cereals, fruit, vegetables), then we would not only cancel out the 16 billion tonne increase in CO2 but would see a 12 billion tonne reduction every year.   Additional benefits would be greater biodiversity, cleaner water, less risk of drought and flooding and safer food.  (Their wine is pretty awesome, too).

Going beyond stopping degeneration is the regeneration movement.  This includes: Regeneration International, an offshoot of the mighty Organic Consumers Association in the US; the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO; Soil and More (Netherlands); People 4 Soils (Slow Food movement); and Save our Soils (UK).

Corporations like General Mills are taking strong initiatives.  They have 100,000 hectares of land from their supply chain to be organic by 2020 as part of their carbon reduction policy.

But we still burn food.  One half of the annual USA corn crop is converted to ethanol using more energy to produce it than is embodied in the ethanol. It is mixed with gasoline to be burned as fuel.  The US is now exporting oil and gas yet still burns vast amounts of food in the name of 'energy security.'

We still destroy forests.  According to HRH the Prince of Wales this is at a rate of 15 football fields per minute.  If we valued the carbon stored in those forests at $20 tonne each hectare would be worth $15000.  Once the forest is cleared and then planted with soybeans it is worth $300 per hectare.  HRH described this in a speech in 2008 as ‘The greatest example of market failure in the history of capitalism.’

We still burn wood.  There is a false virtuousness to burning wood.  200,000 wood burning stoves a year are sold in the UK alone.  Wood smoke is more harmful to health than smoke from coal, oil or gas.  It takes a tree 50 years to sequester the carbon that is then consumed in a wood burning stove in 50 minutes. If a replacement tree is planted, will take 50 years to take that carbon back out of the atmosphere.

Wood has the resilience of steel and the load bearing capacity of concrete.  'Glulam' and other new wood technologies mean that wood can be used in 20 story buildings ('plyscrapers'), sequestering the embodied carbon in the wood for centuries.  We should never burn wood, it's a terribly inefficient waste of carbon.

Biochar, or charcoal made from wood, is a way to convert wood by-products into a carbon rich substance that can be put in the soil and will stay there for decades or even centuries.

It dramatically increases the population of beneficial microbes in soil, delivering a healthier plant immune system,  increased water retention and reduced loss of nutrients from leaching.  It is the best use for woody material that is not suitable for building or furniture making.  It is proven to help restore degraded soils and make them fertile and fit for farming again.  There are many examples of its benefits: tomato growers use it to combat plant diseases and increase yields; it cures honey fungus, ash dieback, chestnut blight, phytophthora and other tree diseases; it helps cocoa farmers overcome the devastating impact of black pod.  Stockholm uses it for all their new urban tree plantings as it enhances survival rates.  In Qatar the Aspire Park now use it for all their new tree plantings, with gratifying results.  Biochar in soil protects the beneficial microbes that are part of a plant’s immune system, its food supply and it’s water supply.

Farming and forestry would be transformed if carbon pricing were to be introduced for their activity.   People would plant trees instead of growing wasteful biofuels.  Prairie grass would replace corn in the Midwest.  Farmers would adopt regenerative methods such as organic and biodynamic farming.

Farmers would profit from farming carbon in 2 ways:

  1.  An annual payment for any increase in soil carbon and a charge for any decrease in soil carbon
  2.  An 'interest' payment on the actual level of soil carbon on the farm. This would be effective at around 10% annually.

A typical organic farm would benefit to the tune of approximately £100 per hectare and an industrial farm would have to pay a carbon tax of as much as £100 per hectare.  Farmers would change behaviour overnight and agribusiness behemoths like Monsanto, Bayer and John Deere would have to rethink their business model.  Taxpayer-funded subsidies to farming could be largely phased out as carbon markets would trade the carbon credits.

Farmers could also insure against catastrophic events such as flood and drought that might impact on their soil carbon.   However, farming with carbon in mind would reduce the likelihood of such damaging events.

Soil is Nature’s capital and the foundation of all life on Earth.  Capitalism is about valuing capital and pricing it.  Capitalism has failed to deal with carbon because industry, transportation and farming have been allowed to pollute freely at no cost.  All other forms of pollution are nowadays strictly controlled for wider social benefit. It is time for carbon to be priced and traded like very other important commodity.

We can get 'back to the garden' - the Garden of Eden.  We just have to price carbon and change the way we farm our beautiful planet.

"We are stardust, We are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

back to the garden"

Agribusiness

xorganic-farming-640x426-jpg-pagespeed-ic-thzrqz2irqWhen a business sector sees a rash of mergers and acquisitions, it's for one of two reasons, growth or decay. The organic food industry has seen a lot of acquisitions by companies anxious to get in on the ground floor of the 5% annual growth rate in organic food and regenerative farming. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Monsanto is facing takeover by Bayer, not for any positive reasons, but because they are both looking into the abyss. Merger is one way to survive when the farmers they are competing for are spending less. Farmers aren't stupid - they can do the maths. When they see diminishing returns on their investment in seeds and agrichemicals, they reduce their spending. Normally in a situation like this the agribusiness operators would go to the EU or Washington and just wheedle more subsidies out of the national purse, bleating about food security while encouraging biofuels to prop up soy, rapeseed and corn prices. Who cares if you're destroying the earth's precious farmland at 30 football fields a minute? If you were a big landowner, you'd feel entitled to being paid to do this. That's what us mugs are here for. Now that the EU even subsidises grouse moors you'd think the gates were wide open. But the money is running out. Half the EU budget goes to farmers, much of it British money going via Brussels to France. The US spends $350 billion a year propping up agriculture in the US, channeling money through farmers to agribiz.

Let's take a look at who's eating whom. The potash fertiliser price has halved in the past 3 years, from $450 a tonne to $219. So in Canada, Agrium and Potash, two of the world's biggest potash producers, are merging in a desperate attempt to keep afloat while they wait for a bounce in price that may never happen. Bayer and Monsanto are both facing plunging sales and profits. Monsanto have the seed and Bayer have the pesticides to go with them. But again it's desperation. They hope that innovation will save them, but innovation is not something you find in mega corporations.   GMOs are losing support - US farmers never wanted them but were denied choice after Monsanto bought up all the seed companies and forced GMOs down their throats.

The whole ethanol biofuels scam is blowing up, too. It was never even vaguely 'carbon neutral' - it takes more energy to produce a litre of ethanol than the energy you get by burning it. It's more energy efficient to just mix corn with coal and shovel it into a power station, but that would be too obvious and repulsive.

Chem China has taken over Syngenta. They make the herbicides that Syngenta's GM seed can resist. Nobody in China will eat GMO rice but they'll tolerate pork or chicken fed on GM maize. But the real prize for Chem China is Syngenta's strong presence in US market: they're after Bayer/Monsanto's piece of the diminishing pie. Their US competitors are suddenly bleating about food security.   Two other agrichemical giants, Dow and DuPont, also merged recently. They're all like a bunch of drunks spilling out of the pub after a good night out, trying to keep each other from falling down.

If you're a farmer, what do you do? You used to be able to play off one agrichemical giant against the other, but soon you'll just take what you're given. Or look for an alternative and boy, what an alternative is on the horizon!

When the French '4 per 1000 initiative' succeeds at the Marrakech COP22 climate conference in November every hectare of organic farmland will be set to get over €150 a year in carbon credits. A hectare of chemical-dependent farmland will have to pay for its carbon footprint and that could cost close to €100 per hectare.   It won't happen overnight but the French have fixed a price of €56 per tonne for carbon, to take effect by 2020. The world will probably follow, even the US.   If you were a government that was facing huge annual costs to subsidise farmers with money that flows through their bank accounts to Dow/DuPont, Bayer/Monsanto and Chem China/Syngenta and you could instead just let the carbon markets transfer the money from fossil fuel power stations direct to organic farmers, what would you do? Keep on propping up a dying industry or finally recognise that organic food, when the carbon is priced in, is actually cheaper than the degenerative kind that is destroying our available soil at the rate of 30 football fields per minute? (I can't repeat this often enough)

Governments have been holding back for quite a long time because of the immense political power of the agrichemicals industry and of the landowning fraternity. They passionately hate socialism in all its forms, until it comes to their welfare payments.

It's time for a change. We need to bring freedom to farming. Carbon pricing that encourages regenerative farming instead of degenerative farming is the way forward. Organic is good for you and the climate, too.

These bio-fools are killing us

Bio-fuel subsidies cost the US taxpayer $6 billion – for an end product that uses 70% more energy from fossil fuels to produce than it delivers. These bio-fools are killing us, warns Craig Sams

I spent mid-July in the withering heat of Nebraska and Iowa, in America’s Midwest. My grandchildren, who were on their first visit to the US to meet their farming relatives, were gobsmacked at the endless rows of corn, viewed from the train from Pittsburgh to Omaha.  You have to travel overland in the US to appreciate the scale. It helps that Amtrak trains are so slow, lumbering along at a pace that barely exceeds that of the covered wagon my great-grandparents rode when they went west more than a century ago.

40% of US corn is planted in order to be burned for energy. The most efficient way would be mix it with coal and co-fire it in power plants. Instead it is expensively fermented, then distilled, then shipped to gasoline companies who are obliged by law to blend it at 15% with gasoline. The idea is that the US isn’t dependent on those pesky A-rabs for their energy supplies. Only of course they are. The Middle East not only continues to supply most of America’s oil, they now supply most of the nitrate fertiliser that grows the Midwest corn that gets converted into ethanol to reduce dependency on the troubled Middle East. You couldn’t make it up.

Professor David Pimentel has done the maths.  Every gallon of ethanol costs $1.74 per gallon to produce (compared to $1.00/gallon for gasoline) and uses up 70% more energy from fossil fuels to produce than it delivers. The cost to the US taxpayer is $6 billion a year in ethanol subsidies. And all that corn that is burned up only supplies 1.3% of America’s gasoline supply.

Now global warming is coming to bite the whole thing firmly in the backside.  The US, with 6% of the world’s population, emits 25% of its greenhouse gases. The corn crop is failing as a prolonged drought takes its toll.  Never mind that Monsanto and the GM brigade have been promising drought-resistant crops for nearly 20 years. Throughout our journey we saw entire fields where the corn was yellow and shrivelled, not worth harvesting even for a few meagre ears.  Many more, planted confidently in expectation of 200 bushels (5 tonnes) per acre are unlikely to yield even half that much.   At the beginning of the year corn was priced at $4.80 a bushel, now it’s trading at over $8.

Cousin John in Nebraska, who raises hogs and buys in corn over and above what he can grow on 2000 acres, will have to pay more for his feed and will need to charge more for his hogs. Cousin Dan raises corn on 1800 acres for the local ethanol plant.  The oil companies have to buy the ethanol, by law.  All Dan has to do is get the crop in. Other farmers have sold their crops in advance when the price was up to $6 a bushel and will have to fulfil those contracts by buying corn in at $8 a bushel or will go bust. God is overwhelmed with prayers for rain. Keeping his religious options open, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said “I get on my knees every day and I’m saying an extra prayer right now,” Vilsack said. “If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”

The devastating combination of crazy legislation and global warming is reaching the end game.  Pity the poor US farmers caught in the middle on this one, but what about the rest of the world?  Earlier this year I met with Ashraf Hamouda of the World Food Programme.  The price of grain is set in Chicago on the basis of US corn prices. This also sets grain prices worldwide. So farmers who are getting good crops everywhere (including the UK) are raking it in while people who have to buy food are wondering where they will get the money to feed their families. Millions will starve to death and the world’s climate will go on getting worse.  All for a deluded subsidy scheme that benefits nobody.

Bio-Fools

Biofuels are causing environmental disaster. Let’s not be biofools...

Last year the average price of a food basket rose by 12%. There are legitimate reasons for this including rising oil prices and more demand for meat. Another cause, which concerns me here, is biofuels - the so-called ‘green’ saviour. The rush into biofuels is a scam to get rid of food surpluses by burning them. Instead of downsizing our cars, we are burning food for oil. Ethanol plants are taking one third of the entire US corn crop and turning it into alcohol for mixing with gasoline. It’s terribly inefficient, but the government gives ethanol plants a $1 gallon subsidy and charges less tax on biofuels at the service station. Many US states now require 15% ethanol to be added to gasoline at service station pumps. It’s another scam to waste taxpayers’ money on inefficient GM and industrial farming, this time under the guise of doing something to fight climate change. The US and the EU are both promoting biofuels as an eco-solution. Don’t be fooled. Two recently published groups of US research found that farming biofuels actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. Clearing carbon-rich peatland and rainforests to plant fuel crops releases even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The industrial manufacturing process only adds to biofuels’ carbon footprint. Grown on an industrial scale, biofuels end up accelerating climate change, not reducing it. Worst of all, the fundamental principle is flawed. If you put £1 million in the bank in July and then withdrew it in August and burned it, would you say you were £1 million better off? Of course not, but the crazy economics of biofuels do just that. When biofuels are burnt, carbon that has just been taken out of the atmosphere in the summer goes right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, later in the autumn. How on earth is that doing something good for the planet? If we really want to reduce greenhouse gases, then we need to put carbon into the soil and keep it there by farming organically. Carbon does far more good in the soil then it does harm in the air (as carbon dioxide). The soil on organic farms contains up to 6 times as much carbon (as humus) as on non-organic farms. Humus fertilises the soil naturally, retaining moisture and nutrients. But instead of turning land into carbon-rich stores, the EU Commission is calling for energy-intensive, greenhouse gas-forming biofuels. It has recently made new targets: 10% biofuels by 2010 at a pump near you. This will exhaust what little carbon remains in our once humus-rich fertiles soils, all to keep agribusiness going.If the US and EU paid farmers to turn their farms into carbon-capturing meadows and forests, we could add billions of tonnes of carbon to the soil carbon bank annually. But agribusiness doesn’t make money out of set-aside land – no market for chemicals, equipment or fertilisers - it makes money out of land relentlessly farmed to destruction. So we pay more for food as well as, through our taxes, for biofuels. And global warming gets worse.This has terrible social consequences as well as environmental ones. Most of Europe’s palm oil bio-diesel is imported from Indonesia, destroying the orangutan’s habitat and precious rain forest and its human inhabitants. Ethanol from Brazil comes from sugar cane that replaces Brazilian rainforest. We are converting other people’s land and food into fuel for us. EU policies subsidise the theft of land from forest-dwelling people. Nobody, not even Parliament, ever asked for or voted for this.Not in my name, please.