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Jeff Creque – Turning Farms into Carbon Storing Machines

Jan 15, 2020

Jeff Creque is the co-founder of the Marin Carbon Project and the director of agro-ecosystem management at the Carbon Cycle Institute. He is an expert in biodynamic farming and a pioneer of the carbon farming movement.

We chat with Jeff about the science, economics, feasability, and scalability of carbon farming as a climate change solution and a engine for healthier soils.

This week on Agriculture Adapts:

– The wide range of benefits of carbon farming: climate, soils, resilience, and productivity

– How compost revitalizes dead soil and accelerates carbon storage

– How do we ramp up carbon farming to a scale large enough to go toe-to-toe with global greenhouse gas emissions

00:00 / 00:00

Borna (ClimateAi) 0:04
This is Agriculture Adapts by ClimateAi. Every week we speak with industry leading executives, farmers and academics to get a 360 view of how the agriculture sector is innovating to stay ahead of a changing climate. I’m your host Borna Poursheikhani. And I am your co host Himanshu Gupta. We’re a team of climate scientists and agriculture entrepreneurs trying to make farming more resilient, profitable and equitable as we transition to a new age of agriculture. This podcast is our journey as we explore the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry that feeds the world.

Hello, and welcome. We have another exciting episode for you all here today. With us we have Jeff Creque, the co founder of the marine carbon project, and director of range land and agro ecosystem management at the carbon cycle Institute. Jeff, welcome. Thank you. Nice to be here. Very excited about this episode in pretty much all the previous conversations we’ve had on the podcast today. The question Carbon Farming and regenerative agriculture have come up. So very excited to dive in and learn more on that front. The way we usually start as we kind of hear a little bit about your story and your connection to agriculture as well as how you got to where you are today.

Jeff Creque 1:13
I got interested in, in the environment and and, and garbage specifically back in high school, very interested in compost got interested in soils through that avenue and then ultimately interested in agriculture. When I finished my undergraduate work at UC Santa Cruz, I immediately got myself into a biodynamic, French intensive horticulture, training opportunity on the Marine Corps marine county coast and started farming full time. And I did that for 25 years and learned a lot and got very interested in in the much broader question of the role of agriculture in the biosphere and ecosystem management and watershed restoration specifically,

Borna (ClimateAi) 1:58
curious how you defined by them. We sort of talked about biodynamic with some previous guests curious to see what your definition is there and the structure that you put around it.

Jeff Creque 2:08
My biodynamic training came through Alan Chadwick I studied for four years with a couple of his students, and briefly with Alan himself at his Kogelo garden. So I strongly influenced by by Chadwick. As you may know chaddock was a student of Rudolf Steiner and Steiner Of course, was the originator of biodynamic approach to agriculture. Chadwick is a Steiner student, I think had a kind of a unique take on biodynamic, somewhat different than what we generally see as sort of Pfeffer School of biodynamics. But nevertheless, you know, strong, strong direct connection to steiners work through through childhood. I think the core principle in biodynamics is really viewing the farm as a living organism and managing it as a Whole, which in you know, in modern terminology, we might, we might say seeing the farm as an ecosystem in and of itself.

Borna (ClimateAi) 3:08
Right. So how does that position itself next to regenerative agriculture? Is there a lot of overlap?

Jeff Creque 3:12
Yes, definitely, definitely some overlap some intersection and some differences. But I think regenerative agriculture, places itself within that broader realm of an agriculture that is intimately engaged with the ecological processes that support it, and is itself supportive of those processes. So that over time farming is is a means of actually enhancing the productive potential of the landscape.

Borna (ClimateAi) 3:40
Got it make sense? Okay, let’s dive into the meat here. What is the marine carbon project and what is its relationship to the carbon cycle Institute and what are you doing both those organizations?

Jeff Creque 3:51
So, marine carbon project grew out of some conversations a group of us was having back in the early 2000s. We were increasingly concerned about the climate crisis. We were all agricultural professionals or farmers or producers or consultants. And we knew there was a role for agriculture in the climate change equation. We felt there was a positive role for agriculture to play. And we had this idea that if we could activate that potential in Marin County, we might be able to create some kind of a brand based carbon market that would allow our, our urban brethren if you will, to support the good work that was being done on West Marin farms and ranches. So that that really kind of launched the project. We brought the marine Resource Conservation District was part of our founding group, marine agricultural land trust, UC extension, the marine ag Commissioner, just a number of folks who were all already professionally involved in in agriculture in Marin County. We very quickly came up against the question of how we were going to measure the changes in soil carbon that we were presuming would occur under a, a carbon focused agricultural framework. And so we went over to UC Berkeley and had a conversation with some, some researchers there and very quickly partnered up with Dr. Wendy silver about geochemist, UC Berkeley, who had done a lot of work with soil carbon dynamics in tropical forest systems, had not much familiarity with our coastal grassland systems in Northern California, but was very interested in working with us. He was also very skeptical that there was much we could do in those systems. Having spent over 25 years of my life at that point, building soil carbon on working landscapes somewhere and I was very confident that we could achieve something. And so it was a good partnership. We had the skeptical, hardcore scientists working with us to evaluate the impacts of the practices that we were implementing on marine lands. Dr. Wendy silver engaged her her graduate students are then graduate student Becker isles Now Dr. Becker ELLs at UC Merced said and Becker isles conducted her doctoral dissertation research on basically what happened next. What happened next was we decided to test whether we could increase soil carbon on marine rangelands, soils grazed rangeland soils.

And to test that hypothesis, we added some carbon to the system, and then came back to see if we could measure that change. To add carbon to the system. We decided to put half an inch of compost out on graze grassland in Marin County. And then we replicated that at the UC Experiment Station up in Brown’s Valley in Yuba County. And as I say, Becker Rouse conducted her doctoral research on what happened next. She looked at greenhouse gas fluxes resulting from the compost application and looked at net carbon flows and fluxes from from that practice. We try to as I said, half an inch of compost on in your one we put no further compost on all the plots from grazed, and the somewhat astounding result was that we saw a net increase in the flux of or the flow of carbon into those treated plots, accomplished treated plots, whereas the control plots were losing carbon throughout the experiment. Combining this empirical data with some modeling data back arouse was able to show that we could expect this flow of carbon into the system in response to that single application of compost. That continuing inflow of carbon into the ecosystem could be expected to continue for upwards of 100 years from that single compost application. So this was kind of astounding, an astounding result that that we had really not anticipated. We had expected an increase in soil carbon resulting from the compost application. But we had not expected the response of the ecosystem that we then actually saw and measured. So what we realized was that if we could enhance the capacity of the ecosystem to Capture photosynthetic carbon from the atmosphere. In other words, capture additional co2 from the atmosphere through enhanced photosynthetic activity of the growing in this case, range land system, we could essentially initiate a positive feedback process whereby that increased inflow of carbon, resulting in a net increase in soil carbon, and consequently in a net increase in soil fertility and water holding capacity would then drive subsequent additional capture of photosynthetic carbon each year following that initial influx of compost. And that was astounding because just as we’re facing a whole suite of positive feedbacks that are driving the destabilization of the climate system at the global scale, we have now identified a strategy for driving a suite of positive feedbacks at the local farm level scale that could If implemented at the global scale result in counteracting the very destabilizing impacts of climate change,

Borna (ClimateAi) 9:07
Jeff, I have a few questions there. Just before we move on here, I have tons of questions, but I’m gonna try to simplify them into one or two. So this point that you made about one compost application causing sequesteration for up to 100 years moving forward. What are the assumptions around that is that if that land is not tilled, and if it’s undergoing certain practices, it will continue to sequester over time. What was the frame of that study?

Jeff Creque 9:35
The trials were conducted on grazed permanent grassland. So there was no tillage. And the plants were graze. Now, what’s the role of grazing there? It’s a good question because our control plots which were also grazed, of course, continue to lose carbon throughout the trial period. So rangelands globally, on the whole are losing carbon right now. Probably It’s a function of warming conditions and changing climatic regimes as well as historical management. But what we found was when we could bump up the carbon content of the soils under those graze pastures, we could begin to support that pasture vegetation in enhanced photosynthetic capture, which was overriding that loss of carbon that was ongoing on the control plots. So yes, no tillage involved in that case. What we realized, however, was, although compost is a very potent strategy for increasing soil carbon, there are in fact many, many ways to increase soil carbon on the working landscape. And that led us then to move just beyond compost and to realize, develop this process we call carbon form planning which is a Systems Approach to agriculture, which allows us to evaluate the potential of any given farm landscape for enhanced carbon capture using a whole suite of conservation practices that have really been deployed by agriculture really since the Dust Bowl era, through the framework of the Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And so we’ve moved beyond a single practice to engaging a comprehensive framework of both technical assistance and conservation practice on the landscape that engages the owner, land manager with technical service providers, and a deep history of soil building conservation practices, that as I say, go back at least to the Dust Bowl and actually long before that,

Borna (ClimateAi) 11:58
and that is the carbon cycle Institute. This new framework, which you just defined is essentially the goal of the carbon cycle Institute, which is to spread the information and provide the tools necessary for people to adopt Carbon Farming or carbon farm planning. Am I understanding this correctly?

Jeff Creque 12:13
That’s exactly right. The carbon cycle Institute grew out of the Marine carbon project because the nature of the marine carbon project being a essentially a county based program formed with several county based institutions really didn’t have the capacity to work beyond the boundaries of Marin County. And so we realized we needed a framework to expand our work and that’s why the carbon cycle Institute was formed as a nonprofit 501 c three. And our work now is to promote the concept of Carbon Farming and carbon farm planning. Throughout the framework or the existing framework of the resource conservation districts, the Resource Conservation Districts exist in In almost every county in the United States, they were formed out of the Dust Bowl era, in conjunction with the Soil Conservation Service, as the federal agency realized it needed local boots on the ground to get the work done. And so, at the same time the Soil Conservation Service was formed. The resource conservation districts in some cases known as Soil and Water Conservation Districts, or soil conservation districts, were also formed at the local level to engage local producers in land management practices that that could lead to soil conservation and soil improvement. So those institutions still exist in many cases that are highly functional. And so we’re Our goal is to engage with those institutions, support them in developing their own carbon farm programs at the local level, and then hopefully, seeing that work being spreading out throughout their districts as they get up to speed on this work.

Borna (ClimateAi) 13:57
So what are some of the most powerful or scalable tools that you guys recommend people use if they want to sort of start making the shift from being an emitter to a net sequester.

Jeff Creque 14:09
We have a suite of about 35 or so practices that have been formalized and codified now within the framework of the tool that Colorado State has developed for evaluating the sort of quantifying the benefits of various conservation practices. That tool is called comet planner, a parallel tool, comet farm boats freely available online. Within that suite of 35 or so practices, there’s a whole set of agroforestry practices from windbreaks to shelterbelts to silvopasture. So engaging or adding woody perennials into the cropping system is a powerful strategy. riparian restoration in our region happens to be a particularly powerful approach. Simply restoring the function plant communities of our riparian areas is amazing. productive. Billy throughout the West, the riparian areas of our working lands are probably the the most productive components of landscape. So if they’re, if they’re functioning fully, they’re sequestering a lot of carbon. In addition there, there’s obviously compost application is a is a huge opportunity, particularly as we divert organics away from landfills where they’re emitting methane and and move that into aerobically produce compost and get that out onto the working lands huge opportunity there in California with some 30 million metric tons of organic waste going into landfill every year. And then, you know, getting away from tillage, of course, adding cover crops, where there’s currently a bare fallow. Integrating livestock into cropping systems can be a powerful tool, improving the way we manage livestock, the way we graze our range lands and pastures. All of those strategies can be combined to sort of mutually support each other and, and really initiate That positive feedback process that we so clearly saw taking place on the marine carbon project plots.

Borna (ClimateAi) 16:09
Right? So it seems like there’s a lot of potential here. What are the different levers that the resource conservation districts can pull to incentivize Carbon Farming? Like, what are they doing on the ground? So I’m imagining you guys are providing the information. And they’re the ones that are sort of creating these plans or incentive programs that are more tuned into what the local area needs and what the local requirements are. So how are they going about thinking about this and getting these sorts of projects implemented?

Jeff Creque 16:40
So the the resource conservation districts, in many ways have been doing this and similar work for decades since the 1930s, since they were formed? What’s new, I guess, is the well two things are new one is the urgency and magnitude of the climate crisis. And then there’s the growing awareness among the districts themselves, but also in the agencies that have historically supported the resource conservation districts and awareness of the potential the enormous positive potential of working landscapes to be part of the climate solution. And so the districts generally have been supported through a couple of different mechanisms. In some states or some parts of states. They are supported with ongoing core funding from their counties or their states. State of Washington, for example, provides core funding to its our CDs, California does not, but there are counties in California that do provide core funding to their districts. So there’s there’s a huge opportunity there if states want to step up and make sure that our CDs are are properly supported. This work can be scaled quite quickly, given that they don’t receive state funding in many cases. As for core funding from states, the RCTs are extremely adept at sourcing funds through various agencies in California. The work has been supported by the Department of Food nag through its healthy soils program. It’s been supported through the Wildlife Conservation Board, recognizing the central role of working landscapes in providing wildlife habitat. Efficient Wildlife Commission has provided support the California Coastal Conservancy has provided funding to coastal county Resource Conservation Districts or their work in this arena. So there are there have been a number of sources. There’s also been some philanthropic funding. And there’s also been some funding coming through in the form of support for supply chain. So we’re seeing manufacturers supporting suppliers of say, products coming off of agricultural land such as wool, cotton, hemp, and so forth. So a number of different stripes. Jews are coming into play here to support the work on the ground. And much more, of course, is needed because for this work to be an effective climate solution needs to really go full scale, we need to engage, really the majority of agriculture in this effort.

Borna (ClimateAi) 19:17
Right. I totally agree. I’m curious to get your thoughts on the approach that we as a society need to take towards this problem, though, do you think that the way to go is to frame it as this is a problem that’s imminent? And we need to sort of do everything we can to solve the problem? Or do you think it’s more about getting the right footing and the right phrasing and the right research to promote things like soil health, productivity and how that connects to improve profits and yields? Because some initial reading I’ve been doing and correct me if I’m wrong, is that those things are linked a lot of the same practices you may put in place to become an ESA Questor are oftentimes practices that will make you have a more productive farm. So where do you think is more Important, or do you think we need both them? It just seems to me like we don’t have enough money or political will to either incentivize or promote this issue to the skill necessary to achieve the goals that we want to achieve in the time that we want to achieve them. And that a more effective route may be to put a lot of our effort towards doing research on things like how do these practices affect profits and yields and sort of just spin it off on that front? A lot of my background is in the clean energy space. And a lot of the big stuff that happened in California in the clean energy sector was because it stopped being framed as an issue of climate change, and it was moving towards being framed as pollution and our kids are getting asthma and, you know, putting it in terms of matter most to the people so curious to get your thoughts on that.

Jeff Creque 20:48
Yeah, I think I think make a very good point. And I think it’s sort of all of the above right. Audience is obviously important. There’s a whole segment of the ad community that that is in denial of a Climate change or simply doesn’t want to talk about it. And so yeah, your audience is important. Your message has to be key to your audience. I think you’re right, we need to emphasize the on farm benefits, and the economic benefits of changing our farming practices. But at the social level, or the larger societal level, we need to be valuing this work. And currently, we’re not as a number of farmers have said to me, hey, pay me to sequester carbon and I will do it in spades. And, and that’s been our problem. We’ve been able to take carbon for granted. But we can’t do that anymore. And we can’t do it for a couple of reasons. You can’t do it because we’ve burned up our stored carbon. We’ve had an extractive model of agriculture that has been dependent on soil, he missed that. And so a carbon that has been been there for you know, the accumulated over millennia, and that we’ve now basically use it up and at the same time, we’ve got a crisis on our hands due to an excess of carbon in the app. So putting those two things together is critical. How we convinced producers to do that is I think all modes have to be utilized. And, and one of the most potent ones, I think would be to put a value on carbon, that would incentivize producers to really think hard about how they might capture more carbon on their working lives. And that’s what we try to do with a carbon farm planning process. But an economic incentive would be extremely helpful, be a big driver in making that work happen faster at scale.

Borna (ClimateAi) 22:34
curious to see what price on carbon would be necessary, because California does have a carbon market today. But I imagine the price is drastically lower than what it needs to be to see action on this front. Has there been any research on what price would be required for us to start seeing widespread implementation of carbon farming practices?

Jeff Creque 22:55
I have seen a few papers that have speculated on what kind of evidence several models actually developed showing levels of adoption at varying levels of value per tonne of co2. Where I see the level I see where we we could really initiate significant response is at about $100 a tonne for co2, which is, you know, quite reasonable when you look at, say, the low carbon fuel standard, which is at about $200 a tonne right now, or even the social cost of carbon, which is about, I think at about $100 a tonne right now. So, it’s not at all an unreasonable level and when we think about the financial implications of catastrophic climate change, which is unfolding as we speak, hundred dollars a ton is chump change. Really, we just have to decide collectively that we’re we’re willing to spend that money.

Borna (ClimateAi) 23:52
That’s kind of the consensus in the energy industry as well. Hundred sometimes some people go up to $200 a ton. If we put a price uncommon wood farmers get taxed more for certain practices or where they only receive money for sequestering if we’ve got farmers

Jeff Creque 24:09
making so much money that their taxes go up. You know, I think there’s a lot of farmers that that would be okay with that. I think agriculture is struggling, particularly medium and small scale agriculture is really hurting right now. And we have the opportunity, I think, with a carbon, a real price on carbon for agriculture, that could really support the kind of agriculture that that many folks are thinking we really we really need to be supporting. As you know, we have a lot of incentives going to agricultural practices that are probably ill advised in terms of their overall impact on the environment and the climate. We could take we could take that money and put it into supporting practices on farm That would be climate beneficial, and it would support medium and small farmers. And I think that would be generally recognized as a as a social good.

Borna (ClimateAi) 25:11
Agreed. I want to go back to this point that we were talking about earlier about connecting Carbon Farming to things like productivity yields and profits. What are we seeing in terms of improvements that matter you know, directly for for farmers,

Jeff Creque 25:26
most dramatically, we’re seeing an increase in the water holding capacity of soils. So in California, and really throughout the western United States, the ability of soils to absorb water and hold water through the dry season is hugely important, particularly as we face warming drying conditions in conjunction with climate change. We’ve seen very significant increases in water holding capacity associated with our the implementation of our carbon farm plans. Small increases in in water holding capacity across large acreage resulted in enormous amounts of water being sequestered. We were part of it. study that was conducted by the USGS published last year as part of the fourth climate assessment, showing the potential to store roughly 6 million acre feet of water in the state soil simply by increasing the soil organic matter by 3%. Across the 44 million acres or so, of working lands in the state, that is about 10 times the amount of water that the proposed increase in the height of Shasta Dam would hold. So we’re talking about large amounts of water that could be stored in our soils in California and throughout the western United States. If we were to focus on increasing the organic manner in those soils, which would in turn that allow them to capture and hold longer into the dry season any precipitation that did actually follow our any irrigation water that was applied as well. So water is a huge one. Additionally is the fertility question. So fertility is intimately tied to the carbon content of the soil. We have simply, as I said earlier, we’ve taken carbon for granted we’ve provided soluble nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium in particular, that’s we basically farmed hydroponically for the last 50 years. If we start to build our soil organic matter, there are nutrients associated with that carbon, which can then be provided to our agricultural ecosystems in a way that is essentially biological rather than chemical in nature, and support healthy functional soil systems and ecosystems and get away from this soluble, highly volatile approach to soil fertility. That has resulted, as we all know, in enormous dead zones throughout all the major river systems of the world, has aggravated air pollution in the Central Valley by the emission of nitrous oxide from those chemical fertilizers and on and on and on and on. So again, it’s a question of does this You want to put a value on the benefits that could be accrued on our working landscapes? Are we going to continue to pay for solving the problems at the back end, instead of preventing them at the front end? And that’s, that’s where we’re already spending the money. That’s the that’s the irony here. We’re already spending the money trying to clean up the mess. If we diverted that money to supporting good practice, we could we could solve both of these problems simultaneously.

Borna (ClimateAi) 28:25
Right? Yeah, that definitely resonates with me. I mean, that’s the whole crux of, of our company here at climate is how do we create a system where we don’t have to rely on Band Aid solutions, and we can create a systemic change where we have the information and the practices necessary to avoid you know, just getting out relief funds when when problems happen and creating a system where the proper things are incentivized so people can operate more efficiently and end up actually saving money across the board. curious what incentives currently exist, and I’d imagine they’re different state by state, but I guess we can focus on California, given that the carbon market is not, or carbon is not priced at a level for which people will be incentivized to implement carbon farming practices? What are the current subsidies or incentives or plans that are in place in California, and maybe federally as well, that promote carbon farming practices?

Jeff Creque 29:22
Well, as I as I mentioned earlier, the Soil Conservation Service now the Natural Resources Conservation Service has several programs that have supported on farm conservation work that’s specifically for carbon benefit. But as we know, there are good carbon benefits associated with many of those practices. And so the Environmental Quality Enhancement or Improvement Program, or equip is a major program. And there are several other federal programs through the USDA that support good practice on farm, the California healthy soils initiative. Quite new initiative for the state of California, just three or four years old now has been growing steadily in scope, still infinitesimal compared to the magnitude of agriculture in California, but growing and I think the understanding of the program and of the potential is also growing through that program. Again, there are a number of manufacturers that are supporting their producers. Now it is starting to its small scale, North Face, for example, Patagonia, is providing funding for what I would call small pilot projects, producing a very small percentage of their overall production, but nevertheless, recognizing the potential and using the story that they can then tell to market that particular line of products. There’s an emerging movement through the restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly called restore California that is looking at basically posing a virus Metairie tax, if you will, on restaurant goers to support on farm practices that are climate beneficial. And they’re not putting a price on carbon per se, but rather simply developing a pool of funding that can then be deployed to producers to help them implement practices. And again, linking directly the food on the table to the carbon in the soil, if you will, as well as the other state agencies I mentioned earlier, the coastal Conservancy, fish and wildlife, and the Wildlife Conservation Board all clearly beginning to understand the nexus between working landscapes, functional ecosystems, and the climate. So as that awareness grows, hopefully we’ll see increasing support from all of those all of those directions.

Borna (ClimateAi) 31:49
What is the scale of this solution? Let’s say if like 50% of farms or farmers across the country, we’re using Carbon Farming practice. Like, do we know how many equivalent like coal plants that would be to be removed? Or how many tons of carbon that would be to be removed? Like, what is the scale of this potential solution?

Jeff Creque 32:11
We haven’t really played with that too much. But there are a couple of couple of efforts have been sort of pointed in that direction. As you know, the the French Ministry of Agriculture proposed the concept of the four per thousand initiative back in 2015. And basically suggesting that if we could increase soil carbon by point 4% annually, across the working landscapes of the world, we would completely offset global emissions. So Adam chambers and others published a paper back in 2016, saying, Well, what does that mean for the United States? What would the for 4000 and it should mean for the United States agriculture, and they suggest in their analysis that we could sequester about 800,000 I’m sorry, 800 million metric tons of co2 annually across the United States, if we were to deploy carbon farming practices at scale across the United States now, I actually believe that’s quite a modest a very conservative estimate. I believe we could do that. In California alone. We have 20 million acres of arable land in California, that is cropland and intensively managed pasture land, most of it in the Central Valley. If we were to increase soil organic matter, by 1%, just 1%. On that 20 million acres, we would be essentially transferring 341 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to carbon in the soil organic matter. And that’s a 1% increase across the 20 million acres arable acres of the state.

Borna (ClimateAi) 33:55
Is that physiologically possible like 1%? I just had don’t have intuition or round like how much that actually is, what is the rate at which these practices are sequestering carbon we see

Jeff Creque 34:06
sequesteration rates of everything from point 005 tonnes per acre per year, which is just about nothing up to three tonnes per acre per year by stacking multiple practices, and again, this is this is very soil dependent, climate dependent crop dependent system dependent. I personally have had the opportunity to take soils from about one and a half percent to upwards of 8% even 11%. In my agricultural work in Marin County number in is, is somewhat, I won’t say it’s unique because it’s not unique, but it is a fairly benign environment in which you try to build soil carbon. I believe that we can do this across the state of California, that 1% increase is a it’s really a easy thing to do. 3% is more challenging, but it can be done. We need to remember that again. We’ve got some 30 million metric tons of organic waste that doesn’t have a home in California right now that could be transformed into compost and be going on to our agricultural lands, building soil carbon in environments where it’s very difficult to do in situ, if you will, it may be hard to build one or two or 3% soil carbon in place. But if you can add 20 tons of compost on an annual basis from outside the system, from redeploying waste products, you can quickly build that soil organic matter and maintain that that level indefinitely simply by bringing in those external inputs. So I strongly believe this can be done. I’ve certainly done it myself enough to be very confident in that statement. And I would love to see a statewide challenge even a 1% challenge, you know, 1% by 2025 would be a great goal for the governor to set right now. Let’s Let’s increase soil organic matter by one present across 20 million acres of California by 2025. And then see where we go from there. It can be a great challenge for all of us engaged in agriculture in California.

Borna (ClimateAi) 36:10
How easily is that carbon readmitted once it’s sequestered into the soil? So you said you increased your soil carbon content from 1% to 11%, I believe on some of your land and myrin. How long did that take you to get to that point? And then how long would it take you to recommit all that carbon back through the exact opposite and poor practices

Jeff Creque 36:31
that took me about 12 years of pretty intensive work, lots of compost, lots of agroforestry practices, integrating grazing into my orchard system. Lots of different approaches were taken, all focused on increasing soil organic matter. And if somebody decided to cut down the trees and plow it up and turn it into a bean field, much of that carbon would be emitted over the next decade or so. So yes, it could be lost very, very quickly. And this is why it’s, you know, we need to get beyond practices alone and really engage agriculture in an entirely different framework than the one we’ve historically had, which is in, you know, an extractive agriculture focused on producing as much as we can from the from the landscape without consideration of the long term, viability and productivity of our soils. So yes, there’s a real risk of reversal with all of these practices. The question is, can we maintain a net flow of carbon from the atmosphere to the soil long enough to build up those carbon levels to where we can afford to lose some carbon lose some here gain some there as long as the net gain is positive. We really need to understand that carbon doesn’t need to be stored permanently in the soil. We just need to have a net flux into the soil rather than out of the soil. carbon cycle is a cycle. Living soils breathe, they exhale, co2 The question is, what’s the net direction of flow?

Borna (ClimateAi) 38:04
And if we look at a farm, like one specific farm, what are the factors that determine that rate of flux? So what are the factors that determine how much carbon you’re sequestering? I imagine, obviously, the practices you’re putting in place, but how much does like your soil type come into play? How much does the amount of carbon in the atmosphere locally above your farm come into play things like that? What are the differences here that we can see from farm to farm?

Jeff Creque 38:30
Yeah, soils, of course, are critical. Soils with more clay tend to be better at hanging on carbon that’s fixed photosynthetically sandy soils have a hard time hanging on to their carbon. However, there are thresholds in all of these systems where in sandy soils are no exception where once we achieve a certain level of of organic matter, we can begin to build organic matter more quickly. And again, their Saturation levels and all of these soils to where other than extra money inputs of organic matter, it may become increasingly difficult as solar organic matter increases in any given soil to continue to increase carbon in that soil, net co2 over the farm system. There are not huge variations in the global scale and that but as we know, increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are driving increased rates of plant growth. They’re also driving declines in the nutritional status of of crops because we now have more carbon and less of other nutrients in our crop systems. So there is a positive side of that increase in co2 from the perspective of increasing plant growth, but there’s also a negative side in terms of decreasing quality and concentration of nutrients within those crops. So, you know, overall, I think our goal has to be focused on decreasing co2 in the atmosphere, with the benefit been increasing. soil organic carbon in the soil. And again, it will vary across systems. Somebody who wants to do monocrop corn is going to have a really hard time building soil carbon under that system. That’s why we’ve taken this whole farm approach. We’d like to see even in a monocrop corn system, how about integrating someone breaks and shelterbelts in that system? Maybe you can bring your neighbor’s livestock in, in the offseason and graze off that corn stubble. Maybe you can integrate a an annual cover crop under that corn or or following that corn. So again, it’s a question of taking a whole system’s approach and meeting the farmer where they are looking at what the opportunities are within the system that got and then supporting them in adapting that system or modifying that system to become more climate beneficial, if you will, or more soil carbon beneficial. If you want to talk about soil carbon and soil health instead of climate

Borna (ClimateAi) 40:58
is speaking of corn Do you guys have plans to expand to the rest of the us right now? Are you primarily focused on California, especially the US and then global?

Jeff Creque 41:07
Yeah, so we’re a small shop. There’s five of us now. We’re really dependent and happy to be working with our resource conservation districts. As I mentioned earlier, there are districts, really in almost every county in the country. Some counties have more than one. So our focus right now is deployed in California. But we have we work with folks in other states, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, New York, Vermont, we’re happy to engage in conversation with anybody who wants to talk to us really who’s doing this work. But our focus is in California right now is as really the largest agricultural producer in country, one of the largest agricultural economies in the world. And and there’s lots and lots of work to be done here. But we are, we definitely recognize this work has to be scaled Globally to really have the kind of impact that we all we all wanted to have.

Borna (ClimateAi) 42:05
And also, I guess we’re getting ready to close up here. But how can people go about supporting your work either at marine carbon project or carbon cycle Institute? And how can they get involved if they want to?

Jeff Creque 42:16
Well, they certainly start by visiting our websites are in carbon and carbon That’ll give you more background in terms of our work, and then feel free to get in touch with us. We’re pretty good about responding to inquiries and happy to talk to folks about work and, and provide whatever information we can help folks get started on their own program in their own region. Awesome. Well, thank

Borna (ClimateAi) 42:41
you for all the awesome work you’re doing. I personally really appreciate it. I know a lot of our listeners do as well. And I really learned a lot today. Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate it.

Jeff Creque 42:49
Thanks so much Borna

Borna (ClimateAi) 42:52
Hey, everybody, thanks for listening. If you have any feedback, or you’d like to add your own two cents on the topic discussed today, or if you’ve just got your own idea about someone that we should discuss in the future, please feel free to shoot me an email at At its core, this podcast is just a way for us to learn and we want to share our learnings as we go. So we’re always open to building on these conversations and hearing new perspectives. Thanks for your support and see you next time.


Jeff Creque

Director, Rangeland and Agroecosystem Management at Carbon Cycle Institute



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