All humans depend on agriculture as a form of food. Agriculture does however contribute 9% of GHG emissions in the Hudson Valley, which must be reduced to zero emissions in the nearby future.
This is a task that needs to be navigated with minimal negative economic or social consequences. This can be achieved firstly through a top-down approach around policy and incentives such as carbon funding schemes or carbon farming land management best practices, such as soil health practices, storing carbon, managing or destroying methane, reducing energy demand, and using renewable energies. These practices would differ depending on the varying farming types and quantity of crop and/or livestock production.
Engaging local farmers is also crucial in the transitional process, which needs to be done by cultivating a healthy farming community, resilient enough to go through a proper and just transition into a new farming and agricultural future. This will mean addressing social issues like a farmer’s role in society but also their economic and mental wellbeing. Combined with new approaches to land use, technology, education, networks, and programs, we can start to understand a more productive and less carbon-intensive farming system that can demonstrate what resilient farming means. This local holistic approach, which will also partner with other community organizations will also hopefully draw new farmers to the land and help broadcast these positive paradigm changes to the wider farming community.
This bottom-up ‘people orientated’ approach will not only address the problems of the climate crisis but also of economic stability and social importance of farming for a better societal outcome.
Maximizing the potential of Agriculture
Let’s all put our farm hats and gumboots on for a minute.
What if you were a farmer in the Hudson Valley? - you’ve got the average size farm for the region which is 200 acres. It’s family owned and has been passed through the generations. You rely on your farm for your livelihood.
You have the standard annual monoculture crop which you rely on for income. Your crop makes $240 an acre, and that’s before you remove overheads.
In April you set the stage by tilling the earth and as a result remove more and more nutrients and the ability to sequest carbon in to the soil each year. Your are probably losing 4-10 tons of top soil per acre per year. You pump synthetics like nitrogen into the ground to improve soil quality which just pumps more GHG into the air and the fertilizer just ends up polluting your water ways. You’ll also apply your pesticides and drive your tractor and other farm vehicles around just to give the air a bit more to choke on.
What about if you had live stock? Unlikely you’ll own any sheep…..although it is one ruminant farm animal which emits minimal methane but brings two forms of income in wool and lamb. It is also the healthiest form of meat you can eat. Instead you’ll put your dairy cattle on the hamster wheel and pump them for everything they’ve got. Your days are long and their lives are short and you make a margin of 12 cents for every gallon of milk produced.
What if you had beef cattle. You’d make 5 cents for every $1 of beef you produce to get that food source to someone’s plate via a grain feedlot in middle America where the will be pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones The end result is poor quality meat which is produced fast and cheap.
Week in week out you are stressed and worry about making ends meet. You likely also live a lonely isolated life and feel obligated and tied to your farm as it is also part of your identity. You can understand why farmers have an ever increasing rate of depression and suicide.
Its also hard to imagine you’d make a large amount of profit….farms in Columbia County make $4k a year to be precise….. if you lived in Dutchess County $16k a year.
Contrary to the ongoing battle of industrial agriculture practices, the US contributes 9% of its GHG in agriculture, New York State 4% and the Hudson Valley a surprisingly low 0.64%
So what does this mean? Well under better farming practices yes, there is opportunity to sequester more than 0.64% and reach net zero GHG emission rate. There is an opportunity to actually be a GHG sponge and use agriculture as the platform to do that. And yes do it through an industry that has a stigma. A stigma as being a key culprit in GHG emissions, by turning the practices of that industry, not on it’s head, but by going back to practices before the Industrial Revolution.
Let’s go back to the beef cattle for a moment. If your cattle were grass fed and none of your steers ever went to a grain feedlot ……….hypothetically over a year with a herd of 50 cows and 80 calves you would emit 80 tons of GHG into the air, you also would use your tractor, which would emit another 32 tons of GHG. Through the process of rotational pasture management; which is not allowing your pastures to be eaten down to low, you could utilize soil as a carbon sink and sequest 500 tons of carbon.
That would mean that farm would remove 388 tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Sheep, not as big a player in releasing methane could be another agent. Might I add that sheep make up 1% of the meat livestock industry. In other countries sheep farmers are also generally the wealthiest types of farmers.
So livestock effectively become your key player in doing the right thing for the planet. But it doesn’t stop there. Through the practice of regenerative agriculture farmers can move away from industrial agriculture and sequest large amounts of carbon.
Through the change of farming practices farmers can use livestock to:
be the tool to create top soil, reduce erosion and allow water to be absorbed into farmlands better.
The stock can eat the off cuts and base of harvested crops which would render the process of tilling redundant. The livestock would also naturally drop manure into these fields eradicating the need for fertilisers.
So gone would be the days for a need for large carbon emiting crop machinery, fertilisers, and long haul trips to feedlots. This is going to be 20-30% of your revenue into your back pocket.
Diversification is another key to regenerative agriculture, which means you would effectively be creating your own little ecosystem in your farm. If done effectively it can also create larger opportunity for farmers to make a living.
In moving to diversified crops you should also strongly consider perennial crops or cover crops . This will enhance your earning potential and keep top soil where it should be.
Agriculture is in the DNA of the Hudson Valley
Naturally it is going to have a lot of farms. And these farms cover a diverse array of agricultural types. These types of farm types change the further north you travel up the Hudson. The livestock and crop nexus of diversity of agriculture is Columbia County.
It’s also far enough away from NYC to be disconnected from city folk.
So can this model of regenerative agriculture be pushed one step further and turned into a spatial physical farming community?
A community that is connected and works holistically together.
A space that is tangible and flexible and comes in the form of a farm corridor connected as a loop with opportunity to expand in the future.
A corridor which acts as the connector from farm to farm along collectively decided routes.
Think of it like a pasture road……which livestock can eat from as they are moved from one farm to another. And this would be pastures that would not be over grazed and are managed accordingly.
But the first question is why would livestock be moved from one farm to another and what purpose does this serve?
Firstly it embodies the practice of rotational pasture management.
It allows farmers with harvested crops or long pastures to agist their land and earn money from that lease.
It creates connectivity between farmers, which brings local communities together and ability to network.
It gets the practice of regenerative agriculture out into a public space and to be understood.
The other question is; along the corridor, what social or economic opportunities would exist?
Firstly it could be versatile as a pathway for humans to use as a form of passive recreation and connection from farm to farm, or farm to town.
An opportunity for key hubs along the corridor to have incubators or places of sale of fresh farm produce.
There is also an opportunity to link the corridor into key institutions such as schools to enable education of regenerative agriculture practices.
It will also be an attractive unique form of agritourism and instigate further forms of innovative agribusiness.
This spatial corridor is also tangible flexible.
It would allow separate corridors so livestock can move between or against eachother. These corridors could be segregated by silvopasture shelterbelt or alley crops.
There could also be smaller connection corridors between specific farms if there was kick back between certain farm types not buying into the concept.
Community based smart city technology would be the communicative tool to manage agistment opportunities through the corridor and the adjacent farming community.
There would also be seasonal opportunities to diversify the usage of corridor.
Overall there is an opportunity to rebuild local farm ecosystems, improve degraded soils and create opportunity to improve and create new local rural economies that surround these farms,
It would allow farmers to make a living and enable them to have an improved quality of life while also enticing for new and young farmers.
Setting a foundation for a just transition into a regenerative form of agriculture is crucial to the Hudson Valley, it’s framework is very closely aligned with the Green New Deal and it provides a far superior form of food to the Hudson Valley.