Carbon Capture & Storage in Canadian Agriculture

carbon capture and agriculture in Canada

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a new and important tool in lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the fight against climate change. This method of taking climate action has shown a lot of promise not just in Canada, but around the globe.

The IPCC’s report of global warming of 1.5ºC states there isn’t a successful target pathway that doesn’t include CCS in the plan, therefore CCS is something we’re going to be seeing a lot more of in reducing man-made GHG emissions and improving environmental standards.

Carbon capture and sequestration are being practiced and developed in varying ways and also in varying industries. Today, we’ll be focusing on how CCS technology is being utilized by farmers and the agricultural industry, and how it can improve the environment for the better.

If you’d like to learn more about GHG’s and CCS, check out “Carbon Sequestration: What it is, Why it’s Important & How it’s Contributing to Lowering GHG Emissions.”

Basics of CCS in Canadian Agriculture

According to the Government of Canada, “10% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are from crop and livestock production, excluding emissions from the use of fossil fuels or from fertilizer production.” And of these GHG’s, the gases that contribute the most to emissions from agriculture are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and Nitrous oxide (NO). 

When it comes to carbon dioxide, agricultural CCS incorporates a carbon sink, which is effectively an area where large amounts of carbon are naturally stored and kept, due the carbon input being greater than the carbon output. If this is the opposite - the output being greater than the input - then it would be considered a carbon source.

These levels can fluctuate based on the amount of plant matter being stored and the level of carbon emitted through decomposition. In agriculture, the soil ideally acts as the carbon sink, sequestering and storing carbon in organic vegetation and matter. In order to maintain the status of the soil being a carbon sink, there are few methods happening right now in Canada which are ensuring the capture of carbon by soil.

Canada Home to 20% of Major Carbon Capture and Storage Facilities

What is "Carbon Farming?"

Carbon farming focuses on planting crops to increase the ability for the soil to uptake and store carbon dioxide by using various farming methods like zero-till agriculture, organic materials for fertilizer, and planting crops with longer root systems. Approaches like these allow the soil to have a greater capability to sequester carbon dioxide and ensures it stays trapped within the ground.

What is “Zero-Till Agriculture?"

Zero-Till Agriculture is a practice in regenerative gardening and design, which utilizes the method of allowing the soil to develop naturally without any mechanical disturbance. Build-up of natural material from past years of farming are left on top, and holes are simply punctured for seeds to be planted.

Benefits of Zero-Till Agriculture

  • Reduces fuel usage significantly, and by proxy, GHG emissions
  • Decreases the risk of soil erosion and agitation
  • Water can be better retained by the soil, which improves infiltration and lessens runoff, lessening water waste

Carbon Storage in Vegetation

Various types of vegetation, especially coastal types like mangroves and seagrasses, naturally sequester significantly larger amounts of carbon dioxide than terrestrial forests. Restoring and extending these types of habitats and vegetation increases the potential to hold a lot more carbon dioxide, rather than adding it to the atmosphere!

Additionally, increasing variety in plant life and vegetation improves the ability for the soil to sequester carbon. Studies have shown that higher soil carbon rates can be associated with greater biodiversity; multiple species and greater roots systems. Regenerating ecosystems in degraded agricultural lands proves to further bolster this natural sequestration and storage.

Regenerative Cattle Farming

We know that cattle farming produces GHG emissions in the form of methane, but another understated factor that seems to create a lot of environmental damage is, in fact, the impact on the grass itself. When farmers allow cattle to graze on the same land plot consistently, the grass doesn’t have the opportunity to grow to its taller potential. Shorter grass equals shorter roots.

The limited size of the root systems means that the land has less carbon sequestration potential - that is to say, the larger and longer the roots grow, the more carbon can be stored in the soil. To remedy this, an alternate method of cattle farming has been introduced and is slowly making its way in being practised across Canada.

The holistic principle of this regenerative practice allows the cattle to graze on a new controlled area and then not return to the land plot for at least a couple months - this allows the grass to grow much taller, because the fertilizer from the cattle is able to stimulate longer-lasting growth, thus capturing more carbon.

It’s not the cattle, it’s our management that’s the problem. To concentrate them all into a huge feedlot, that’s an ecological disaster.” Says Blain Hjertaas, a livestock farmer practicing regenerative cattle farming in southeastern Saskatchewan. At the same time, this also mimics the natural behaviour of migrating cattle, creating longer periods of recovery for the land.

  • Fun fact: Cows have evolved to develop a taste for sweeter grasses and a sense of where to find them - funnily enough, the longer and taller the grass grows, the tastier it is. Naturally, cattle would move around and eventually come back to the same plots months later, knowing it would be sweeter by then. Funny how the methods that make the most sense logically, can also bring the most benefit to the environment!

As we can see, there are so many ways Canada is becoming a leader in green technology and innovation, as well as regenerative, ecologically-minded design that improves people, planet, and prosperity.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the varying practices of carbon sequestration, tune in to our next eco-blogs, which will discuss CSS in the many different industries Canada has to offer.

About the Author

Tatiana Pratt - Students for Canada

Tatiana Pratt is an environmental studies student completing her final year at Carleton University. She works with Canada Action and Students for Canada (SFC) as an eco-blogger, and is also chair of the new climate committee for SFC. Tatiana desires to help create a balance in the conversations surrounding climate change and natural resources, and values equal distribution of care for each crucial pillar - people, planet and prosperity. Tatiana hopes her work with Canada Action and Students for Canada helps bridge the divide between Canadian students and citizens, to meet in the middle and create positive solutions for Canada's future.

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