2015: International Year of Soils

Published on December 13th, 2014
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Intl Year Soils logo hi resThe Carbon Farming Course proudly supports the International Year of Soils.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been nominated to implement the IYS 2015, within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with Governments and the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

“The International Year of Soils will help us pave the road towards sustainable development for all and by all.”

 José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

The promotion of sustainable soil and land management is central ensuring a productive food system, improved rural livelihoods and a healthy environment. The following infographic helps to highlight how important soils are.



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Perennial Staple Crops Presentation

Published on December 12th, 2014
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A quick video presentation Eric Toensmeier prepared with Rafter Ferguson for the American Society of Agronomy Annual Meeting on existing perennial staple crops and their yields compared to annual staples.


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Greg Judy Talks About Holistic HighDensity Grazing

Published on December 11th, 2014
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Greg Judy presented at the 12th Annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference in 2011.  His presentation “The Healing Effects of Holistic High Density Grazing on Land, Livestock & People’s Lives” is linked here.  Greg Judy is the owner of Green Pastures Farm in Rucker, Missouri.

This is a great presentation and one we think you’ll appreciate watching. We know it will be even better training with Greg Judy live at the Carbon Farming Course February 3 – 22, 2015 at the Taconic Retreat & Conference Center in Milan, NY.  Greg’s class “Holistic Grazing & Management” is offered Feb 3 – 5.   Register today!


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Thoughts on Growing Clean Water: Moving Toward a Deep Topsoil Future. Part I.

Published on December 10th, 2014
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By Abe CollinsAbe Collins - Keyline Farming

I imagine and work for a deep topsoil future.  In this future, it is widely recognized that the topsoil that farmers and graziers grow is the source of clean water with regular flow and minimized drought, flooding and damage to built infrastructure.  The soil aggregate is understood as the fundamental unit of infrastructure that sustains our families and economies. Communities have gone through a committed, ten-year push to blanket their watersheds in new topsoil and now work to maintain and continue growing that topsoil.   People  enjoy the security, wealth and opportunity that deep, aggregated topsoil enables and economic and natural resource policies are aligned with and support land managers in growing new topsoil.

The deep topsoil future I work for is a near-term objective.   The roots of this future are well established today, mostly on outlier farms and ranches. Real progress toward this future is occurring now, for example, with the rapid spread of combined cocktail cover cropping and good grazing.

Potential for accelerated progress toward a deep topsoil future can be framed as the potential for the scaling across landscapes of soil formation processes which occur within a gram of soil in a field in a growing season.   A farmer can grow new soil aggregates in the root zone of an oat plant  within weeks.  Set-stocked pastures with 5 cm of average plant height can yield average phosphorus in runoff 370% greater than pastures with 10 cm of residual pasture left after a grazing event (Haan et al., 2006).    Physical loosening of compacted pastures with a subsoiler can, in an afternoon,  reduce runoff from a field to near-zero.   Over the last 60 years many Keyline graziers, including me,  have increased functional A-horizon topsoil depth between 2″ and 8″ in a single year.

5-Shank Keyline Plow

Deep topsoil watersheds in a decade?

After flooding from Tropical Storm Irene devastated numerous communities  and watersheds in Vermont in 2011, the slogan “Vermont Strong”  appeared on bumpers  across the state.   The slogan embodies the spirit of strength, neighborliness and determination  apparent while we worked through the terrible effects of a high-rainfall event that exceeded the capacity of the land to infiltrate, hold and slowly release water. Can we harness the same unity of purpose that people showed during this flood crisis to proactively blanket our watersheds with deep topsoil within a decade?  I think so.

Based on the the speed with which  I have seen soil health improve in a root-ball and across a whole farm, because of the pronounced need for increased water security everywhere and because of the current availability of tools for holistic policy formation and environmental monitoring, I can imagine communities achieving deep topsoil watersheds within a focused decade.  I can imagine tens and hundreds of communities within their respective sub-watersheds cumulativey “growing clean lakes” within similar time-frames.

We don’t have to wait for one watershed to finish before the next begins.  I propose that the race is on between watersheds.

Stream gauges measuring water flow and quality at the outlets of watersheds provide sound measurement of the outcomes of policy and land management across a watershed.  Policy and land management processes to achieve deep topsoil watersheds will necessarily include voluntary, widely distributed real-time environmental monitoring by individual farms in a close feedback loop with agricultural management, including monitoring of weather, soil, water, biodiversity, agricultural yield and the relationships between all of these variables.  Such voluntary “farm observatories” are not proposed as a way to catch bad actors, but as cost-shared, Best Management Practice, real-time environmental dashboard systems for dedicated land managers.  We couldn’t operate safe highway systems if drivers did not have speedometers.  The same principle applies for communities and land managers working to grow deep topsoil watersheds.  The speed of innovation  in the development of sensor-based, networked environmental monitoring technologies and data-analysis systems is historically unprecedented and will accelerate as demand grows.


Solving problems hasn’t grown new topsoil.

Like most people, I’m deeply troubled by the severity of the environmental insecurity corner we’ve painted ourselves into.   Topsoil loss, water pollution, flooding, natural disaster damage to built infrastructure, malnutrition and hunger, climate change, the sixth extinction event. The list goes on.  Faced with these problems, our natural instinct is to clearly define a given problem and formulate a plan of attack to fix it.  This approach works well for repairing broken laptops or reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants, but has proved ineffectual for addressing complex environmental problems.  A case in point is the nutrient loading and eutrophication of Lake Champlain, which I live next to and care deeply for.  A policy goal of “reducing phosphorus loading of the lake” has not shown evidence of its ability to achieve widespread, timely growth of the healthy topsoil which will ultimately be the deep solution to a healthy lake.  Nor does this problem-fixing approach identify the farmers who can grow the topsoil health as the front line in achieving a deep topsoil solution, or formulate policy that consistently supports and further enables them in growing that topsoil.

Everyone working on “reducing pollution to the lake”  is sincere and determined to achieve that goal, and the intelligence and creativity of people involved in the effort is notable.  There is high probability that the problem-solving approach can reduce phosphorus loading of a lake.  However, the initial framing in terms of solving a pollution problem makes achieving the deep topsoil solution an upstream row.  Focusing on solving a pollution problem has also lead to blame, denial, resistance, piecemeal solution proposals and various programs to persuade, incent and regulate farmers into adopting Best Management Practices (BMPs) which are predicted to cumulatively lead to lower phosphorous loading of the lake.  Though promotion and adoption of BMPs may have been the best we could do in by-gone times to achieve improved environmental outcomes, BMP effectiveness is too low given current conditions.  Further, BMP promotion and adoption does not harness the full creative capacity of our farmers to grow new topsoil and clean water.  Success – in terms of a community’s clear definitions of the future it needs, including deep topsoil and clean, regulated water – needs be measured precisely in these terms, rather than just in terms of adoption of BMPs or reduced pollution.


Describe the deep topsoil future we need and work backward from it.

An approach that may offer a more direct path to success is to 1. step back and identify the future conditions of land, community and economic health we need at the scale of farms and watersheds, and 2. work backward from that needed set of conditions, making decisions, monitoring indicators, rewarding soil-growers and evolving policy that will lead us there.  This future-state definition will, of necessity and in every instance, include deep, healthy topsoil, high biodiversity and clean, regulated water.  Land managers are the people who can grow topsoil and they need the support of the rest of society to do it.  As many of the pressing environmental problems we face are outcomes of biodiversity decline and topsoil degradation and loss,  success in moving toward a deep topsoil future will tend to render formerly vexing environmental problems – such as a eutrophying lake and damage from flooding – incidental artifacts of the 10,000+ year historical period when our decision-making processes, policies and economies consistently yielded topsoil loss in excess of topsoil formation.


Enabling beliefs and questions.

To establish a context for  broad statements like those above, I’ll share some core beliefs I operate with:

  1. Topsoil is the basis of ecological function, economics and civilizational durability.
  2. Topsoil is a renewable resource.
  3. Regenerative agricultural managers can grow new topsoil.
  4. Insights into effective management for topsoil formation are achieved every year on farms and ranches around the world.
  5. Comprehensive monitoring of weather, soil, water, biodiversity and agricultural yield in a real-time feedback loop with land management and local, regional and national policies  is necessary for accelerated achievement of new topsoil outcomes.


These beliefs lead to some new questions, which include:

  1. What is the best outcome we can imagine for the place we live in in terms of soil health, water, biodiversity, human health, community and economics?   What conditions will need to be created to achieve this outcome?
  2. How can we  all contribute to growing new soil aggregates?
  3. Who, specifically,  can grow those soil aggregates?
  4. How can land managers (the answer to question #3)  accelerate our learning and management implementation to improve soil health?
  5. How can local and regional policies support those who can grow aggregated topsoil?
  6. What are sensible economics within a society actively transforming itself from a net-soil loser to one growing deep, aggregated topsoil?

How can we grow deep-topsoil watersheds?  I see that one prerequisite is simply being to imagine a deep-topsoil, clean-water future.  Asking the right questions is another critical component.  Management that can grow soil aggregates is indispensable, as is environmental monitoring as feedback to our regenerative management.

I am offering a challenge with this short article.  What will it take to grow deep topsoil in the places we live at a meaningful scale and pace?  Which  will be the first communities to rally the courage, creativity, cooperation and resources needed to grow a deep topsoil future?  Let’s get to work, grow topsoil and share our lessons.

keyline soil-building landscape


Haan, M.M., J.R. Russel, W.J. Powers, J.L. Kovar, and J.L. Benning.  2006.  Grazing management effects on sediment and phosphorus in surface runoff.  Rangeland Ecology Management.  41:73-78


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Profitable Farming and Caring for Healthy Land with Greg Judy

Published on December 9th, 2014
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Listen now to an all-new episode of the Business Beat with Steve Jones D’Agostino that features Greg Judy of Green Pasture Farms.  Judy is joined in the interview by Cathleen O’Keefe the Northeast coordinator for the Masssachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).  They talk about building a profitable farming business while caring for the health of the land.

Greg Judy - October Cattle Forage

Judy is leading a three-day workshop at the 2015 Carbon Farming Course in February.  He is teaching “Holistic Management & Grazing”  from Feb 3 – 5 .  The 2015 Carbon Farming Course is a project of The Resilience Foundation, a global leader in sustainability education. It will host some of the world’s most charismatic, experienced, and practical thinkers and practitioners of regenerative agriculture.  In addition to Judy, they include; Abe Collins, co-founder of Carbon Farmers of America and one of the US’s foremost experts on Keyline farming;  Dr. Elaine Ingham, former chief scientist for the Rodale Institute and now President of Soil Foodweb, Inc.; permaculture specialist, author and lecturer, Eric Toensmeier; and Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture and manager for New Forest Farm, considered to be one of the most ambitious sustainable agriculture projects in the United States.


Early registration ends December 15th.  Sign-up today  and  save!


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Carbon Farming Practices by Eric Toensmeier

Published on December 8th, 2014
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What farming practices can help stabilize the climate by sequestering carbon? Almost anything that builds soil organic matter can do the trick, but some sequester much more carbon than others. Even low rates of carbon sequestration can make a huge difference if practiced on enough farms. Here’s a typology and comparison of these systems. Note that a hectare is roughly 2.5 acres. To learn more check out Eric’s upcoming workshop at the carbon farming course! Early registration ends December 15th.

Improved Annual Cropping Systems

These practices make our production of annual crops more carbon-friendly. These systems sequester low amounts of carbon, typically 1-2 tons per hectare per year. Their big advantage is they allow us to grow the crops we know and love, and we already have equipment and infrastructure for production, processing, and consumption. Some are already widely practiced, like no-till (111 million hectares), organic annual crops (6.3 million) and system of rice intensification (4-5 million farmers globally). Other practices include crop rotation, green manures, cover crops, use of compost, and mulching.

Organic no-till system developed by Rodale Institute. Image courtesy Rodale Institute..

Organic no-till system developed by Rodale Institute. Image courtesy Rodale Institute..

Perennial-Annual Systems

These systems integrate perennial elements like trees with the annual crops we already know and grow. They include many agroforestry practices. Carbon sequestration is low at 1-5 tons per hectare. The perennial elements may play support roles like slope stabilization or nitrogen fixation, or may be crops themselves. Some are widely practiced like shea nut parkland in Africa (23 million hectares), farmer-managed natural regeneration in Niger (4.8 million hectares), alley cropping with Paulownia trees in China (3 million hectares), and streuobstmixed fruit trees with annuals in Germany (1 million hectares). Other practices include contour hedgerows, windbreaks, living fences, pasture cropping, and evergreen agriculture.

intercrop at Denis Flores Agroforestry in France. Image Richard Perkins.

intercrop at Denis Flores Agroforestry in France. Image Richard Perkins.

Perennial-Livestock Systems

In these systems livestock are integrated with perennials like trees or pasture. Carbon sequestration is mostly low to medium with managed grazing around 2-4 tons per hectare per year, and silvopasture at 1-10. A few case studies have seen sequestration of 36 and even 40 tons per hectare. Generally the more trees, the more carbon. People already consume livestock products like meat, milk, and eggs, so we don’t need to change our diets – instead we let the animals eat the perennials. Ruminants do produce methane which can reduce the impact of carbon sequestration of these systems, though not reverse it. Again some of these are widely practiced, like holistic grazing (12-20 million hectares worldwide), dehesa silvopasture in Spain and Portugal (5.5 million hectares), and Central American silvopasture (9 million hectares). Practices include managed grazing, silvopasture (trees with pastrure), fodder trees and fodder banks, aquaforestry (aquaculture plus trees), and crop-livestock integration.

Alder silvopasture at Las Cañadas in Mexican highlands. Image Ricardo Romero.

Alder silvopasture at Las Cañadas in Mexican highlands. Image Ricardo Romero.

Fully Perennial Systems

These systems sequester the most carbon (medium to very high) but may require the biggest changes to our food system. Coppice and biomass systems can sequester 1-6 tons/hectare/year, with tree crops and bamboo much higher at 2-28 and 6-33 tons/hectare/year respectively. Multistrata agroforestry systems sequester a remarkable 4-40 tons/hectare/year making them the world’s best carbon-sequestering food production model (development of commercial multistrata models for cold climates largely awaits innovative producers and researchers).  Perennial crops are grown on 153 million hectares globally, along with bamboo (22 million hectares), cacao agroforestry systems (7 million hectares), and more. These systems include orchards and plantations, bamboo systems, traditional and short rotation coppice and biomass grasses, multistrata systems like tropical homegardens (food forests) and larger scale multi-layered perennial production systems, and newer systems like woody agriculture and perennial grain production. Perennial staple crops have have a major role to play in a carbon-friendly future but may require big changes in the way we farm and eat.

loaded chestnut

Chestnuts are already a global perennial staple crop with half a million hectares in production.

Commercial multistrata system featuring alder (for timber, firewood, and nitrogen fixation) over tea (shade crop).

Commercial multistrata system featuring alder (for timber, firewood, and nitrogen fixation) over tea (shade crop).

Short-rotation coppice

Short-rotation coppice mechanized harvest of biomass willow. Image D. Angel, SUNY ESF.

Other Practices

These are mostly non-biological systems that involve design, equipment, or other non-living elements. Carbon sequestration is variable and in some cases (like keyline) unknown. Drip irrigation (which prevents soil salinization and carbon loss in dryland climates) is practiced on 10 million hectares globally, and Amazonian terra preta (biochar plus) includes perhaps a million hectares or more. This set of practices includes rainwater harvesting, keyline, productive restoration, and more.

Keyline farming at Rancho San Ricardo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Image Rodrigo Quiros.

Keyline farming at Rancho San Ricardo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Image Rodrigo Quiros.

These systems need to be combined with perennial crops, new technologies, new markets, citizen movements and policy changes to fully realize the potential of agriculture to sequester up 10-85% of the 200 gigatons needed to get us back down to the magic number of 350ppm.


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Greg Judy To Open 2015 Carbon Farming Course With Three-Day Workshop – Early Register And Save Today!

Published on December 8th, 2014
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The Carbon Farming Course 2015 is thrilled that Greg Judy will be teaching “Holistic Grazing and Management” at the February 2015 Carbon Farming Course.  His workshop is February 3-5.  Take Greg’s workshop or take the entire 20-day Carbon Farming Course at the Taconic Retreat & Conference Center in Milan NY that runs February 3 – 22.  Learn with some of the most dedicated and well-known trainers.   In addition to Greg’s workshop, the course will include:

  • “Keyline Farming” with Abe Collins Mark Krawczyk, Feb 6 – 9, 2015
  • “Carbon Farming Intensive: Science, Crops, Enterprises” with Eric Toensmeier, Feb 10 – 14, 2015
  • “Financing Regenerative Agriculture” with Ethan Roland, Derek Denckla, Brian Kaminer, Kyra Kristof, Joan Snyder, Jacob Israelow, Caroline MacGill, Kathryn Conway, Xavier Hawk, Kathleen Frith, Dave L. Backup, Greg Pitts and Caroline Wollard.  Feb 15, 2015
  • “Living Soils” with Dr. Elaine Ingham and Dale Hendricks, Feb 17 – 19, 2015
  • “Restoration Agriculture” with Mark Shepard, Feb 20 – 22, 2015.

Register today for individual workshops or take all the courses for one discounted fee.  Early registration deadline is December 15, 2015.   Click here to take advantages of the early registration savings.



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Greg Judy Shares His Thoughts On Mob Grazing

Published on December 6th, 2014
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Greg Judy shares his thoughts on “mob grazing” with Gayle Smith in “Greg Judy shares insight on mob grazing” for the Tri-State Livestock News.  Greg was the featured speaker at the Nebraska Grazing Conference earlier this year.

“We keep the animals bunched up to generate kinetic energy in the land. Many people don’t understand the animals are moved two to three times a day,” Judy explained. “By grazing the way we do, we are building up the topsoil and marketing solar energy.” See the full article at: Greg Judy shares insights on Mob Grazing.

Greg is teaching “Holistic Grazing and Management” February 3 – 5 at the Carbon Farming Course 2014 at the Taconic Retreat in Milan, NY.  He is the author of “No Risk Ranching; Custom Grazing on Leased Land” and “Comeback Farms”.  He is a full-time rancher and a popular speaker and consultant on Holistic High Density Grazing systems.  His three-day workshop focuses on managing farms in sync with nature.  It covers setting up a profitable holistic grazing operation from scratch, how to monitor proper grazing treatments, soil building techniques, drought strategies, animal performance, economical water strategies, and much more.    For more information or to register visit www.carbonfarmingcourse.com.


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Ethan Roland Presents Carbon Farming at Bio4Climate Conference

Published on December 2nd, 2014
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Carbon Farming Course organizer Ethan Roland presents at Biodiversity for a Livable Climate conference:

Ethan Roland is an international expert on regenerative agriculture and permaculture design. He will introduce us to how carbon farming enhances productivity, increases profitability and combats climate change. Drawing from the best practices from holistic management, keyline design, agroforestry, living soils, biochar, permaculture design and restoration agriculture, carbon farming offers a whole toolkit for agricultural earth regeneration.

From Biodiversity for a Livable Climate conference: “Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming”
Friday November 21st, 2014


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Abe Collins discusses his journey with Carbon Farming in five-part video series

Published on November 18th, 2014
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  “In the last 50 years, the regenerative agriculture movement has figured out how to build top soil thousands of times faster than is widely acknowledged.  This information still hasn’t filtered to the rest of society, but there are practitioners around the earth doing it.  One farmer figured out that by putting skim milk on the land from his butter operation he doubled biomass production in 30 days! Exciting things are happening.” Abe Collins

Abe Collins - Keyline Farming

Abe Collins has spent the last 15 years studying and developing management tools to grow new topsoil as a means of achieving food, water and climate security and reversing desertification.   He is a grazier and educator, and founder of Collins Grazing, New Soil Matrix, Inc. and New Soil Quantum, Inc.; and co-founder of Carbon Farmers of America.   Carbon Farmers of America is a Vermont farmer-owned company that introduced the idea and practice of accelerated topsoil formation as a means of mitigating and adapting to climate change to many farmers and policy makers around the world.

In 2010, Collins presented at the Quivira Coalition’s 9th Annual Conference in Albuquerque, NM.  The series looks at Collin’s journey with carbon farming and the importance of the underground economics of solving cities problems through topsoil formation.

Series 1 – 5:  The Carbon Ranch: Using Food and Stewardship to Build Soil and Fight Climate Change.

keyline plow


Together Collins and Mark Krawczyk, owner of Keyline Vermont LLC and RivenWoodCrafts, will lead Keyline Farming, at the three-week Carbon Farming Course in February 2015.  Their three-day workshop (Feb 6 – 9) offers an integrated approach to broad-scale farm design and management that fully outlines all of the principles and techniques involved with the modern application of Keyline Farming.  It is an intensive blend of technical & practical sessions targeted at farmers, professional land managers, consultants, designers, earth movers and anyone with a strong interest in sustainable land management and soil creation.   For more on their workshop click here.





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