Growing A Revolution

Growing A Revolution

Growing a Revolution: David Montgomery’s new book shows how farmers can feed the world and save the planet simply by taking care of the soil.

Sometimes I wish Donald Trump was right and climate change was nothing but a hoax invented by the Chinese. Unfortunately it isn’t a hoax but a deeply depressing reality. Reading scary statistics like 2016 setting yet another record for being the hottest year ever makes me look at global attempts to curb global warming – and I wonder what the future holds if the Paris Climate Accord is all we can do. If we can do it.

Book cover of David Montgomery's Growing a RevolutionBook cover for David Montgomery's Growing a Revolution

This pessimism is David Montgomery’s starting point: ‘What if I told you there was a relatively simple, cost-effective way to help feed the world, reduce pollution, pull carbon from the atmosphere, protect biodiversity, and make farmers more money? If this was true, you might assume that governments around the world would race to embrace it. Well there is, and they aren’t. Not yet anyway. Why not? Because the solution challenges a century of conventional wisdom and powerful commercial interests, and requires a profound shift in how we think about and treat the least glamorous resource of all – the soil beneath our feet.’

David Montgomery is a geologist and a professor at the University of Washington who first examined our relationship with soil from ancient civilisations until today in his book ‘Dirt’. His new book is something like the practical sequel: What can we do to heal the soil?

According to Montgomery we can bring back soil fertility (which also means sequestering huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and thereby actively combatting climate change) in three relatively easy steps:

Step 1: Ditch the plough. Ploughing exposes soil to the elements, to erosion through wind and water, and a loss of carbon. Not tilling increases the amount of organic matter in the ground which feeds the soil microbes that are vital for soil quality.

Clover can be used as a cover crop

Clover can be used a cover crop to fix nitrogen in the soil. 

Step 2. Plant cover crops. Naked soil leeches carbon and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphor. Cover crops are planted between commercial crops, they provide biomass (which is food for soil organisms) and nutrients.

Step 3. Crop rotation, the more complex, the better. It increases microbial diversity and decreases the chance of weeds and pests to survive.

In ‘Growing a Revolution’ Montgomery takes us on a trip through the US visiting farmers who have taken these steps years ago and who are now able to demonstrate a measurable increase in soil fertility which tallies with an increase in income – none of them spends money on chemical fertilisers and most have stopped using pesticides too: well thought through crop rotation is sufficient to keep pests in check.

Soil fertility improves even more if pastures and grazing cattle are part of the rotation. Travelling to Ghana and Costa Rica Montgomery shows that this type of three step regenerative farming works everywhere, not just in the US. And he talks to researchers who are still trying to figure out just how much carbon farmland could absorb through restorative agriculture.

There are no exact figures yet but even the most conservative estimates show that restoring the soil would be an extremely efficient, cheap and simple way to halt or even reverse global warming. Read, be amazed and spread the word.