Mission: Remove a trillion tons of carbon from the atmosphere

Mission: Remove a trillion tons of carbon from the atmosphere

A shovel on soil
ShutterstockYulia Moiseeva
The earth has the power to trap carbon.

The Terraton Initiative embodies one specific goal — to remove 1 trillion metric tons of carbon from Earth’s atmosphere. Indigo Agriculture, an agricultural technology company based in Massachusetts, founded and runs the project. To accomplish this goal, the Initiative aims to use "the awesome potential of the soil beneath our feet to absorb 1 trillion tons of atmospheric carbon," says David Perry, CEO and director of Indigo Agriculture.

The Terraton Initiative’s strategy for removing carbon requires using the earth as a tool to trap carbon through carbon sequestration. The Initiative advocates for regenerative farming, which allows plants to store carbon in the ground, while releasing oxygen — instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Perry tells Food Tank that carbon sequestration represents the "single most actionable, immediate and affordable thing we can do to impact climate change." According to Perry, on average farming sequesters 1 percent of carbon, compared to untouched land, which sequesters 3 to 7 percent.

"Regenerative practices can allow us to continue to farm the land, continue to produce food on it, but give us back the 3-plus percent," says Perry.

The Terraton Initiative works to unite investors, farmers, scientific researchers, nonprofits and businesses behind a common goal: Through collaborative work, the Terraton Initiative will "focus on how to improve farm profitability, how to improve environmental sustainability, and how to improve consumer health," Perry tells Food Tank. The Terraton Initiative recently initiated a competition called the Terraton Challenge. Innovators will compete to create new ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The winners will receive a $20,000 grant at BeneficialAg 2020, a conference for innovative agricultural technology hosted by Indigo Agriculture, and $3 million in contracts will be awarded for implementing new carbon reduction technologies.

The initiative finds that there needs to be more research conducted on soil and carbon storage. The Initiative works with the Rodale Institute, an organic farming research facility, and the Soil Health Institute, a scientific research center focused on soil, to promote carbon reduction. This collaborative research focuses on finding information such as the rate of soil absorption of carbon or the effects microbes have on carbon sequestration. The research also takes on the business of farming and the effect of carbon-enriched soils on farm profitability and crop quality.

The Initiative works with 3.6 million acres of farmland and several nonprofits to look at "what practices maximize carbon sequestration in the soil and maximize the rate that it is sequestered," Perry tells Food Tank.

To compile useful data, the Initiative analyzes tens of thousands of farms to collect carbon sequestration data. The Initiative will release all its anonymized data for researchers and the general public with the hope that it will be used to spur innovation.

Perry believes that while the climate crisis is scary and can often seem overwhelming, there are solutions: "It’s really encouraging that we have the capabilities. Now we just have to put all the incentives in place to make it happen," says Perry.

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