Published On: October 1st, 2019Categories: Uncategorized

Rep. Joe Neguse may not be able to persuade his Republican colleagues to ban fracking and sign onto the Green New Deal in defense of the climate, but he has been able to progress the conversation in Washington D.C. by bringing fellow members of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to Boulder County in search of bipartisan solutions.

“The cornerstone of my service has been fighting climate change as the existential threat that it is,” said Neguse, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. “Part and parcel to that, in my view, is having a chance to bring colleagues to Colorado to both showcase what we’re doing in terms of renewable energy development, the breathtaking work that scientists are doing, and then also to highlight some of the challenges we face.”

On Monday, Neguse brought Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-North Dakota, to The Golden Hoof Farm just outside of Boulder to learn about regenerative agriculture and its potential to counteract global warming.

Photo by Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer

Alice Starek shows food that will be fed to pigs as U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse talks with Karel Starek at The Golden Hoof on Monday.

“The three pillars of regenerative agriculture as I see it are: regeneration through monogastrics, so it’s releasing the food waste in the food system and allowing it to be used (to feed farm animals); regeneration through rotational grazing from ruminants, like cows and sheep or even bison; and food freedom, the ability for farmers to sell directly to consumers,” Nancy Starek, who owns Golden Hoof Farm with her Husband Karel Starek, told Reps. Neguse and Armstrong.

By doing so, not only does The Golden Hoof Farm reduce waste by feeding any leftover food to its animals, but those animals also help to improve the health of the soil and plants, which allows for more efficient use of water and additional capacity for carbon absorption.

“What I would like to see is all of the local restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, the conference centers should all be paired up with farms, because if all of that food that is not fit for human consumption can go to animal feed then the animal waste is the perfect thing to grow vegetables,” Nancy Starek said. “It closes the loop and maximizes the return on it.”

Boulder County has even made use of the Stareks’ sheep and cows to rotationally graze the Biddle Wetlands and restore the native grasslands.

The difficulty is that due to state and federal regulations, it can be difficult to bring these kinds of sustainable farming practices to scale and still turn a profit.

On Wednesday, Paul Schlagel harvested his 140-acre cornfield at the Quicksilver Farm just outside Longmont, on which Boulder County and Colorado State University have partnered to test some carbon farming practices at scale.

To improve soil health and limit erosion, Boulder County directed Schagel to plant a cover crop during the winter on one portion of the farm, the roots from which reduce erosion and keep nutrients in the soil. Once spring arrives, the cover crop is tilled back into the soil before corn is planted. On another section Schagel only used organic compost. On a third he planted a cover crop and used compost.

According to Mark Easter, a senior research associate at Colorado State University, using both a cover crop and compost can increase the amount of carbon each plant absorbs from the atmosphere and increase yields while using less water.

However, seeding 140 acres with a cover crop and applying compost is extremely expensive and can be quite risky should something happen to reduce their yields the next fall.

For example, when the Schlagels planted their cover crop of rye and hairy vetch, they planted the vetch too thick and didn’t realize it was partially immune to the herbicide they used to kill it. As a result, it started to compete with the corn plants and reduced their yields.

While everyone working on the project said something like this was bound to happen in the first year, should the Schlagels have taken on the project alone, the mistake could have been financially devastating.

Even though their yields were reduced, Easter estimated the 10 acres used for the pilot program sequestered 35 tons of Co2, roughly equivalent to the amount of emissions released by 7½ cars in a year.

Should the Schlagels incorporate more of the regenerative agricultural practices used at The Golden Hoof Farm or the McCauley Family Farm and Ranch, Easter said both the farm yields and the rate of sequestration could go up, but introducing cows or sheep can be very expensive, especially when facing state and federal regulation about to whom they can sell their products.

While Neguse has already introduced two bills addressing carbon farming — the Study in Improving Lands Act and The Sustainable Agricultural Research Act — representatives from the National Young Farmers Coalition and Mad Agriculture, a local carbon farming advocate, called on representatives to introduce additional legislation to incentive and subsidize carbon farming.

Some of these recommendations were for more traditional tax incentives, land protections and deregulation, but others were more novel, including a pay-for-performance program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would pay for increased carbon sequestration or some sort of federal crop insurance discount program that would reduce some of the risks associated with carbon farming.

“We can still get discreet pieces of legislation passed with this (presidential) administration,” Neguse said. “We shouldn’t give up on that. Policy progress is iterative, so it’s important to set an agenda and provide a base for a new Congress and president to take off the shelf … I’ve had a number of promising conversations with members of the (Select Committee on  the Climate Crisis), and there are a couple areas, particularly in the regenerative agriculture front, where we’re really excited about the opportunity to leverage what’s going on in Boulder County at a national level.”

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