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Farmer battles record-breaking heat through soil sequestration

Posted at 6:13 PM, Aug 18, 2021

In his 25 years of hunting down extreme weather across the country, Dr. Reed Timmer says he’s witnessed the impacts of climate change firsthand. He's a storm chaser and meteorologist.

"Just seeing these massive fires that are producing huge pyrocumulus clouds that are even capable of producing strong, damaging tornadoes is something that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime,” Dr. Timmer said.

Wildfires, flash floods, hurricanes, and tornados - Dr. Timmer has seen it all. He says these erratic weather events are becoming more frequent and severe. He's been teaching courses about it through Varsity Tutors.

Climate scientists have been warning about extreme heat for decades. This summer, the record-breaking heatwave in the western U.S. killed hundreds of people.

“It's caused heat that we haven't seen in decades, if ever, and locations like the Pacific Northwest, Washington, Oregon, up into British Columbia. You get a lot of sinking air. You get a lot of dry conditions out there primed for wildfires as well. And there's a lot of debate right now as would that heatwave happen if we didn't have climate change wasn't made worse by global warming.”

For farmer Bill Parker, the debate is over. He says now is the time to be a part of the solution. Parker and his wife own Parker Pastures – a grass-finished beef and lamb business.

“Agriculture is definitely at the mercy of the weather, and you know, mitigating that risk is our responsibility and understanding that risk,” Parker said.

Parker is adapting to climate change through holistic management. It’s the idea that a farmer can better manage agricultural resources to reap sustainable benefits. His secret is in the soil.

“Long term, we have to be managing for weather resiliency, whether it's drought, resiliency or flooding resiliency, and that's done by our soil surface. And, you know, the soil is like the lifeblood of our civilization, but it gets very little attention.”

Parker’s mission is to cover bare ground with plants – including weeds.

“Plants are our only means of taking carbon dioxide out of the air and putting it in a stable form of plant mass, whether you're talking trees or in my business, it's grasses and forbs," Parker said. "And that means the above-ground biomass and the below-ground biomass. And the more biomass I grow, the more carbon I'm capturing in the system.”

The plants on Parker’s ranch capture carbon through photosynthesis. Then that carbon is stored in the soil – making the soil even richer for the next season. It’s called soil sequestration.

However, the process wouldn’t be complete without grazing animals.

“All a cow is is just a host for billions of microorganisms that can take that carbon that the cow ate and get the energy and the protein from those plants and keep the cow alive and keep the rumen alive and then poop it back out onto the soil where now there are all these microorganisms on the soil from the poop that can start to habitat into the soil and that are feeding the other microorganisms that are in the soil," Parker said. "And so it's just this cycle of life that we don't see because it's microscopic.”

The more carbon in your soil, the more water it can hold. Parker says his crops grow back thicker every year.

“So we better not have the attitude that we need to get out of nature and let nature take care of herself," Parker said. "No, we need to regenerate nature because we've already broken the cycles that created the diversity of flora and fauna that should exist out here in abundance.”

He says battling the impacts of climate change takes willpower and understanding. He wants people to know it’s possible.

“Regeneration is new life, new abundance all the time, that's hope,” Parker said.

Hope is what Bill and Dr. Timmer are holding onto as we face the drastic changes due to climate change.

“I think I’m going to be very busy as a storm chaser moving forward, but it doesn't mean that we can't keep fighting against climate change and trying to lead to a cleaner planet and try to reduce emissions the best that we can, because now is the time when we really need to work to stop it,” Dr. Timmer said.