Just Agriculture, Alimentation Sovereignty and Forest Use

Carbon storage by perennial crops

What's the measure?

Instead of mainly annual crops, perennial crops are grown. These can be perennial vegetables, such as artichokes and rhubarb, or perennial cabbages. There are also newly cultivated perennial cereals (as soon as they are ready for the market), as well as trees with carbohydrate-rich fruits such as nut trees. 

How can the implementation look like?

  • As soon as the real costs of fossil fuels are taken into account, the real work of the various cultivation systems will become visible again. From that moment on, perennial crops become interesting for farmers*, as the real workload is lower.
  • In addition, the usual regulatory tools can of course be used, such as → subsidies.
  • Of course, the products of perennial crops must also be accepted by the→ consumers*. However, in Central Europe, the situation is that the consumption of e.g. nut fruits is far above the domestic production.
  • Furthermore, many products that are currently made from soy, can also be produced from hazelnuts, while the sweet chestnut can replace corn, both in food production and in industrial products.
  • With the merging of production and consumption, consumption can be adapted to a reasonable production.

How will this counteract climate change?

  • The mechanical processing steps are less frequent, so there is no need for annual soil preparation and sowing. Also the support against competing vegetation loses importance, as the perennial crop has already established itself after the first year.
  • Due to the omission of ploughing, no carbon is released into the atmosphere. Instead, carbon can accumulate as humus in the soil.
  • In the plant parts themselves, bound carbon accumulates. This effect is particularly relevant for tree crops.
  • The biomass of perennial crops can still be used for energy production after the cultivation period. Above alle, this applies to trees as well. Then the saving occurs, because fewer trees have to be cleared elsewhere or less fossil energy is required.

What other effects does the measure have?

With perennial crops, → biodiversity increases because year-round habitats are created. Biodiversity increases enormously, especially when mixed cultures of perennial crops are planted.

How long does it take for the measure to take an effect?

The effect lasts as long as the measure. Or even beyond the establishment of stable permanent humus.

Further literature and sources

The exact global as well as local potentials of the different perennial cultures can be read in the work of Eric Toensmeier, which is a summary of various scientific papers:

  1. Toensmeier (2016): The carbon farming solution: a global toolkit of perennial crops and regenerative agriculture practices for climate change mitigation and food security. Chelsea Green Publishing