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Can Wetter Farming Help Reduce Carbon Emission?

Growing celery under wetter-than-usual conditions, allow the water table to rise to between 10cm and 50cm below the surface of the soil rather than draining away. It also allows the peat soil to retain significantly more carbon and avoid drying out.

Kritika Madhukar
Carbon Emissions can be reduced dramatically if peatlands are recovered to bog
Carbon Emissions can be reduced dramatically if peatlands are recovered to bog

The field in Lancashire appears remarkable, with 85,000 small green celery plants gleaming brightly against dark, peaty soil. However, this crop is a pioneering "wetter farming" project that might show how damaged peatlands can be rehabilitated to trap carbon and improve biodiversity while providing farmers with a living.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust has purchased Rindle Field, a 5.4-acre former potato patch in Greater Manchester, to conduct the first British trial of paludiculture, or wetter farming, using traditional, commercial crops.

Growing celery under wetter-than-usual conditions, allow the water table to rise to between 10cm and 50cm below the surface of the soil rather than draining away. It also allows the peat soil to retain significantly more carbon and avoid drying out.

Reducing Carbon Emissions

Emissions can be reduced dramatically if peatlands are recovered to bog, research conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University at the Winmarleigh "carbon farm," which is also owned by Lancashire Wildlife Trust, found an 86 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from an area of re-wetted peatland in just one year compared to a drained area converted to grazing pasture.

However, farmers may be unable to pay to return profitable peaty soils to bog or may want to restrict food production, so the Wildlife Trust is investigating if wetter farming may be an emissions-reducing compromise in some locations.

"We're pragmatic, and we think it's impossible to ask farmers to take land out of food production and return it to bog," Sarah Johnson, project manager for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Lancashire Peatland Initiative, said.

"We must also consider the livelihoods of those who live and work in this region." Is there another approach to manage agricultural peat soils that is better for biodiversity and better for the climate, with soils that can store and sequester carbon?" 

Scientists estimate that reducing the typical water table depth below deep peat cropland to 1m below the surface wetter farming could reduce carbon emissions from deteriorated peatlands by 3.3 million tonnes per year – nearly 1% of total emissions – with a minimal increase in methane emissions.

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