Natural climate solutions are a win-win

April 24, 2023 6:00 pm
Field in Wallowa County

Wallowa County voters decided to break away from Oregon and join Idaho. (Courtesy of Rick Vetter)

Doing the right thing can cost so much money. It took 16 years of farming on our little piece of a river island in the Willamette River before I planted our winter cover crop with a no-till drill, despite growing a cover crop every year on our ecologically-focused, certified organic vegetable farm. I couldn’t justify buying a no-till drill when I had a perfectly serviceable, though ancient, drill.

But, last fall, I was running short on time and patience. I just didn’t want to sit on the tractor and burn diesel for four days to chisel and harrow our field twice and then slowly drive the drill. And then I remembered: the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District purchased a no-till drill and were renting it out. Planting red clover with this drill saved me so much time, so much money, so many weeds, so much carbon emissions from diesel, and so much soil carbon, because every tillage pass burns up carbon stored in the soil.

I know I’m not alone. So many farmers and foresters have barriers to improving their financial condition and the ecological health of the land they tend. Sometimes those barriers are know-how, but other times it is simply the high cost of investment, even when we know there will be a benefit. With the stark formula of high input costs and climate change pushing working lands to the edge, we need help. We can store carbon in the soil and above ground by our actions and with our tools and also benefit our own bottom-lines. That afternoon of running the no-till drill saved me money and kept the soil fertile, but it also meant air free of soot and global-warming carbon dioxide for everyone else.

Oregon Senate Bill 530, introduced by state Sens. Michael Dembrow and Jeff Golden, would establish a baseline and inventory for carbon emissions from forestry and farming and then direct $30 million to farms, tribes, urban parks and conservation districts for training and investment in the tools needed to store carbon on the land. Natural climate solutions, like spreading compost on range land, reducing tillage on row-crop farms, extending rotations on tree farms, or planting shade trees in east Portland, would be funded by the state to improve soil health, air quality and the financial stability of our working lands. Oregon farms and ranches can be part of the solution to our climate crisis!

Natural climate solutions are popular in Oregon. A recent poll by FM3 Research found seven in 10 Oregon voters support investing tax dollars to reduce emissions and store carbon in our soils, on our farms, and in our parks. Despite that popularity, SB 530 is stalled. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources referred the bill to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, but the bill needs to be referred to the natural resources subcommittee to have money appropriated. Your support is vital. 

We have a short time to take significant, just, fair action on climate change. Forests, parks, farms and wetlands all have a vital role to play in storing carbon pollution and making it work for us. It is only fair that we give them the opportunity. Plus, less time on the tractor means more time with your family, volunteering, and enjoying this spectacular state we are blessed to call home.

Casey Kulla is a first-generation vegetable farmer, former Yamhill County Commissioner and state forest policy coordinator for Oregon Wild.

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Casey Kulla
Casey Kulla

Casey Kulla is a first-generation vegetable farmer, former Yamhill County Commissioner and state forest policy coordinator for Oregon Wild.