How Nature Captures and Stores Carbon [Webinar] - Grassroots Carbon

How Nature Captures and Stores Carbon [Webinar]

July 8, 2021

Grassroots Carbon Presents: “Soil Carbon Sequestration: How Nature Captures and Stores Carbon” A free webinar featuring Blue Nest Beef’s CEO Russ Conser.

Watch the webinar to learn more about:

  • A general overview of soil carbon storage.
  • Nature-based carbon capture and sequestration methods.
  • How regenerative agriculture can help foster and promote soil carbon capture.
  • How supporting grassland restoration can help companies to reduce their carbon footprint, while promoting improved water retention, climate equity, ecological diversity, and a circular economy.

Transcript below provided by YoutTube

Well great I’m going to go ahead and just start off I’m Lauren Miller I’d like to thank everybody for joining us today I’m the VP of Carbon Footprint Solutions for Grassroots Carbon and this is the first of our series of educational webinars so we thank you for joining us uh just a few housekeeping notes before we get rolling here this afternoon I’d like to invite everybody to follow us we’re @grassrootscarbon on social media on linkedin instagram facebook uh we’ll be posting updates there regularly so that you can stay up to date on events we’re again just trying to put out a lot of educational content too we also have a regular newsletter that will be going out some of you may have gotten that first one and we’ll be doing that regularly just to give some insight into what’s going on in the carbon credit industry soil carbon storage again trying to provide as much education as we can for folks as well as just keeping everybody up to date and again as I mentioned we’ll be hosting these webinars regularly if anybody has requests for a topic or would like to nominate a guest I would like to invite them to email me my email is lauren.miller at that is l-a-u-r-e-n dot m-i-l-l-e-r at and you’ll also be able to see our upcoming webinar and event series on our website at so with that I again like to thank everybody for joining us and we’re going to go ahead and get started now so i’d like to start off by introducing Russ Concert who is joining us today Russ is a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur who spent 30 years at Shell and is now a regenerative agriculture um entrepreneur and scientist and so having spent the first half of his career in big oil finding and extracting dead carbon from the deep earth he spent the second half investing in scientists and innovators developing novel technologies ultimately he was leading shelves game changer program russ retired from shell in 2013 and has since been focused on the science and business of putting living carbon back into the shallow earth by working to scale up regenerative agriculture practices Russ is currently the president of the grass-fed exchange and he’s the CEO of Blue Nest Beef. Blue Nest Beef is bringing 100 grass-fed beef from audubon certified bird-friendly land direct-to-consumer doorsteps nationwide wherein the story of birds emerges and engages consumers as heroes and the bigger story of a new and different carbon sinking habitat restoration food system that is healthier for both people and the planet so thank you very much for joining us today russ we’re glad to have you yeah it’s an honor to be here I guess first guest i’m kind of blown away by how many people are on here so I hope I don’t disappoint and drive down attendance for your next webinar so no i’m sure you won’t uh so i’m just going to start off with a million dollar question which is how do you go from the oil and gas industry which is all about extracting carbon from the ground into regenerative agriculture and carbon drawdown yeah it’s one of these things like it’s totally unpredictable and it makes no sense until I look backwards and it makes complete sense so um as you mentioned there in the intro uh in my long final years at shell I was responsible for shells global innovation program called game changer was always investing in crazy ideas so new energy technologies of any kind but that included carbon capture and sequestration ideas and we had invested in quite a number of things that you know all had intrigue but frankly none of them were very promising and then I heard this ridiculous claim one day that we could sequester carbon and soils at a scale to make a difference in the climate equation and I I tell people the world kind of changed for me one day when the very first set of sample data I got my hands on I immediately recognize the quantity and distribution of organic matter is identical to what we call source rocks in the oil and gas industry that once they’re buried deep in the earth would produce oil and gas so what I recognized here was that these regenerative farmers were effectively just employing a set of practices that were literally putting the carbon back in the ground right where it was before guys like me came along and sucked it out and it was only because I had been down that journey that could recognize um that at the time and so you know I kind of entered through that science door but then the entrepreneurial gene kicked in and said okay well if this is true how do we scale it up um so that it’s not just you know a little interesting observation that we can talk about with friends on a few farms around america but actually turn it into something that does have really impact uh you know big impact uh on the world around us so um yeah that’s where i’ve turned my attention since leaving shell eight years ago great and I think to start off since we’re doing this just as an introductory series can you give us a brief overview of which is what soil carbon is and just the mechanics of how soil can store carbon something we get asked a lot by folks is how do you trans how do you transport carbon and pump it in the ground uh I think can you start there how is this uh alternative to technological ccs or you know like direct air capture yeah yeah all that direct air capture stuff and they’ll say the pumps pumps and pipes version of this stuff is as a mechanical engineer that’s the stuff where I started that’s what i’m familiar with that’s what we know from an oil and gas perspective um what I knew but didn’t appreciate was uh pulling carbon out of the air and accumulating it and growing life including the soil is exactly what uh plants have evolved to do over the last 3.8 billion years so if people just think back to their high school uh chemistry and physics photosynthesis is nothing more than a chemical process where co2 and h2o react with catalysts in the plant powered by solar energy and converted into sugars and we always see that plant part above the ground that’s growing um and we had some like I think fundamental misunderstandings of the rest of the system because it’s kind of like an iceberg I say where it’s hidden below the ground but the rest of the story is that the plants actually exude a significant fraction of that carbon out through their roots now why would they do that they don’t do it because it’s inefficient because it’s leaking and nature hasn’t figured out how to plug that hole yet they do it because that’s how a plant gets nutrients um from the soil which come from the soil so all the things that are not carbon oxygen or water come from the soil so the calcium magnesium all the cofactors uh even the nitrogen comes in by way of the soil and the way the plant gets access to those nutrients is it exudes these carbon rich organic compounds by bulk it’s mostly sugars but it’s got a lot of other little molecules in there and essentially what it’s doing is it’s using that as payment to pay microbes bacteria and fungi to go mine those nutrients and bring it back to the plants in the process that whole ecological system in the soil that includes the tiny little microbes that we can’t see but you know they grow big enough that we can see worms and bugs and and and other things um as it gets better and better at doing that it accumulates and holds on to more and more carbon and time and that’s how you build up this organic matter in the soil that is made up more than 50 by weight in terms of carbon so it gets into the ground through the leaves of the plant it’s just it gets into the soil by way of the root in this underground barter economy of nutrients now there’s other parts of the carbon cycle in pastures manure participates in that dead plant litter participates in that um but really it’s it’s that root exudation that’s driving that process what may also not be clear is carbon is not being um you know so the plant isn’t trying to take that carbon and like lock it away like put it out of harm’s way to keep it where it won’t do any bad it’s doing something good and it’s participating in something that’s also still kind of an open down balance in the system the carbon comes in by day and the microbes chew on that put it to work and when the sun goes down at night some of that carbon actually goes back into the air so the carbon that stays in the soil is the net difference of what came in by day and left by night and the difference is what stays there and over time when people apply the principles of regenerative agriculture in a pasture farm setting in an agroforestry setting in any setting what you’re trying to do is tilt that balance of incoming carbon and lost carbon so that you’re constantly accumulating carbon in the soil great and you’re talking about those principles of regenerative agriculture can you share a few of those like what are some of the best practices what are some of the things that you try to discourage uh you know I think in america the closest example we have of you know really destructive soil is going back to the dust bowl but we’re pretty much out of limit living memory of that now yeah yeah but it still goes on um every day it’s just um once you learn to see this stuff it’s hard to unsee it um um I I still remember just here in rural texas uh um you know it was a warm day in the early spring before planting and um it looked like the dust bowl here as I was driving past east bernard in texas for those of you that know the the texas area so that kind of stuff happens and so that leads to um uh uh the the first thing is minim so there’s five principles and let’s see if I can remember them off top my head of regenerative agriculture first minimize tillage any time we till the soil we disturb it what we affect we’re trying to do is loosen it up so we can plant stuff in it but effectively what we’re doing is opening up the soil carbon so that it can chemically oxidize and it goes back into the air so anytime you till soil you’re inviting the carbon to go back into the air the second principle is keep it covered so even even if you don’t till it’s always good to have some kind of cover on the ground that minimizes that respiration that we’re talking about keeps moisture in the soil other uh benefits um the third principle is keep a living root in the ground which means it’s another way of saying if you go back to the first answer I described is you want to keep that carbon arrow pumping downward all the time if you see a blade of green something out there on soil that means there’s carbon coming from the air and going down into the soil so one of the big problems is bare soil during the non-growing season in agricultural land um and it’s why one of the principles like cover crops is important um towards getting kids what you’re doing is you’re keeping the carbon going down anytime you see green think down brown is up um and and uh that’ll help you the the fourth principle is add diversity which is um this underground economy of biological chemistry that’s going on is uh highly interactive between different species that are you know selling a little calcium in order to get a little magnesium or whatever the case may be and so nature doesn’t do monocultures um you know today when I went to school in iowa you direct your iowa you see a corn field or a soybean field and everything else has been eliminated um nature doesn’t build carbon in that kind of situation what you need is like the picture you see behind you where you have different grasses and forbs and legumes working together real interesting science has showed that you can get a material difference just with a multiple diverse cover crop compared to a monoculture cover crop and the fifth and last primary principle anyway is what we call add livestock or integrate livestock there are no natural ecosystems on earth that don’t have animals participating in them in some way now that doesn’t mean we need to graze cattle everywhere cattle belong in grasslands that little savannah behind you is a beautiful place to have cattle in um sheep but the last place you want to put cattle is in a rain forest right that’s just dumb plowing up rainforest to graze cattle is a good way to destroy carbon and destroy ecosystems so um you know integrating livestock that’s appropriate for an ecological context um is really important now some of that livestock will come naturally i’m sure there’s some regenerative farmers on here that can tell stories of after they’ve implemented practices they see wildlife return uh birds and deer um onto their land and that’s an important part of it the um which there’s there’s a sixth thing that some people call a principle that I think is just the wrapper that goes around the whole thing that’s called context which is um in regenerative agriculture it’s not about like a practice that everyone should implement everywhere like i’m focused on grazing practices in grasslands for the most part but that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it in grasslands we should use better grazing as a tool to store carbon at scale while we produce healthy food but in other ecosystems um in my business we’re um uh working with a producer called regeneration farms that produces what they’ve trademarked as tree range chicken I mean who knew chickens don’t belong in prairies they belong under trees under trees chickens participate in that ecosystem foraging for bugs and insects and they’re covered from predators by the tree canopy so trees are jungle birds they’re not prairie birds um and and so recognizing you know what’s the right context for a system has a lot to do with figuring out what practices um you know fit this place at this time and then you employ those five principles I talked about and you can regenerate anything well great and you’ve given us the five principles which is excellent we’ll have a quiz for everybody later too but there’s still a lot that needs to be changed you know not everybody’s doing this in the united states or even around the world um there’s a lot of folks still holding on to the conventional practices that do include tilling etc that does you know doesn’t include cover crops what do you think is holding people back from changing and how do we encourage the transition to region uh short snarky answer make it profitable um you know I when I was in the energy when the I I say was in the other part of the energy business because I consider myself still in the energy business i’m just in the biological solar energy business today um but I like to remind people that texas became the country’s largest wind energy producer by far not because they got some philosophical religion it’s because somebody showed up at the farm gate with the check and said and and you can love it or hate it or all that kind of stuff but somebody reduced the opportunity for renewable energy to to uh capitalize on a resource by making an economical thing for the landowner uh to do something here so um there are barriers um you know the way things are done the status quo was always a barrier um for people i’ve seen enormous progress since I started in this space with rancher education you mentioned that i’m president of an organization called the grass fed exchange it’s a farmer to farmer educational non-profit foundation

annual conference get together compare notes on how to do better it continues to grow and it’s just awesome to be a part of that community of people of learning the farmers are really trying um and and at least in in my experience they’re trying to find a way to extract themselves from a system that frankly isn’t working very good for them it it I mean the hardest job in america today that pays the least is being a farmer in my opinion um and if if we can kind of make it pay economically for people so that pay economically can be like the type of stuff i’m doing right now which is um you you produce a better quality product that’s certified under a certain set of protocols i’ll pay you more for that product and then i’m going to charge consumers more for that product right so my challenge is to um help educate consumers on a premium product and then involve them in a supply chain that brings that up the the wonderful stuff you guys are doing there at grassroots carbon um is the other major thrust right is all these other wonderful benefits that are being created by um regenerative agriculture is there a way to direct revenue from those um things back to the farmer I think it’s still real early in that journey there is this um kind of soul carbon gold rush thing going on right now and it is kind of a wild west of uh of stuff going on and and I think it’s too early to say what’s the perfect recipe to do this I mean there are multiple ecosystem services engaged in regenerative agriculture there’s the carbon there’s better water infiltration great paper just yesterday out of canada documenting different differential water infiltration on like 35 ranches in alberta that was really good um biodiversity um there was just uh a a big report out two weeks ago from the international panel on bio diversity and ecosystem services in combination with ipcc which people are familiar with climate change basically saying hey these two problems they’re the same problem and we can’t solve biodiversity without solving climate change we can’t solve climate change without addressing biodiversity is there a way to I mean we there are major groups doing wonderful things for conservation most famous of which is ducks unlimited supporting a lot of grassland habitat restoration wetland pothole ponds and prairies a great duck habitat I think those are all great ways for land stewards to be able to drive additional revenue now how all that plays out how much it adds up there’s so much uncertainty etcetera right now but I think the only way we find out is by you know turning the entrepreneurs loose and in the in the scientists in parallel I I get worried for what it’s worth about entrepreneurs ungrounded or unattached to science we can start chasing some fool’s gold if we stay with that metaphor yeah but I think properly grounded scientific um entrepreneurial innovation um it will come along and not people I think policy will probably play a role right there’s a lot of people here aware that the senate passed its version of the growing climate solutions act last week um it’s it’s intending to have a role but you know whether it leads or it follows I don’t know I think it’s a little bit too early to say hey here in texas we just passed a uh a soil health legislation uh in um beginning of may uh already signed into law doesn’t mention the word carbon or climate once um um and important like in this growing climate solutions act that was just passed uh last week is um the the recognition and it would have passed 82 to eight right yeah it was pretty bipartisan it was very very bipartisan so I think there’s a huge opportunity here around some of this stuff you know I feel like i’m in this like perfect place right now healthy soil and birds are maybe the last two things that aren’t controversial I hope we can keep them from becoming that way um and get people engaged in uh helping you know build a better food system that simultaneously heals both people and planet so yeah and there’s so many positives there’s the you know the better food system it helps farmers and ranchers uh you know we’re improving wildlife it’s really improving animal welfare too because this is what they’re supposed to be doing um but you mentioned that the thing to really drive change is getting people paid for this and you talk a little bit about this carbon market wild west how do we

you know the people who are going to pay for it is basically the businesses paying to reduce their reduce their emissions and to store their carbon how do we get those companies comfortable with nature-based solutions and for the landowner side helping them to build trust in this market so that they’ll actually participate and we can have all the players involved um scientific technical and commercial rigor um is the the short answer I realize that everybody is skeptical of big excuse me big corporations trying to green wash their operations but trust me the big corporations are equally fearful of being accused of greenwashing and aren’t going to touch this kind of stuff with a 10-foot pole unless they feel that it’s iron-clad rock solid uh documented and so I think one of the key challenges here in in soil carbon markets specifically is to develop and implement with rigor and discipline protocols for measuring tracking defining things they’re it sounds so simple but it’s I think it’s trickier than it looks because right now the technology to do it accurately is also reasonably expensive if you try to scale it too broadly so there’s got to be some good technological progress as well as just some planning and protocol process progress yeah to to to make it economical um but but I think unless we successfully do that um we’ll discover that um you know the great ambitions and good intentions just don’t have legs and aren’t going to go anywhere so um that’s going to require some patience this is why i’m cautious about the gold rush there really is gold in california but and I don’t know what the numbers are 90 of the people who went to california to buy gold came back with rocks right yeah but some of them got lucky but some of them did their homework um and some learned the science of geology they understand how to read the rocks to understand what it was telling them about where they might find some things and I think that’s kind of where we are with the soil carbon gold rush is we have to patiently move forward with some early projects but with attention to discipline and rigor that advances the knowledge and slowly builds confidence and we don’t try to just do too much at once and say ta-da you know we’ve solved the carbon climate problem look we’ve got all these ranches and farms that are now magically sucking up carbon and there’s some really complicated commercial policy things in terms of um a little known secret is because a lot of the concern that you’ll hear about this stuff is well we can’t use storing carbon in soil as an excuse to keep on emitting um the simple reality is we have to simultaneously in order to solve the climate challenge we have to simultaneously uh reduce rapidly uh how much we’re emitting while we also take a substantial amount of the carbon that’s already in the air back out again so we need both yeah um and you’re absolutely right we shouldn’t let one be the excuse for the other but we do need to drive both um and by the way I think there’s just a whole bunch of other benefits to to this whole regenerative agriculture and soil carbon um stuff that you know even if we learn some things that diminish how valuable it might be in the climate equation over time it still will do a whole bunch of other wonderful things that you know we can all feel good about I really think we will get healthier food we will get healthier habitat we will get better water management and better farmer resilience and prosperity um uh and we just can’t be a little patient we’re gonna have to be disciplined yeah that’s a great point and that’s a great thing to kind of get we’re getting close to the end so that’s a great way to sum that up uh I know it goes fast when it’s just 30 minutes uh but before we go hank moy weir our ceo always likes to ask people if you have a magic wand that only applies to carbon or the carbon credit market and you could wave it and change or change anything what would you do with it um magic technology to measure it better because I it I tell people that the corollary to you get what you measure is what happens with what you need to get you can’t measure very well yet um and I very much imagine that if we had the equivalent of a magic carbon meter in the sky that could count every molecule of carbon that came out of the earth and count every molecule that went back into the earth and it were free

that we would not only be able to help manage the climate challenge but frankly um you know it’s probably a subject for another webinar I think this is the fundam the the most fundamental process by which planet earth functions all life on earth is a function of of how effective planet earth is at converting captured solar energy into energy that can use to feed that living ecosystem life um and and so right now I think the big gap in in terms of solar carbon is measurement um commercial gaps are all in the market and so on getting consumers engaged in a bigger story but that would be my magic wand is better measurement okay well that’s very handy to know and since we’ve got two more minutes i’m gonna go ahead and ask one last question um since we’ve got a little more time uh you’re the ceo of blue nest beef and so basically you’re using cattle for region can you tell us just before we go about blue nest and the connection between cattle to regenerative agriculture and the soil carbon cycle sure um and and that could also be another webinar but um really if you if you think of it um what a what a grazing ruminant like cattle or sheep or goats will do is if they come in and take a bite of grass when it’s like let’s say partially grown or um what does the grass want to do it wants to grow again it it goes back into growth mode and when it goes back into growth mode what does it do it pushes carbon out through the roots and so essentially a grazing animal is kind of like a pump handle on a water pump that every bite an animal takes if it’s done in the right ecological context helps kind of keep that carbon pump moving now the connection to the birds is interesting because the other thing that you get above ground in reflection of that is first you get a food pyramid below the ground that starts with bugs and worms and things like that that are easy to understand can be food sources for the buds bugs but you get for the birds but above ground you get increased biodiversity and you also turn landscapes back um away from homogeneous flat boring landscapes and do rich mosaics tapestries of ecosystems with little niches here and there tall grass here short grass there different kinds of birds like different systems I just visited last month a ranch in iowa that’s just gone into a conservation trust as a bird conservancy focused on bubble link habitat and it arose from the effort of two brothers one of whom is now deceased and recognizing that the bulba link is the perfect indicator they know they’re grazing at their best when the bottle links come and live in their pastures and and so I think we call the bird the treasure and the measure of a functioning ecosystem it’s a legitimate conservation goal in its own right bird habitat but that bird is telling us that we’re managing the rest of that ecosystem so it’s healthy and it’s functioning grassland birds have declined over 50 in just the last 50 years I like to remind people that’s after rachel carson wrote silent spring and after we had the first earth day right so um what we’ve been doing to try to save ecosystems for the last 50 years just isn’t good enough and the more we can get more people engaged in this story not only the producer side but on the consumer side you know if there’s a bunch of people on the call here today look around for producers and you’re doing something regenerative I think them if we can get consumers to go you know I will only buy food that comes from a regenerative system that’s how we’re going to get this thing started that’s truly the silver bullet for all this stuff is consumer demand well that’s great yeah I love that and I love you talking about the the birds is the indicator it’s kind of like we’ve gone from the canary in the coal mine is telling you if you’re running out of air to now it’s the the birds in the grasslands tells you yeah so my audubon friends like to say you know my autobahn friends like to say that the metal arc is the canary of the prairie yeah exactly well russ thank you so much uh we were doing just you know 30 minutes today I appreciate I think we could have gone for hours and hours on so many different topics I I want to make sure i’ve got your website correct it is right yep and you can follow us on facebook I posted a link to this over there so if you I guess we didn’t get any other um audience questions but feel free to ask me questions there you can follow us on twitter bluenessbeef and i’ll do my best to answer questions and of course if you get anything sent in my way but always happy to chat i’m we’re mission driven we’re we may look like a box of beef that shows up on your doorstep that’s really tasty and flavorful but behind that box is a mission so I will do all I can to help those of you that have questions and curiosity uh related to the mission well wonderful well thank you so much for joining us today russ uh again for everybody who is here just uh you can follow us on grassroots carbon on linkedin instagram facebook uh we’ll be sharing a recording through our various social media channels from this webinar as well as for future webinars too we’ll have our events page at so you can sign up for more um if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to our team and again thank you so much russ it was wonderful to have you here today that’s awesome thanks again for having me it’s a true honor great thank you all so much and uh and we welcome you all to join us again we’ll keep the chat open for a few minutes but I know people are off on their lunch break so we’ll let you go grab a bite to eat and get back to your day.