Weeds can also help with climate change

Almost no one feels that weeds are good, not only occupying cultivated land, but also hindering the growth of crops. But an agricultural scientist found that weeds not only absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but also help restore damaged land and cope with climate change.

The farmer is Peter Andrews, from Australia. As we all know, although Australia is surrounded by the sea, it is very dry, coupled with farming and grazing, the surface of the land is quite lack of vegetation, which also led to natural disasters such as sandstorms. In his childhood, Andrews experienced a sandstorm that impressed him deeply. “The noise is terrible. We are hiding in the house waiting for it to pass. The whole sky is dark, and the damage caused by sandstorms makes us desperate.” “Many trees in his home were almost completely shredded, and some horses and cattle died because they could not breathe in the dust.” This experience deeply influenced Andrews and also made him interested in sustainable agriculture.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Andrews proposed natural sequence agriculture. In short, he believes that each land landscape has its own characteristics of water flow, such as the location of the water source and the route through which the water flows. If you want to restore damaged land or improve the drought, you have to start from the highest point of the water flow, use any vegetation debris to slow down the water flow, artificially create a filtering effect, similar to a rough sieve. After the water flow has slowed down, there is more time for them to seep into the groundwater system and raise the water level. The weeds that “seems useless” are the best objects for making vegetation fragments.

But at the time, Andrews’s idea was not universally accepted, and it was seen by many as a maverick. While some critics agree with his views on land management and avoiding destructive farming, they are very opposed to the proposal to use weeds: conservation projects usually promote the planting of endemic plants in Australia, rather than allowing the growth of invasive weeds. They believe that weeds will compete with native plants for scarce water. In addition, there is a view that climate change and land clean-up have led to soaring temperatures and extreme weather in Australia. Just in the summer of 2018, the jungle fires basically run through Australia, while northern Queensland faced heavy rainfall and floods, and many native plants and crops were destroyed. Therefore, it is imperative to restore and promote the growth of these plants and crops, and weeds are precisely the obstacles that need to be removed.

However, the natural sequence agriculture pilot, located about an hour east of Canberra, seems to prove that Andrews’ idea about weeds is feasible. The test site is a 6-kilometer farm, Mulloon Creek, which runs through the organic farm network and is now using and promoting the Andrews program. Mulloon’s chairman, Nairn, allows and promotes weed growth according to natural sequence methods, then chopped them into streams, slowed the flow of water, and filtered to increase water flow and increase groundwater levels. Nairn said: “In this way, Australian native plants will gradually resume growth. What we have learned is that unless you know what the purpose of weeds is, never weed out. We actually have some people already I did this along the creek.”

The United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network announced in 2016 that the Mulloon Creek Natural Farm is one of the few truly sustainable agricultural uses in the world and praises the model of natural sequence agriculture. Crista Anderson, a climate researcher at the World Wide Fund for Nature, said: “The beauty of weeds is that they are also like carbon sinks: a system that takes carbon out of the atmosphere and places it in another form of storage. These can help control climate change. Even if forests have enormous carbon storage potential, they can help reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but there are also a lot of agricultural practices that can increase carbon storage. We need to improve forest management, conservation and Restore wetlands, peatlands and seagrasses and improve our farming practices to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.”

Australia’s sustainable farm, Mulloon Creek, is proving that low-tech weeds can also help reduce carbon emissions and allow rivers to flow again. Although this is currently a small project, it brings hope to future agriculture, which is a small and important solution to serious global problems.