Over the past several years, the effects of climate change have been increasingly felt, with the past 12 months being the hottest such period in at least 125,000 years. The window to prevent a global climate catastrophe continues to shrink, and humans, who caused the problem, must act to find solutions.
One such person who is taking action is Kevin Maher, co-founder and CEO of CrannMor Advisors, an innovative sustainable agriculture company based in upstate New York. A former commodities trader in NYC, he became interested in food and agriculture when his daughter developed a rare food intolerance. As he delved further into how her food was grown and sourced, he realized that agriculture could be a solution to more than nutritional issues. Already concerned with climate and biodiversity issues, Maher says that as he progressed along those paths, he realized that real solutions can be found for all three issues through how humans manage land through regenerative agriculture and proper water management.
This led to him co-founding CrannMor Advisors. with Mark Shepard, the award-winning author of the books Restoration Agriculture: Real-World Permaculture for Farmers and Water for Any Farm: Applying Restoration Agriculture Water Management Methods on Your Farm.
CrannMor aims to leverage the productivity and efficiency of regenerative agriculture practices to implement nature-based solutions while generating business success. By using agroforestry practices that combine perennial crops and livestock, they design agriculture systems to mimic the plant communities and ecosystems that evolved in the region. Working with the playbook developed by evolution gives many advantages, including a reduced reliance on expensive inputs. The company aims to establish a new model of farming that incorporates carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, and improved land capacity to hold water while producing nutrient-dense food to feed people.
“By applying these natural principles, we have the potential to put in place crops that meet human needs while providing habitat for microbes, insects, birds, and other life. This life in turn helps to cycle nutrients, control pests and diseases, and provide other services that we would have to do in their absence. We can rebuild the ecosystems that we've degraded and do it remarkably fast. I believe that's where a lot of the opportunity lies,” Maher says.
Much of the public discourse around mitigating climate change is centered on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. This is important but ignores the vastly more powerful role of water in regulating the heat dynamics of the atmosphere. Restoring ecosystems with regenerative agriculture and re-vegetating our landscapes with perennial cover allows us to work with this powerful lever to cool the earth.
To improve our management of water resources, CrannMor advocates for the Master Line Water Management System, developed by Mark Shepard. This system is a whole-farm water management system, designed to capture and spread water more efficiently and evenly across a farm property. It is geared towards improving water holding capacity and increasing soil fertility and depth.
Maher adds that the carbon and water cycles are closely intertwined, and the more carbon that is present in the soil, the more water it can hold. Water is the ultimate limiting resource. Having more water allows for more plant growth, more transpiration that cools the landscape, more carbon capture, leading to more water storage, and then we have a virtuous cycle. Ecosystem restoration can cool down the environment more effectively than a narrow focus only on reducing carbon emissions.
Regenerative agriculture also has huge potential from the perspective of an energy transition. Currently, our agricultural system is responsible for around 25% of carbon emissions. By leveraging the life in natural systems to capture energy and do the work we would otherwise need to do with inputs, we can greatly reduce fossil fuel inputs and fuels. Combining that reduction in fossil fuel use with the carbon drawdown potential of these agroforestry systems can be very powerful. Maher asks “How low can that number be driven with a regenerative approach? Can it go carbon-negative? Let’s find out.”
“Agriculture at its core is about supplying energy for the human body through food,” Maher says. “Today's conventional high-input agriculture is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. So, essentially, it is transforming fossil fuels into human calories. What CrannMor and other advocates of regenerative agriculture propose is to go back and build ecosystems and ecological functions that capture as much solar energy as possible per unit of land and turn that into human calories. For example, an acre of corn creates a lot of calories but that is mostly feed for livestock and industry, not food. That same acre that also has shrubs, trees, and everything in between, can maximize the amount of sunlight we capture and transform it into food, while also restoring the ecosystem to have a lot of natural allies, such as insects, microbes, and so forth.”
Name: Kevin Maher
Email: [email protected]