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Carbon farming or Carbon cheating?

 
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The local power company is doing lots of line clearing in my area and I asked them to dump their wood chips at my place.  Its only been a few weeks and I have quite a bit and they will be at it all summer long.   Gonna use chips to mulch garden, incorporate in some large compost heaps , use as animal bedding (to be composted later)  and in my Sedore wood stove (thereby saving on the number of trees I harvest for heating).

My question is while I am increasing the carbon content of my farm am I carbon farming or carbon importing?  I hope to buy a woodchipper this year and produce my own chips.  I aspire to be a carbon farmer but for now I think I am just a carbon cheater.  What do you think?
 
gardener
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First I would like to commend you for at least pondering and considering this issue!

Second, I'd suggest it really isn't one extreme or the other.
- The lines have to be cleared, and if the power company is trimming and chipping rather than using herbicides to kill the plants, making good use of those chips is far better than the alternative.
- In my area, if local's don't take them, the companies use more fossil fuels driving the load to further destinations.
There is a place for suggesting you are being carbon "neutral" - increasing your farm's carbon by importing a waste stream that needs a home. "Neutral" is already a step ahead of so many farms/properties. So long as your long term plans include growing carbon-rich trees and increasing the carbon sequestration in your own soil, I'd concern yourself less about the label, and more about using this resource wisely and carefully to kick-start the longer term goal of being a carbon storage expert.
 
pollinator
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Jay Angler wrote:making good use of those chips is far better than the alternative.



I agree.  And using the chips to grow food is about the most "carbon farming" way one could use them.  Growing our own food at home using hand (or mostly hand) methods can dramatically reduce our production of carbon dioxide.  Jump-starting a garden in which one will produce one's own carbon supplies is a good use of chips from a power company.

So not cheating at all, in my opinion!

 
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I would call it carbon importing or cheating of emissions accountancy.

If you didn't request the wood, it would've likely ended up as mulch for highway landscaping growing natives on some very marginal land or municipally composted (thats what happens with dumped chips here).
I would argue that is a better use of the resource than growing fruit and cooking - purely from a carbon emissions perspective.
[Store-bought food can be incredibly carbon-intensive, but not if you eat simple wholefoods in sensible quantities]

There are so many soil amendments that can be utilised on your own property without needing imports.
A handful of compost can be extended almost infinitely with an aerated brew and growing your own mulch is not a difficult or lengthy endeavour.
There's also the matter of all the carbon and nitrogen flowing through you on a daily basis.

I prefer the zero budget strain of permaculture both for emissions reductions and the achievable model it sets for those in poverty, who may not even have power lines, let alone a source of free woodchips.
(I am assuming that climate change can only be addressed from the grass-roots, as the top-down approach seems to be incapable of making sufficient and timely change)
 
pollinator
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What Jay said. The power company gets charged to dump the chips at the local landscaping emporium, where they resell it at $24/yard. And it's 10 miles each way. And they nibble plants when they drop and are asking me how to grow stuff. Perfection is the enemy of the good.
 
Jeff Marchand
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Thanks everyone for your positive feedback.

I am excited to see the impact all this imported carbon in the form of woodchips will make on my farm.  As mentioned I plan on investing in a PTO powered woodchipper to go on the back of my tractor.  Seeing the benefits of the chips will help justify the big expense of the chipper. About half of my land is agriculturally unproductive brush and I think having a chipper is a key tool to bringing the land back into food production
 
pollinator
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I'd say you're not cheating. The chipping is happening anyway. As others have said, the chips are going someplace so, it might as well be your place . Keeping the chips local has many benefits, as stated.
I'd also recommend that if you can maintain this relationship with the tree crew, you could (A.) forego buying your own chipper, and (B.) save your time spent running said chipper since you would have all the chips you need delivered.
It's also possible that while they drop off those chips, that if you had a neat pile staged for chipping and maybe a case of cold beer, they would do you a favor and deal with both... ;-)

Hugelculture would be another way to deal with your brush.
 
pollinator
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This can't conceivably count as cheating by any reasonable measure. Cheating would entail something like counting something as a carbon sink when it's actually just offgassing to the atmosphere, or counting as a personal carbon asset something that grew by itself, in a spot where it would have been by itself.

In my opinion, it's like this: If you set aside land to grow a carbon sink, that's carbon farming. If you point to land under your stewardship that is grown up in trees, hasn't changed since you've been there, and isn't remotely in your usage plan, and then count it as something you've done to put you in the black for carbon, that's cheating. You haven't done anything, you're just claiming something else's good for your own.

In this case, wood chips get dropped in a situation where they are converted more quickly into soil. Soil grows more carbon sink. Because it's under the stewardship of a Permie, you can be assured that whatever happens afterwards, will be a carbon-neutral activity, even if it's the burning of fuel wood.

Carbon cheating is using sequestered carbon for profit, so basically anything in the fossil fuel and petroleum industry, anything that uses plastics, fuels, or chemicals derived therefrom. If it grew in today's air and using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it's a carbon sink.

At best, the OP's question is a non sequitur. Even if the wood chips were all burned, it would be, in effect, carbon neutral, or better if the solid pyrolysis products were returned to the soil.

-CK
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:if you can maintain this relationship with the tree crew, you could (A.) forego buying your own chipper, and (B.) save your time spent running said chipper since you would have all the chips you need delivered.



I agree about not buying one's own chipper.  Brush can be chopped up with hand tools or chainsaw and made into small piles or windrows.  Generally it doesn't need to be chipped, just cut a bit smaller than a whole branch, and laid so it is touching the soil.  Low piles and windrows rot away very quickly, in my experience.

 
pollinator
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I had a similar thought when I first started getting loads of wood chips dropped off to use on my property.
Ultimately, I decided it was a case of Nature's Boundaries VS Man's Boundaries.
Nature doesn't care about the fence line between my land & my neighbor's. Every year it allows the wind to blow Catalpa & Mimosa seeds across the fence, or birds to drop beautyberry & mulberry seeds to germinate on my property, which I chop for mulch or other carbon uses; even though it wasn't sourced on my property.
I've also purchased fruit trees & other perennial food sources that add carbon to the soil since I wouldn't have anything to produce edibles, otherwise. Even the big pecan trees that constantly she'd branches & leaves aren't natural; as they're left over from when this property was part of a pecan orchard 100 years ago. My rabbits, poultry, and pigs produce over a ton of manure & old bedding each year, and none of them are native species.

With all of that said, my point is that it's almost impossible to only have resources that originated from within the boundaries of your property, since nature doesn't care about property lines; and we often wouldn't have everything we need to meet nutritional needs if we don't bring in an original source; therefore it isn't worth worrying/stressing about utilizing a foreign source of carbon to build soil on your land. Sure, it costs fuel for the tree company to bring the chips to me.... But it would use more fuel to take them to the landfill and, at least I will make the most of their potential to be fed back to the earth. For me, that's much better than getting my carbon sources from a place where they'd naturally be used by the earth.
 
Chris Kott
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I mean, is it cheating to use an off-site power source? Because if it is, anyone growing anything, and anyone harvesting solar power, either directly through photovoltaics or indirectly through wind power or the conversion of biomass to fuel is also cheating.

In more concrete terms, I think that the answer is going to lie in what the woodchips do on your property. If they foster the development of fungi in your woodlands, is that sequestering carbon? If those networks of mycelia optimise the transport of needed minerals and nutrients to other living organisms, thereby increasing their rates of growth, is that sequestering carbon?

Did you initiate this increased rate of carbon sequestration by adding those woodchips? Hell, even if they were turned into biochar first, with the embodied carbon footprint it implies, it would still be sequestering carbon, and that carbon would be in a more stable form, besides.

Carbon farming is pretty complex, but also can be straightforward. Carbon cheating, as mentioned above, necessitates the want to profit off of claiming carbon points in an economy set up to allow such a thing, where the carbon points were sequestered through no act of the claimant.

As to woodchippers, I am on the fence on this one. I would feel better about questionable energy use, like chippers, hammer mills, or, say, pellet extruders, if they were all powered by carbon-neutral or negative renewable power sources, but in some cases, it's warranted. I would love to see forestry mulching roomba-like units mulching debris and competing undergrowth to block further competing undergrowth for the establishment of trees rather than the use of glyphosate for similar ends.

But low-energy is also possible. Goats can and are used to clear and control competing growth in forestry operations in Quebec, alongside mechanical removal. If you have any variations in grade on your property, you could use whole limbs, or broken ones, on-contour in areas where you want to trap sediment and organic litter, to foster soil development, rather than to make woodchips. You could also inoculate them with appropriate culinary or non-culinary fungal species that will colonise and break down the fallen limbs. Logs do eventually turn into spongy, mossy masses in appropriate conditions. If you don't want to use a chipper, there are slower alternatives.

-CK
 
Jeff Marchand
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I think ease of handling of the chips vs branches is deciding factor for me. I can chip brush and mulch with chip alot easier than mulching with brush.  I can compost animal manure alot easier with woodchips than I can with branches.  I think chipping get the carbon into the soil alot faster than just leaving it to rot since it increases surface area.

As an update I added many front end loader buckets of woodchips to last years cow manure pile over the summer which I turned weekly. On weekend I added about 5 cubic yards of the most beautiful and rich compost to my garden.  I dumped most of it onto one large bed. Plan to grow an amazing three sisters garden there next year.  All mulched with woodchips of course.

 
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Wood chips are one of my favorite types of mulch from the garden. And yes, they are much easier to work with than larger branches. I have a deal with my local utility companies to drop off a load whenever they are in the area. The chips are much rougher than the ones you'd buy at a garden store but I like them better because they last a longer as chipped paths. I also love when I get a delivery of chipped branches. They are the perfect mix of carbon (the branches) and nitrogen (all of the shredded leaves) for composting.
 
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