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We need an organic method to turn rice fields from methane emitters into carbon sinks.

 
Brett Pritchard
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Rice fields emit up to 2.5 Gt of CO2e per annum, when looking at the warming potential of methane over a 100 year period. Recent research by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines indicates organic wet paddy rice growing can emit over double the methane emissions of rice grown using agrochemicals. This is because organic farmers use more organic matter such as manures, and it is organic matter in flooded anaerobic conditions that stimulates the growth of the anaerobic bacteria that create methane. It is possible the government there and in other rice growing countries, if pushed by the agrochemical companies such as Monsanto, could ban the growing of organic rice on the premise it will add to the country's greenhouse gas emissions. While this is not likely we need to counter with trials that show you can reduce emissions through organic techniques. Or even go one better and develop natural organic techniques that stop the methane emissions completely AND turn the paddy fields into carbon sinks. Many paddy fields soil are low in carbon and when they are drained and left fallow they become carbon dioxide emitters, as the exposed soil carbon is oxidised and turned into carbon dioxide. The third main greenhouse gas (after carbon dioxide and methane) is nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen chemical fertilisers and overuse of animal manures. While methane has around 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide has nearly 300 times! It is also the main atmospheric pollutant in some countries, and so a perfect climate-friendly rice growing system would also sequest atmospheric nitrogen in much the same way legumes do to reduce the need for nitrogen fertiliser. So now we know what to aim for - an organic way to stop methane emissions from flooded rice fields, and that also gets them to sequest nitrogen when flooded and sequest carbon when drained. The method has to be cheap and easy and if permaculture based it also needs to help close the food-waste-food cycle. Currently 40% of the food that is grown is wasted and much ends up in landfill where it creates methane. With conventional composting you can lose up to 3/4 of the nitrogen and carbon as it oxides and converts to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, which is one reason a compost pile loses mass. The perfect system then also needs to convert the food waste to fertiliser without creating any greenhouse gases, and be carried out in closed containers that keep insects and rodents out and smells in. Many rice growing countries have a tropical climate and large amounts of waste food being composted in the open would attract vermin and spread disease. Once the rice fields are converted to organic growing then sustainable traditional techniques can be reintroduced such as fish and ducks and fruit trees, turning them into flourishing polycultures. However first we need an enclosed system that will convert food waste into a liquid organic probiotic fertiliser using natural bacterial action that doesn't create methane or oxidise carbon or nitrogen and pulls the nutrients and natural phytochemicals and enzymes into the liquid, and for that fertiliser to supress the methanogenesis microbiome and replace it with beneficial natural non-sulphuric phytosynthetic bacteria that utilises infrared light (warmth) to sequest nitrogen in anaerobic conditions and sequests carbon in aerobic conditions. Wow, even saying it is a bit much! THE GREAT NEWS IS WE ALREADY HAVE IT! An Australian permaculturist spent 16 years tinkering with EM (Effective Microorganisms) and not only added the extra purple non-sulphuric photosynthetic bacteria and other beneficial soil bacteria, he also created a stable culture by incorporating an 8-step circular process. This means an organic fertiliser based on EM/bokashi can be produced that is stable enough for broadscale commercial purposes. With conventional EM, often only used in home bokashi composting systems, the liquid produced has to be used within a week as the bacterial balance goes out. The same guy developed a unit for commercial kitchens called a Bio-Regen unit that is like a food grinder disposal unit, but instead of going down the drain the minced food waste is automatically inoculated with his modified EM and washed with a little water into 1,000 litre IBC tanks where it undergoes anaerobic fermentation for a month. Trials using the probiotic liquid fertiliser in the Burdekin farmlands in Queensland, Australia, showed staggering soil carbon increases with one property going from 0.09% soil carbon to over 3% in just one year. I saw a Bio-Regen unit in operation at a residential college in Townsville, Australia, in early 2013 just after it had bern installed. In the first four months of operation it converted 5 tons of food waste into 11,000 litres of liquid organic probiotic fertiliser, known as xlr8. The small units can handle about a third of a ton of food waste a day, and the guy has just brought out a larger model. I had just been asked to build a couple of food garden beds at the uni and when i saw the 1,000 litre tanks of food waste undergoing anaerobic fermentation without creating methane a lightbulb went off, and I developed my carbon-negative BioWicked urban food growing beds that are basically soil-only wicking beds (no sand or gravel layer) that use the xlr8 to stop methane emissions from the saturated anaerobic soil layer. The wet xlr8 saturated soil pulls nitrogen from the air into the lower part of the bed where it wicks up to the plant roots. Once the bacteria in thd xlr8 wicks up into the aerobic higher sections of soil it switches function and sequests carbon, improving soil structure and water+nutrient holding capability and turning the BioWicked beds into urban carbon sinks. I'vd been experimenting with the BioWicked carbon-negative organic waste recycling and food production system for three years now and slowly getting my web page at <www.biowicked.com> together, where i will be sharing everything i have learnt about carbon negative farming. Which reminds me, I started this post today as I would love to win one of Eric's new book on carbon farming techniques as it is over A$130 to get it and I'm saving for the first step of these rice field trials. Anyway, back to the rice field trials. There is some more info about it at <www.tropicaloffsets.com> which also goes into how the xlr8 could be combined with Mike Hands (Inga Foundation) alley cropping techniques to boost mycorrhizal growth and assist in phosphate cycling in non-rice growing tropical areas. For info or to help get the initial alley crop trials happening this October check out <www.gofundme.com/Penan>. These trials will be an example for an indigenous tribe in northern Borneo on how to replace swidden agriculture with a system that requires no burning and uses about a sixth the land area for the same yield, freeing up rainforest areas from conversion to agriculture due to growing populations and allowing them to retain their remaining intact forest as a hunting/gathering reserve. Any questions or if you think you can help, financially or otherwise, contact me at <drytropics@gmail.com>
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I think the best method for reducing emissions of green house gases while still converting kitchen waste to fertilizer is the worm farm.

Even in Bokashi there is the prospect of some green house emissions, by using worms to process the waste, this prospect is eliminated as the worms digest the food materials.

We use this method as well as using our hogs to process vegetative food wastes.

Rice fields that are fertilized with unfinished compost tend to release more green house gasses than those prepared with fully finished compost materials, the use of chemical fertilizers actually has the reverse of the desired effect on soil fertility.
It is also beneficial for rice to be started in the dry and only flooded once the plants have grown to the point that they need the flooded fields.
An other method would be to ebb and flow these fields, so the soil remains saturated but surface water is removed.
By treating a field as if it were a hydroponic flat, the emissions could be reduced while still having the rice plants thrive.

 
Brett Pritchard
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While worm farming is great it isn't instant and of course there are emissions, while with the commetcial bokashi system it is in sealed tanks and no greenhouse gases are created at all. The modified EM I use is great as it isn't acidic and can be used with worms. If processing my own waste as I don't have a Bio-Regen unit I use a combination of bokashi and worms. I've also set this system up at two community gardens. The food waste is fermented in closed 5 or 10 litre containers for a month with the EM. This turns food waste like onion and citrus peels that worms don't usually like into something they will eat. I then put it into a large worm farm for further processing. The fermentation process not only locks in the carbon and nitrogen that would otherwise have been oxidised, it also adds bacteria that sequest carbon and nitrogen so there are no emissions of either from the worm farm and the worm castings are further enriched by the armospheric carbon and nitrogen sequested by the bacteria. I build the worm farms with reservoirs and drain this beautiful bokashi fermented worm exudate from the base, as well as creating the darkest and richest soil you've ever seen.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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every fermentation I've ever done has created the release of CO2, so my question is where does this go in a closed system?
The actions of fermentation have to go somewhere, are these being take up by some organisim(s) or is it just a perception that no emissions are released?
I am open to new ideas always.

 
Brett Pritchard
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Im not sure with the sealed IBC system as I've brewed my own bokashi up using water and molasses and it does produce a small amount of gas daily as it ferments. I have been told though that the weight of an IBC with 1,000 litres of fermenting food waste increases as the mix ferments, as it is pulling in gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide into the liquified food waste. It mixes with worms as it is high in hydrogen ions but totally unbuffered so when exposed to air the hydrogen binds with oxygen and forms water, while conventional EM/bokashi is acidic and worms don't eat it straight away. One other bonus of this method is that during the 28 day fermentation cycle the pH drops to 3.5 which kills e-coli and salmonella, then goes back up again as the fermentation cycle completes. The bacterial mix is not only totally safe and non-toxic, it actually can be used to brew up a great probiotic drink.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Sounds very cool Brett, I'm going to set up a system like yours and do some testing. I'm always looking for improvements and this sounds very promising. Pilamayaye kola ( thank you my friend).
 
Eric Toensmeier
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All that sounds great. There's lots of work that's been done on reducing emissions from rice paddies as well as sequestering carbon in rice production systems. Emissions can be reduced by minimizing the flooding period. The International Rice Research Institute has been doing a lot of work on this. We are also very close to the commercial release of perennial rice, which will represent a carbon–sequestering practice. Finally I've gotten very excited about the system of rice intensification, a non-flooded intensive smallholder rice production model that sequesters carbon will greatly increasing yields. And as a non-flooded system it also greatly reduces methane emissions.
 
Brett Pritchard
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Eric, the non-flooded intensive rice system sounds great. While minmising the flooding period would reduce methane emissions it wouldn't stop them completely like the method mentioned above. While changing wet paddy farmers to intensive systems incorporating dryland rice is a solution, I believe there would be less resistence from many farmers to convert to the system I describe where they can continue much of their same practices. It is also a very cost effective way for wet paddy rice producers to convert to organic growing, as the probiotic fertiliser is made from food waste and is very cheap to produce. Farmers who are used to backpack spraying could just convert from spraying agrochemicals to spraying the fertiliser, or it could just be added to the water as it flows into the fields. This system also deals with urban food waste in a method that converts it to the required probiotic fertiliser without creating methane or other greenhouse gases, and creates a market for the fertiliser. One part of the system doesn't work without the other, as there is no point making gallons of liquid fertiliser from food waste if it is not being used. The good thing is that the Australian company that makes the modified EM and the Bio-Regen unit is rapidly expanding and it will hopefully soon become the standard way urban food waste is processed. They opened a Malysian branch a couple of years ago and recently opened their branch in China. This probiotic fertiliser when used on farmlands in the Burdekin area in Australia substantially boosted soil carbon, with one seeing a soil carbon increase from 0.09% to 3% in just one year. We know then that this will sequest carbon into the soils of the drained paddy fields when they are fallow, and we just need to do trials to see how it effects the methane emissions in the flooded fields. As the system also diverts food waste from landfill, stopping methane emissions from that source, it has a much greater effect of reducing emissions than systems that don't close the food-waste-food cycle. I have been told by the developer of the modified EM that I should only have to inoculate the saturated soil in my BioWicked urban grow boxes once to permanently stop the methane emissions, so it could be used as a one off treatment in fields using other organic methods or used regularly for the nutrients.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Eric Toensmeier wrote: We are also very close to the commercial release of perennial rice, which will represent a carbon–sequestering practice.
.

How cold tolerant is the perennial rice? I am working with a clay soil that floods shallow bonds during winter and then dries out by August. We get one or two cold weeks each winter that drop int the twenty's Fahrenheit at night.
What I have done so far is fill the flooding areas with cut grass and flax which keeps weeds from growing during the winter then rake it out this time of year. The water and soil stay at about 40 during the winter. If the perennial rice was planted in July would it over winter here?
 
Eric Toensmeier
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great points all. That perennial rice being developed in China is tropical or subtropical.
 
Scott Strough
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Bret,
There is a carbon solution to rice and millions of rice farmers worldwide are already beginning to adopt it. It is called SRI.
http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/conferences/IRC2014/booth/SRI_climate_smart_rice_production_%20handout_2014.pdf

Also, since until recently there was some controversy over this new method, Cornell University set up a database containing over 600 published science journal articles on the method.
http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/research/index.html

The main page can be found here.
http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/

Since this both improves the carbon footprint and improves yields dramatically, very large programs around the world in many countries are promoting this change. New world records for yields as well. The main resistance being if a farmer and his ancestors have been doing it for 5000 years a certain way, it can sometimes be difficult to get that farmer to change to something new. But the increased yields seen are still convincing many to make the change. After all, few and far between is the farmer who will turn down increased yields on reduced inputs making for greater profits.
 
Brett Pritchard
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Scott - While SRI can reduce methane emissions by 30%, mainly through reducing the amount of time the fields are flooded, the method I outlined would stop 100% of the methane emissions. There is no reason it couldn't be incorporated into existing SRI techniques to further improve both the fertility and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon sequestering bacteria also improves the soil carbon faster than SRI techniques, and as the probiotic fertiliser is made from fermented food waste it also closes the food-waste-food cycle saving further emissions. While SRI is an improvement in rice growing it is still incapable of sequestering more emissions than it creates. When the warming potential of methane is considered over a 20 year period it has over 100 times the warming potential of CO2 and to avoid a climate spike we need to reduce methane emissions from rice fields to zero, and SRI on its own is incapable of achieving that. In contrast the method I detailed is carbon negative as zero methane emissions are created and carbon is locked up in the soil, and as an extra bonus the use of food waste to produce the fertiliser diverts that waste food from landfill where it would rot and create methane.
 
Scott Strough
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Brett Pritchard wrote:Scott - While SRI can reduce methane emissions by 30%, mainly through reducing the amount of time the fields are flooded, the method I outlined would stop 100% of the methane emissions. There is no reason it couldn't be incorporated into existing SRI techniques to further improve both the fertility and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon sequestering bacteria also improves the soil carbon faster than SRI techniques, and as the probiotic fertiliser is made from fermented food waste it also closes the food-waste-food cycle saving further emissions. While SRI is an improvement in rice growing it is still incapable of sequestering more emissions than it creates. When the warming potential of methane is considered over a 20 year period it has over 100 times the warming potential of CO2 and to avoid a climate spike we need to reduce methane emissions from rice fields to zero, and SRI on its own is incapable of achieving that. In contrast the method I detailed is carbon negative as zero methane emissions are created and carbon is locked up in the soil, and as an extra bonus the use of food waste to produce the fertiliser diverts that waste food from landfill where it would rot and create methane.
SRI is a methodology. Products, cultivars and species can be used with it to boost the benefits even more. There is no reason special strains of bacteria can't be used with SRI. In fact, part of the reason SRI works so well is wild strains of bacteria are doing that very function. Helping them out with special strains is like growing "indian" corn or one of the new modern hybrids. Methods equal, the hybrid yields more. So I am in full support of your advocasy of products to boost SRI even more!

Oh and BTW. Life itself is a methane emissions. Even live growing trees emit methane from their leaves. Part of the cycle of life. You do not need to reduce emissions to zero. Only reduce it to a point where abiotic oxidation is in balance with the levels emitted. CO2 doesn't abiotically oxidize in the atmosphere. It's a different beast than say CO2 or CH4 from fossil fuels. It is in the category of breathing. No one expects all the animals on the planet to stop breathing and emitting CO2. That's because all that we breath out came ultimately from plants that breathed it in not so very long ago, usually less than 1 year. It's a net zero when part of biological cycles that are in balance. SRI reduces methane emissions to the levels that do not add to AGW, because they become low enough for biological and abiotic cycles to be in balance.

The way you measure the net increase or decrease is in the soil. Is the soil carbon increasing? Then yes it is reducing AGW. If it is decreasing, it is adding to AGW. SRI is a way to both improve yields and increase soil carbon. A win win.

PS Composting waste is actually already a part of SRI.
 
Bryan Hugill
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Very interesting discussion in this section, and closely tied to our concern re. rice farming in NE Thailand (http://www.permies.com/t/54717//Carbon-farming-rice-NE-Thailand). Following the discussion closely
 
Brett Pritchard
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Sorry if I wasn't clear but I was only referring to stopping methane emissions from rice fields completely, not all of nature. In addition to stopping much more methane than conventional SRI techniques it could be used to enhance the ability of SRI techniques to sequest carbon, except where chemical inputs are used that could supress the bacteria and mycorrhiza. It could also reduce nitrous oxide emissions as some of the beneficial bacteria that replaces the methanogenesis microbiome fixes nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for nitrogen fertiliser. While composting is usually considered carbon negative the EM process goes one further and locks up carbon and nitrogen that is oxidised during most composting systems. It is the combination of the EM composting system (using this improved mix) that produces no greenhouse gases and the carbon sequestering using the organic liquid fertiliser that creates a carbon negative food-waste-food cycle. When trialled on croplands in Australia this fertiliser boosted soil carbon from virtually nothing to over 3% in just one year. The organic fertiliser is cheap and easy to produce, and also deals with food waste in an efficient system that loses none of the nutrients to the air. The BioRegen machines the Australian company developed to easily convert food waste to this probiotic fertiliser have alreasy been introduced to a few rice growing countries in SE Asia and is currently being rolled out in China. The unit has two grinders to finely mince the food waste and it is automatically inoculated with the improved EM and washed with a small amount of water into 1,000 litre IBC tanks. The food waste ferments anaerobically in the closed containers so there is no smell or insect pests or rodents. During the 28 day fermentation the pH drops to 3.5 which kills e-coli, salmonella, and other pathogens then it returns to pH 7 once fermentation ceases. Very soon large amounts of this probiotic organic liquid fertiliser made from EM fermented food waste will be readily available in many rice growing areas and sooner or later someone will begin trials, as it is the most climate friendly way to both recycle food waste and to grow organic rice. I'm just putting the information out there for someone better resourced to take the idea and run with it. I will hopefully be discussing the establishment of a small trial in Sarawak this October, but would love to see a large well resourced group such as the SRI coordinators or the IRRI begin widespread trials. We already know from trials in Australia that this probiotic fertiliser sequests soil carbon faster than any other known system, now we just need to test if it is as efficient at stopping methane emissions from flooded paddy fields.
 
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