Building healthy soils is essential for the future. However, with more focus on carbon credits, carbon markets, and carbon farming, do you know why soil carbon has become a focus? Watch our recorded webinar to hear Senior Data Scientist at CIBO Margaret Kosmala explain the life cycle of soil carbon and why we believe carbon credits are the key to a sustainable future.
Here are some of the questions this webinar answers
How did interest in regenerative agriculture start? Why do we care?
The interest in paying attention to soils in US agriculture dates back to the dust bowl. It was an interesting and tragic event in that there was a combination of technology, society, and environmental factors that caused great hunger in displacement back in the 1930s.
There was an agriculture boom when the plow became mechanized. The new technology arrived when the environment was wet and agriculture expanded west into drier parts of the US. In the 1930’s that switched and the climate dried out.
We found out in a tragic way that the mechanized plowing disrupted the soil, dried it out and the soil was literally blown off the fields. Farmers lost all of the nutrients in the soil. The US government started setting up agencies to make farming more sustainable. That was the start of the interest in soil health.
Now, we have the concept of sustainable agriculture. Even after measures have been taken not to have another dust bowl, we wanted to take other steps to keep the soil healthy. We need to maintain the nutrients in the soil. In the 1990’s there become an interest in sustainable agriculture which has progressed most recently into regenerative agriculture. We no longer only want to sustain the soil but we want to invest in the soil. That makes it better for society, farmers, and the environment.
Can you walk us through the elements of regenerative agriculture?
There are five principles.
- Do not disturb the soil too much. Soil is made up of inorganic items (rocks) as well as a living components (bacteria, insects, etc.). If you’re disturbing it constantly, the living components have a harder time staying intact.
- Maximize crop diversity. It creates resilience in the system. Any given species of plant has its strengths and weaknesses. Having divested crops helps crops grow all the time and helps prevent pests.
- Keep the soil covered. This is to prevent erosion. If the soil is bare then water and wind can move the soil off the area it should be.
- Maintain living roots year-round. It helps hold the soil in place. It keeps the soil alive and the system healthy.
- Integrate livestock. In the natural ecosystem, you would have animals on the landscape and their excrements would be included in the soil again. It helps break down into the soil to make it healthier.
Where does carbon come into regenerative ag?
Carbon is the fundamental building block of all living things. There is carbon in the air in the form of carbon dioxide. There is carbon in plants. There is carbon in the soil. The way that carbon moves through the soil is in a system relationship.
Plants pull carbon dioxide from the air to build more plants with it. In a farm field, plants build themselves from carbon dioxide and then we harvest the grains. The rest of the plant dies and the biomass from the plant goes onto the surface. That is the plant residue that is included in the soil. Now there is more carbon in the soil. The microbes deconstruct the plant and the carbon that isn’t observed goes into the soil for a long period. Some carbon is stored in the short term and used for nutrients. The microbes then breathe some of that carbon back into the atmosphere.
Can you connect the regenerative practices with keeping carbon in the field?
Specific practices that farmers can use to impact the soil carbon are using cover crops, doing less tillage or less fertilizer.
- Cover crops are adding more biomass to the soil. It adds more carbon to the soil. Some of that carbon stays in the soil and can be used by crops in the next year.
- Tillage reduces the soil from eroding away and helps maintain the living component of microbiota and the structure.
- If you’re using practices that enrich soil health, you can use less fertilizer. Fertilizers can have bad impacts including increasing greenhouse gas emissions or leaching into the water sources.