Paying Attention to Soil: Carbon Storage and Sequestration

Posted on Friday, September 27th, 2013 by

The University of California magazine California Agriculture recently published a report that measured soil carbon levels in three perennial cropping systems across Northern California.  This study, which was funded by the USDA, brings California one step closer to realizing programs for agriculture that could incentivize sustainable soil management practices and provide financial benefits to farmers.

With a focus on the lesser-understood “high-value specialty perennial crops,” such as walnuts, almonds and wine grapes, researchers in the study sought to develop baseline soil carbon estimates for a variety of agricultural land types and management systems. They gathered data by implementing long-term monitoring networks in perennial crop soils, using a research methodology that could serve as a model for future carbon storage studies.

Why are these measurements so important?

Establishing baseline carbon levels is necessary for determining how changes to a farming system – adding biomass, reducing tillage – may increase the carbon sequestering potential of a land area.  If such changes can be verifiably predicted and quantified, farms would be able to demonstrate carbon sequestration and could sell carbon credits or receive other financial incentives (such as the payments provided by NRCS conservation programs) on the basis of this data.

California’s cap-and-trade program does not currently regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of the agricultural industry. With adequate information on carbon levels in soils, however, it may be possible to systematically incentivize climate-friendly agricultural practices and support the state’s farmers and ranchers in contributing climate solutions by voluntarily reducing their emissions and/or sequestering carbon.

Unfortunately, studies producing solid data on carbon reporting in soils remain rare. Increased investment in this kind of research, therefore, will be a crucial step in enabling farms to simultaneously benefit from the state’s climate policies and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. CalCAN continues to advocate that a portion of the revenue generated from cap-and-trade should be invested in climate-friendly farming practices, technical assistance and research such as that exemplified by this report.


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