Life on earth as we know it would not exist without Carbon, without it living things would not be able to live and grow. The ability of carbon to bond with other elements gives it flexibility in its form and to perform many functions, from regulating the earth’s temperature to being one of the major fuels which power the globe. Carbon is found in rocks, sediment, the food we eat, our DNA, the atmosphere, the oceans; everywhere!
Carbon is a finite resource, so the carbon cycle is vital in ensuring carbon changes forms and performs different functions as it moves between the soil, living things, the ocean and the atmosphere. Plants play a crucial role in the carbon cycle; through the process of photosynthesis, which is the only method we have of removing carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere and placing it back into the soil.
Roughly 500 million years ago there was estimated to be about 7,000 ppm (parts per million)1 of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, this began to fall due to several earth-moving events and the mass increase in ocean life, along with the increased complexity of organisms living on land. With the evolution of larger plant life (roughly 375 million years ago) came increased photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert CO2 and sunlight into carbohydrates (simple sugars) and leak them into the soil (exudation), feeding soil biology.
The 10,000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution saw CO2 levels in the atmosphere stabilise at around 280ppm, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been steadily increasing since. In 1958 they were measured at 316ppm and now the global average is around 420ppm2.
Photosynthesis is key to removing carbon from the atmosphere and returning it back to the soil, green growing plants are essential to this process, as are the microbes in the soil which consume the carbohydrates produced by plants.
Changes to farming practices over the last 100 years have seen a reduction in soil biology and soil carbon. Plants in conventional (high synthetic inputs) farming systems have easy access to nutrients and don’t rely on biology to provide their nutrient requirements. These plants become lazy, they photosynthesise less and as a result, their roots are smaller and the soil contains less organic matter.
It is the organic matter in plant roots (in comparison to surface leaf litter) as they decompose which is the most efficient way to increase soil carbon levels. Soil microbes drive decomposition, without photosynthesising plants feeding soil biology and growing big root systems the sequestration of carbon is not optimised.
This brings us to Carbon Farming, which in essence involves introducing farming practices that increase soil carbon levels. Soil carbon levels are monitored over a set period of time and farmers earn carbon credits based on how much carbon they sequester; carbon credits can then be traded by farmers for cash.
Carbon Farming and locking into projects may be daunting to many farmers, especially smaller-scale farmers. However, there are many benefits to be gained by increasing soil carbon besides carbon credits.
Soil carbon acts as a sponge, so increasing the amount of carbon in your soil will increase the moisture-holding capacity of your soil, and with another dry period on the way, who doesn’t want that?! In turn, increased soil carbon helps reduce the adverse impacts of waterlogging, as carbon absorbs rainfall rather than plant roots sitting in water being deprived of oxygen.
Follow-on advantages include more stable soil temperatures, which benefit the biology in the soil as well as growing plants. Increased soil carbon supports soil biology, and biologically active soils increase plant immunity and resilience to environmental challenges such as disease, pests, frost and drought.
With increased fuel, chemical and fertiliser costs, increasing soil carbon will help many farmers reduce input costs. Biologically active soils require fewer pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, as plants have increased resilience. Soil biology will unlock nutrients in the soil that are currently unavailable, leading to soils requiring few synthetic nutrients. Additionally, the increased soil moisture will mean crops can hold on longer in dry times and are less susceptible to frost damage.
For farmers unsure whether a carbon farming project is for them, the benefits of increasing soil carbon extend well beyond earning carbon credits. The benefits for future generations cannot go without being mentioned, carbon-rich soils bring nutrient-dense food and are the best chance we have of returning atmospheric carbon dioxide to less alarming levels.
NutriSoil used as a foliar spray helps increase photosynthesis in plants, as a result, plants are exudating at a higher rate and feeding the soil biology. This leads to increased plant root biomass, greater organic matter and ultimately more soil carbon. NutriSoil contains a diverse range of microorganisms and other complex compounds which improve plant resilience and immunity and can also be used as a seed inoculant. DNA analysis has proven worm-based biostimulants provide the most diverse mix of microbes from all the biostimulants on the market and when used as part of a farming system helps optimise crop health and productivity.
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