SoilOptix® Blog

The crucial role played by soil organic carbon on agricultural productivity

As atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rise persistently, there is an urgent need for fresh, bold solutions for carbon dioxide removal. A rich body of soil research has focused on quantifying and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from soils and soil carbon cycling. Much of this research has guided new best practices for agriculture and land management. The unabated pace of climate change requires more than just slowing soil carbon loss; we need new fundamental and applied science that can increase soil organic carbon storage and longevity.

Understanding soil organic carbon

One necessary type of “soil carbon” is organic matter, made of decayed materials from living organisms like plants, animals, and microbes. How does organic matter have carbon in them? The term “organic” means chemical compounds containing carbon (and usually hydrogen) and other elements. Organic compounds are prevalent, especially in living organisms. It is known that plants “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen. Plants use carbon dioxide to develop new cells so stems, roots, and leaves can grow and thrive. The carbon part of carbon dioxide is even used to develop flowers, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Depletion of soil organic carbon

According to the study, there is a chance of a reduction of 10% of carbon stock when there is a change in land use from forest to cropland. Unsustainable management practices like excessive irrigation, overgrazing, deforestation, excessive tillage, and burning agricultural fields cause SOC losses. A large quantity of carbon in the soil is reduced due to plant harvesting processes.

The process of decomposition done by microorganisms present in the soil, where half of the soil organic carbon is released directly in the form of carbon dioxide, is a significant reason behind soil organic carbon depletion. Greater root biomass also results in carbon loss due to the increased respiration rate through these roots.

The amount of soil organic carbon present is affected by climate, texture, water content, land use, and vegetation. When the quantity of carbon in soil is minimized, it affects the ability of soil to give nutrients to the plant, which in turn leads to low yield and affects food security. It also reduces soil bio-diversity since it affects the growth of microbes. Global warming also contributes to the depletion of organic matter present in the soil.

How to build soil carbon?

Increased carbon sequestration in farms can be achieved by adopting carbon farming practices that benefit soil health and productivity. As land managers, placing the health of soils central to farm operations may seem unclear at first. And with varying purposes, developing carbon in the soils takes years, decades, and even centuries to form (referred to as active, slow, and passive carbon pools, respectively).

Regenerative soil practice is all about playing the long game — building carbon in the soil to help future-proof farms.

In conclusion

Increasing the carbon stocks on your land can be leveraged to apply for carbon offset credits in the voluntary carbon market. Keeping as much carbon in soils as possible is essential to life on Earth and scientists are finding out ways to store more carbon in the soil in the form of organic matter. The increase of soil organic carbon in soils is limited to the soil carbon saturation level. Our soil mapping solution can delineate the optimal pathway to increase soil carbon on a farm level.

Interested to learn how to improve your soil organic carbon stock? Get in touch with the experts at SoilOptix® today!