As climate change continues to alter weather patterns around the world, extreme weather events like flooding and drought are becoming increasingly common, making it more and more difficult for farmers to protect their crops and livestock.
As we have once again witnessed record flooding in many parts of Australia, how devastating the impact of these extreme weather events will become to agricultural production, communities and the longevity of agricultural land as anthropogenic climate change continues to accelerate, is becoming more clear.
In conversations with colleagues and clients, we continue to stress that there has never been a more important time to build soil carbon than today. The following blog post explores the importance of sequestering carbon in soil to build on-farm resistance to extreme weather events.
It is healthy, functioning, carbon–rich soils that can make our farms more resistant to weather shocks.
Soil carbon is essential for soil health, providing nutrients, structure and increasing the water holding capacity of the soil. It is vital for creating resilient farms that can withstand floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events. Roughly 50% of soil organic matter (SOM) is carbon. SOM is responsible for soil’s structure and water holding capacity, it is what makes soil less prone to erosion and what makes it not only more capable of holding water at source but also infiltrating a greater portion of precipitation.
With increased carbon levels, soils become better able to absorb and store water.
Healthy soil structure and increased soil porosity are key for allowing soil to absorb and retain water, which enables crops to withstand both floods and droughts more easily. What is key to understand is that soils starved of organic matter, which is an increasing number both in Australia and around the world, have slower water infiltration capacity and are much more quickly saturated, which means such soils have greater runoff, which amplifies the effects of floods.
When soil has poor structure with little porosity, water simply can't infiltrate into its profile. This leads to more runoff, and more erosion, flooding, pollution and less water held in the soil for the dry times.
At the same time, high levels of SOM also enable flooded soil to drain much faster, which speeds up the recovery process, can save serious amounts of crops and helps to get your paddock back up and running faster.
Soil organic matter also improves aggregation which is the process which increases infiltration but improved aggregation also means that soil can hold more water without losing bearing capacity. This also means that vehicles don’t get bogged as often facilitating farm operations.
Every little change helps.
To increase soil porosity and improve soil structure, even small increases in organic matter can be beneficial. This will not only aid in routing water more efficiently, but also aid in retaining more water for plants during drought conditions, known as plant available water (PAW). A cover over the soil by plants or organic mulch also increases the efficiency with which plants use the water, or the amount of biomass plants can produce per unit of water, which is known as Water Use Efficiency (WUE). Most farmers in Australia have WUE below 60% and those who focus on sequestering carbon can get WUE as high as 95%.
Unfortunately, many agricultural soils have low levels of soil carbon due to decades of over-farming, as we’ve discussed in depth in our publication Groundbreaking. This is especially true of soils that have been structurally damaged through agricultural practices such as tilling.
Take back control of your farm by building soil carbon.
The bad news is that conditions for agricultural production have become increasingly volatile and unpredictable.
The good news is, however, that this can be reversed through the implementation of tried and tested agricultural practices to increase soil organic matter. Practices such as reduced tillage or no-till, keeping plants in the soil year-round, and introducing livestock into crop rotations can help to regenerate your paddock.
"One of our clients was able to capitalise on this by improving the aggregation and infiltration rate, thus being able to get onto their paddocks 3 days ahead of their neighbours and before their crop died. As a result, they were able to successfully harvest the crop while their neighbours were not."
Increased soil carbon provides both financial and natural benefits, regardless of whether it is during good times, drought, or floods - and the Carbon Count Platform and our team can help you achieve it.
We at Ryzo have made it our mission to regenerate landscape and thereby reverse anthropogenic climate change and reinvigorate agricultural communities through soil carbon farming practices. If you would like to find out more about the power of soil carbon sequestration or would like to understand whether your land is suitable for a soil carbon project, reach out and someone from our team will be in touch.