The aim of carbon farming is to increase the rate at which carbon is sequestered into soil and plant material in order to improve farm productivity, increase soil health and create a net loss of carbon from the atmosphere.
Increasing carbon content in soil has many benefits, including aiding plant growth, increasing soil water retention capacity, building flood resistance, drought resistance and reducing the need to use fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and other inputs.
The concept of increasing carbon levels in soils is nothing new; it is part of the natural symbiosis that has always contributed to fertile soils. The concept and practice of carbon farming however has gained recent popularity due to government policies that incentivise farmers to implement techniques aimed at actively sequestering carbon.
Approximately 45% of Soil Organic Matter (SOM - root systems, decaying plant materials, leaf litter etc.) is carbon. Without carbon there is no soil and without soil almost the entire terrestrial ecosystem collapses. In most Australian soils SOM has been steadily declining since European style agriculture began. You can read more about the impact of modern agricultural practises in Philip Mulvey's book Ground Breaking.
Carbon is at the epicentre of a complex interplay that exists between living matter, dead matter, organic matter and mineral matter; it’s the key ingredient that makes a soil not only fertile – but healthy.
Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
In agriculture, this is primarily achieved through specific practices that promote plant growth and the accumulation of organic matter in the soil.
These practices include reduced tillage, cover cropping, crop rotation, and effective manure management, among other regenerative land techniques.
Plants capture carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis, converting it into organic matter that can be stored in the soil. As this organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients and carbon into the soil. This process occurs through the metabolism of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen, which results in the formation of carbohydrates.
The carbohydrates are transferred into the soil through plant roots, nourishing beneficial fungi in exchange for minerals. Additionally, plant residues and decaying organic matter contribute to the formation of soil organic matter (SOM). This organic matter supports a healthy microbiome and forms stable carbon pools, ultimately increasing nutrient and water availability for plants and crops.
Regenerative land practices help to build soil resilience, reducing the impacts of drought, floods, and other extreme weather events.
Improved land management practices, avoiding monoculture and minimising unnecessary inputs, promotes the growth of diverse plant and animal communities and enhances biodiversity and ecosystem health.
Carbon–rich soils have better water holding capacity (WHC), nutrient cycling, and microbial activity, leading to improved soil health and fertility.
Healthy soils with higher organic matter content can act as a buffer against soil acidity and other imbalances, and can lead to increased crop yields and improved plant health.
Using cover crops and reduced tillage practices reduces erosion and improves soil structure by preventing the top layer of soil from washing away with rainfall.
Healthy soils require fewer inputs, such as fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, reducing input costs for farmers.
Carbon sequestration helps to reduce greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as well as restoring the small water cycle to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Carbon sequestration can provide new revenue streams for farmers through carbon markets and other payment schemes, which reward them for regenerative changes made on farm.
Farmers who adopt regenerative farming practices can benefit from increased soil health, crop yields and biodiversity, while also contributing to climate change mitigation and reducing input costs.
In addition, carbon sequestration can provide new revenue streams through carbon markets and other payment schemes. By embracing these practices, farmers can play a key role in building a more sustainable and resilient agricultural system for the future.