Carbon Soil Health

How Does Soil Sequester Carbon?

Over the past 150 years, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has increased by 50%. But carbon doesn’t have to be the villain.

Too much carbon in the atmosphere is the kind of scary that keeps us up at night. But when we use carbon as a tool to build healthier soil, it shifts from climate villain to climate hero. In general, soils rich in carbon produce more nutritious food, and they are far more resilient to natural disasters like heavy rains and droughts.

So, carbon is not the bad guy. It forms the building blocks of all life, and we need it back in the ground where it belongs.

Soil carbon sequestration might sound like cutting-edge technology, but putting carbon in the ground is nothing new. Plants have been pumping atmospheric carbon into the soil for as long as they have existed. That’s why soil already holds 75% of all terrestrial carbon! But considering the state of the atmosphere, we need to help speed up what nature already does so well. With proper management, our soil carbon pool has the potential to hold all the carbon from CO2 emissions released by human activity.

In honesty, some “carbon sequestration” programs are inevitably marketing campaigns that have more to do with greenwashing than healthy humans and resilient landscapes.

The technical language used by carbon credit companies can be quite alien, and the outcomes of considerable financial investments can be difficult to measure in practical terms. If trying to understand carbon sequestration is leaving you confused, you’re not alone.

Now, we can’t speak for every type of carbon sequestration, but we do know soil. If you want to know exactly how soil can sequester carbon and feed the world, you’re in the right place!

Soil Carbon Sequestration Starts with Plants

During photosynthesis, plants convert carbon from the atmosphere into sugars, which are the building blocks of their cells. Plants also pump some carbon sugars into the soil via their root system to feed soil microorganisms, which are essential for nutrient cycling.

When we harvest that nutrient-dense food, some of the plant-based carbon can be removed from the soil system, especially with root crops.

But simple practices like leaving plant residues (leaves, roots and stems) in place keeps more carbon in the soil than when we plough the earth and leave the ground naked.

Organic Matter

Regenerative agriculture practices like reduced tilling, shifting to organic inputs, increased crop diversity, and cover cropping boost Soil Organic Matter and increase the level of carbon present in the soil. In fact, an impressive 58% of the mass of organic matter is made of carbon, and regenerative farmers are constantly looking for ways to boost organic matter in their soil.

Once the soil is rich in Organic Matter, a positive feedback loop will soon get established. More organic matter leads to more abundant plant growth, which means more organic matter will feed the soil in the coming year. The soil carbon pool can keep expanding of its own accord until totally degraded soil has come back to vibrant health. Increasing Soil Organic Carbon offers so many benefits for human health and ecological function. But, a word to the wise. This is short-lived carbon, and it won’t stay put forever.

As plants and animals die and decompose, some short-lived carbon will inevitably end up back in the atmosphere. So as well as increasing Soil Organic Matter to draw carbon into our soil, we must also help soil microorganisms convert that short-lived carbon into long-lived carbon.

Don’t worry; helping soil microorganisms isn’t very complicated. So long as we don’t bulldoze them with tillage, inappropriate grazing, or truckloads of synthetics, they will get on with the job of converting soil organic carbon to complex carbon chains. That newly produced long-lived carbon can stay put for millennia.

Soil carbon sequestration has been overlooked for far too long. After all, increasing the soil carbon pool offers so much more than a viable solution to the climate crisis. As carbon is returned to the soil, we see an upward spiral of human and ecological benefits. Food becomes more nutritious, degraded landscapes come back to life, and our communities become more resilient to heavy rainfall and droughts.

Soil carbon sequestration offers genuine hope at a time that we need it most.

Now we have to choose what to do with that hope.

What Next?

Do we leave it to the oceans and atmosphere to take on our legacy carbon, endangering all life on earth? Or do we return that carbon to the soil, promoting food security and creating a safer, healthier future for all living beings?

Here at Soil Heroes, we are helping farmers transition to regenerative agriculture and businesses develop resilient supply chains. Our platform quantifies and verifies the increase of soil organic carbon in our farmers’ soils, therefore providing complete transparency for businesses wanting sustainable supply chains or a reliable means of offsetting.

If your company is looking to strengthen your supply chain, contribute to ecological vitality, and put a significant amount of carbon back where it belongs, you can get in touch using the link below.

Tom Ludwig Soil Heroes Carbon Insetting Regenerative Agriculture

Tom Ludwig

Business Development, UK

Let’s talk about Regenerative Agriculture

You know you’ll dig it too.

Keep reading