What is carbon farming?

Short Introduction to Carbon Farming:

With carbon farming techniques we mean farming practices that store carbon in agricultural soils for the longer term. These techniques are very much related to sustainable soil management practices. Some examples are:

  • The use of cover crops: cover crops are crops planted after the harvest of the main crop, to prevent the land to be fallow. They fix additional carbon from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and offer additional biomass to the soil. They protect soils against erosion, can break infections with soil borne diseases, increase infiltration of water, fix nutrients and might increase agrobiodiversity and the overall resilience of agricultural systems.
  • Enriched crop rotation: When growing a wider diversity of crops, a more diverse agroecosystem is created. With increased diversity of soil life, roots and improved soil structure as a consequence. Such soils have a greater ability to store carbon. Introducing less intensive crops, such as cereals and grass, in the crop rotation, increases the carbon content in the soil through the extensive rooting system of cereals and grasses. 
  • Agroforestry: Agroforestry is the practice of introducing trees in agricultural systems. This can be in grasslands, but also on arable fields. Trees fix CO2 from the atmosphere into their own biomass (photosynthesis), including their extensive rooting system. When the roots die off, the dead roots will stay in the soil as organic matter, increasing the carbon content of the soil, feeding soil life and improving soil quality.

  • Reduced- or no-tillage: Tillage is normally used to loosen and aerate the soil and to remove initial weeds. However, tillage often has a negative impact on soil life, soil structure and causes the organic matter to mineralize leading to CO2 emissions from the soil. For these reasons, more and more farmers are switching to reduced- and no-tillage practices. Besides the positive impact on soil life and structure, reduced tillage has shown to increase the organic matter content in the top soil and therefore the carbon levels.

  • Fertilizers rich in organic carbon: Fertilizers such as compost and solid manure have higher organic matter and carbon content than artificial mineral fertilizers and feed the soil in the longer term.
  • Permanent grassland: Below grassland, organic matter is building up. When grassland is renovated (and therefore ploughed), the soil get in contact with more air and the organic matter mineralizes. Besides that, during renovation soil life is disturbed, while under permanent grassland especially earth worms are good for soil structure and water infiltration.

At the moment we are working on fact sheets and a practical guide about the different carbon farming techniques. These will be published on this website when ready.

The video below explains how carbon farming fits into the global carbon cycle and can contribute to mitigating climate change:


source: Kiss the ground; The Soil Story narrated by Larry Kopald