How do you farm carbon? Carbon farming practices are known to improve soil health while keeping carbon locked in soils. Under a carbon program, the right set of climate-smart agriculture methods can provide income-generating outcomes to the farm. Knowing which practices to utilize in a farm is crucial to making the most out of carbon farming.
Using the appropriate carbon farming techniques still varies from farm to farm. The list highlights different pathways to match your farm requirements and carbon farming goals, as enumerated in this guide with the following information (click the links to skip to section):
- What’s carbon farming?
- The role of sustainable farming in soil carbon sequestration
- 10 highly-recommended carbon farming practices
- How to get started in carbon farming
Carbon farming explained
Soil is a farmer’s best ally to produce crops and generate income. The agricultural consequences of a warming planet leaves everyone no choice but to apply changes that counteract climate change and to prepare for its impacts.
Carbon farming is a farm-based solution to climate change that provides revenue to farmers for shifting to soil carbon sequestration farming techniques. It’s a process that involves monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) to generate carbon credits sold to organizations looking to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
Why do we need sustainable farming practices to capture carbon in soil?
Carbon is naturally found in soils. When the soil is disturbed, carbon dioxide gets released into the atmosphere where it’s currently at dangerous levels that cause the planet to keep getting warmer. But the idea is to reverse the trend by utilizing the soil’s capacity to keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere with sustainable farming practices to capture carbon in soil.
Carbon farming techniques such as cover crops aim to maximize the capacity of soils to trap carbon where it can stay stored for a long time. Farmer incentives are provided as carbon sequestration in soils requires a shift in agricultural practices that are helpful to the climate and more co-benefits.
And how carbon farming works isn’t just about helping the world remove greenhouse gas emissions from the air. Carbon farming methods benefit soil health, reduce chemical leakage into water sources, and improve biodiversity, among others.
In the long run, these carbon farming practices can provide reductions in costs, impacts on yield quality, as well as new revenue streams for farmers.
Select the right carbon farming practices for your farm
Carbon farming that generates income-producing carbon credits means committing to agricultural practices that promote soil carbon sequestration.
When coming up with a carbon farming plan with your team or an agronomic advisor in a carbon program, the carbon farming methods listed below are recommended to produce needed results. Utilizing all 10 isn’t typically required. The right set of practices to use will ultimately depend on specific farm conditions and requirements.
Carbon sequestration farming techniques
A primary aim of carbon farming is to stow away carbon in the soil. The following practices have positive effects on soil carbon sequestration and can often be recommended by agronomists.
1. Reduced fertilizer application
Chemical inputs reduce the capacity of soils to sequester carbon and can be wasteful when applied in excess. With prices going sky-high, manufacturing inorganic fertilizers also release a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Decreased chemical fertilizer application is a cost-reducing way to optimize the nutrient application for crops and improve soil health.
2. Reduced tillage
Frequent and heavy tilling increases the rate of carbon dioxide released from the soil. In the process, it also breaks up soil structure which can lead to erosion and less productive croplands. Regenerative tillage, which is done at minimum or no-tillage at all, preserves soil quality and carbon that has benefits to crop yield.
→ Read more: Managing soil health with conservation tillage
3. Improved residue management
Another soil-protecting strategy in farming is to leave crop residue in the fields. Covering the soil with mulch, or crop residue materials like straws, enhances soil moisture and fertility while allowing the organic material to interact with microorganisms for healthier soil composition.
4. Eliminating bare fallows
Leaving cultivated land to lie idle for a season or more leaves the soil exposed without any protection from heat, wind, rain, and weeds where soil carbon can escape more readily. Instead, sowing nitrogen-fixing crops like clover can help keep the carbon in the ground as well as improve the soil’s nitrogen content for the next crop.
5. Increasing the production of cover crops
One of the most recommended carbon farming methods is to introduce cover cropping. These kinds of crops are grown precisely to protect the soil, which is different from the primary crop usually cultivated on the farm. Cover crops reduce surface disturbance and work to help capture nutrients to build soil fertility and soil organic carbon.
6. Sowing companion crops
Companion planting increases plant diversity by growing 2 or more crops close together to benefit not just the crops but also the soil. Knowledge of complementary crops is necessary to maximize the growth and production of crops. For example, one crop is sown to protect the primary crop from pests and insects.
Farming with the intentional integration of trees with agriculture is known as agroforestry. Agroforestry practices can help mitigate emissions and store carbon in both soils and trees. Not only does agroforestry provide above-ground benefits in the field but it also provides crucial below-ground benefits. It does this while also enhancing farm productivity, increasing soil protection, improving air and water quality; providing wildlife habitat, and introducing diversified income.
Greenhouse gas emissions reduction farming methods
Agriculture emits gasses that warm the planet. Apart from storing carbon in farmlands, reducing emissions in farm operations can also be incorporated in carbon farming. Here are some of the ways greenhouse gas emissions are reduced in farm operations.
8. Improved task efficiency
Planning and delegating tasks in the farm keep operations running smoothly. Useful tools like a farm management software can keep track of planned and accomplished tasks to minimize duplication and to stay on top of duties. Data-keeping in farm operations also provides valuable insight into how resources are used around the farm.
→ Free 14-day trial sign-up for eAgronom Farm Management Software
9. Improved water management
Excess water washes away nutrients and can even lead to erosion. Managing irrigation properly by watering at appropriate times, given at the right rates, and at the most optimum depth and distance from the crops can optimize crop growth and minimize resource waste.
10. Fuel efficiency
Performing regular maintenance on farm equipment, proper storage, and planning tasks accordingly can help keep fuel use and costs to what is necessary. Energy efficiency in the farm increases productivity while limiting emissions from farming.
How carbon farming works
For most farms, carbon farming methods are planned and decided prior to making any operational commitments. Selection boils down to baseline field conditions and understanding the goals of the farmer. And in carbon farming, it’s important to keep track of data for proper accounting of successfully sequestered carbon. Rigorous measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) are crucial in generating high-quality carbon credits in farming and a big part of it is recording important farm data.
Moreover, certain carbon programs may only prescribe a fixed set of agricultural practices without understanding the underlying needs of a farm. However, the best practices in carbon programs call for a routine review of carbon farming methods utilized in a farm to see if a farm is on track to reach intended outcomes.
Ready to start carbon farming?
Knowing what carbon farming practices to use on the farm is one thing, it’s another to make sure which of them is practical for your operations. Engaging in the right carbon program provides the means to make sure efforts are done to generate high-quality carbon credits for revenue. A carbon program will help analyze your baselines to come up with an agronomic plan that suits your needs best when it comes to carbon farming.
Each farm is unique and not every carbon farming practice will be suitable for your requirements. Finding the right carbon program can help make the best decisions with you on carbon farming.
- Turmel, MS. Speratti, A. Baudron, F. Verhulst, N. Govaerts, B. (2015). Crop residue management and soil health: A systems analysis. Agricultural Systems, Volume 134, 2015, Pages 6-16, ISSN 0308-521X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2014.05.009 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X14000651)
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- Orzech K., Załuski D. 2020. Effect of companion crops and crop rotation systems on some chemical properties of soil. J. Elem., 25(3): 931-949. DOI: 10.5601/jelem.2020.25.1.1904. https://agro.icm.edu.pl/agro/element/bwmeta1.element.agro-5a061e56-226c-476c-a1db-85e51b7039f3
- Almaraz, M., Wong, M.Y., Geoghegan, E.K. and Houlton, B.Z. (2021), A review of carbon farming impacts on nitrogen cycling, retention, and loss. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci., 1505: 102-117. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14690