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The Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Message Board › Capturing Carbon a Key Benefit of No-Till Soil Management

Capturing Carbon a Key Benefit of No-Till Soil Management

David H.
Oxford, ME
Post #: 95
Capturing Carbon a Key Benefit of No-Till Soil Management
By Sharon Durham
April 13, 2005

Agricultural activities can both affect and be affected by environmental changes, says McCarty. The goal is to use good agricultural practices to help mitigate the impact of human activities, such as fossil fuel consumption, on the environment. Using soil to store carbon is one way to accomplish that goal.

"One instance of common ground between Brazil and the United States is the promotion of soil as a storage unit for carbon," says McCarty. "Soil carbon is becoming recognized as a valid commodity, with a market that allows carbon trading." Some agricultural practices promote carbon storage in soil. One such practice is no till, which means soil is, for the most part, left undisturbed after planting and harvesting.

De-Polli used a field site at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, where a 10-year-old tillage experiment comparing no-till and plow till has been conducted. Soil microbial biomass and carbon stocks stored in the soil were measured after the 10-year period, and emissions of the greenhouse gases methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide were monitored for a complete year. These three gases are thought to contribute to global change, and they are the most important ones exchanged between agricultural systems and the atmosphere.

"The biomass of microbes in the soil plays an important role in determining net greenhouse gas emissions from soil because microbes are responsible for processes in soil that regulate the rates at which these gases are exchanged with air. Different microbes are involved in different processes and different gases. Monitoring multiple greenhouse gas emissions is essential to assess ability of cropland management to mitigate global warming. The complete picture of greenhouse gas emissions is critical in our development of soil carbon sequestration technologies in agriculture," says De-Polli.

"The no-tillage soil-management system showed that it can help this mitigation process. It showed potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere, because crop plants remove carbon dixode from the atmosphere and convert it to plant tissues, some of which remain in the field as stored carbon after the crop is harvested," continues De-Polli. "But we found that on warmer days, there was a greater potential for nitrous oxide emission. So nitrogen application must be carefully managed in the no-tillage system."

"The degree to which no-tillage management has been implemented by Brazilian farmers over the last decade has been remarkable," says McCarty. "It has truly been a technology revolution down there, and U.S. agriculture has much to learn from the Brazilian example. This shows that the information exchange fostered by LABEX benefits agriculture in both countries."
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