5 Principles of Carbon Farming

Khory Hancock

March 21, 2023

Carbon Farming

Carbon farming focuses on practices that enhance soil carbon storage and promote biodiversity. This approach also improves water systems and enhances ecosystem services.

As a result, many farming strategies that foster landscape-wide carbon storage generate multiple co-benefits for farmers and their lands regarding income, farm productivity, soil health and environmental improvements.

Reduce tillage

Tillage is an important part of many crop production systems but can destroy the soil. It disrupts soil structure, damages beneficial mycorrhizal fungi networks, and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as soil organic matter is destroyed.

Often, farmers are encouraged to reduce tillage to promote soil health and sequester carbon. However, this may not be easy to accomplish without first understanding the specific needs of a farm.

Agronomic benefits of reducing tillage include:

  • Better soil structure.
  • Improved water infiltration.
  • More soil organic matter.
  • Increased carbon sequestration rates.

This is achieved by reducing the number of tillage passes and using lower-disturbance implements.

Restore humus

In nature, much carbon is stored in soils as humus – an organic matter that enables soil building. This hummus is important for many functions, including releasing nutrients for plant growth, promoting soil health, storing water and acting as a buffer against climate change.

In Germany, farmers are also rewarded for using certain eco-schemes, such as crop diversification, cultivation of leguminous plants and permanent grassland extensification, which can help increase carbon uptake in soil. However, a continuous monitoring, reporting and verification system is needed to ensure the practice does what it promises.

Enhance biodiversity

In a world where we have pushed millions of acres of grassland and forests to the edge of extinction, biodiversity’s importance is becoming clearer. Fortunately, many species can recover once given safe places to live.

Carbon farming practices are a great way to increase wildlife habitats and provide a refuge for animals that depend on these habitats. By regenerating grasslands and forests, we can reverse some of the damage caused by agriculture.

Multiple benefits can be gained from revegetating agricultural land (figure 1). These benefits accrue to different beneficiaries, including farmers. They can include financial, social, and environmental benefits (Pannell 2008).

Improve soil health

Increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) is important to soil health and regenerative agriculture. It increases nutrient storage, water retention and a more stable carbon cycle which can lead to enhanced crop productivity.

Soil organic carbon is stored in soils by decomposing plant material and is released into the atmosphere as CO2. The amount of soil carbon depends on the climate, soil type and depth, landscape position and farm management practices.

Carbon farming practices that increase soil carbon should be adapted to the area’s topography, nutrient dynamics and erosion risk. These practices also benefit biodiversity and generally enhance land resilience to climate change.

Improve water quality

Farmers are important in water quality and managing soils to prevent runoff and erosion. They can also use practices such as crop rotations and composting to reduce nutrients entering our water systems.

Carbon farming has potential co-benefits for water quality and can help farmers meet water quality standards. It can also improve soil health and protect soil biodiversity.

However, there are a few challenges that carbon farming has to overcome. One is the challenge of measuring the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil, which is an ongoing process dependent on various factors, such as weather conditions and the type of soil.