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Sep 4, 2019
Better soil management, including compost use, is the easiest, cheapest weapon to wield in the fight against climate change.
Fighting climate change
with better soil management
Soil and plants
play an important
Plants pull carbon
dioxide (CO2) from
Some of the
carbon (C) is
returned to the
and some is
stored in the
roots and the soil.
Oxygen (O2) is
returned to the
It was a
system until ...
early human “hunter-gatherers” decided
to become farmers.
They modified low-yielding perennial
grasses to produce annual grains with
But annual tilling changed
things. It loosened soil
particles. Wind and rain
carried the soil away.
Valuable topsoil was lost. Soil’s
carbon storage capacity dwindled.
Soil disturbance released
even more stored carbon
to the atmosphere.
The World Wildlife
Fund says half of
the topsoil on the
earth has been lost
in just the last 150
years from farming,
Even worse, during that same
period, humans have added
more CO2 to the atmosphere.
All that excess CO2 is causing
global temperatures to rise.
The climate is changing.
the current change
is so dramatic, scientists say
we’re headed for a melt-down.
Yet research says
carbon to have a
meaningful impact on
climate change ...
by turning annual grains back into
and using more compost.
Managing soils and crops to
maximize C storage is known as
Plants store carbon in leaves,
stems, and roots. After harvest,
stubble dies and
roots decay, some
of that carbon is stored
in the soil.
Since perennials tend to have larger root
systems, their potential for deep-soil
carbon storage is greater.
Up to 3 feet
As much as 10 feet (and more)
Studies show as little as a 1.3 cm (about
a half inch) topdressing of compost can
add "substantial" increases in carbon
Perennials and compost can become the
dynamic duo of climate change
of human calorie
intake is based
on annual crops
like grains and
and plant new
Nut trees, fruit trees, and berries are
considered perennial crops because
farmers till and plant once, then
harvest over multiple years.
But what if some of
those annual crops
could be converted
have to be
keeps it locked
up for ages.
By one estimate, converting just 5
percent of land (about the size of Egypt)
to plants bred for carbon storage could
capture ~50 percent of current global
The trick is to switch back from
annual to perennial grains while
maintaining acceptable yields,
giving farmers an economic
incentive to convert acreage.
One of the more successful research
projects is the development of a new
perennial wheat grain, Kernza®.
It is already being used
commercially on a small
There’s still a distance to go.
But science seems
to be heading in
the right direction.
Reuters says better soil
management could boost
carbon storage by a factor equal
to emissions from all global
The amount of compost required for a
½-inch pre-plant compost application
could sequester about 20% of U.S.
carbon pollution if annual grain acres
were converted to perennial varieties.
Even compost-amended rangeland
offers substantial carbon storage
potential from both compost use and
deep-rooted perennial grasses.
Better soil management is an effective,
low-cost tool in climate-change
At $0-$100 per ton, soil
carbon sequestration is
also the most economical
C storage option currently
C storage in soil is improved by
both crop selection and the use of
Soil disturbance releases carbon,
so soils must remain undisturbed
for extended periods of time.
Perennial agriculture, rangeland,
lawns, sports fields, roadsides,
utility easements, and parkland all
offer opportunities for long-term
Learn more about –
• The Land Institute and its work with perennial grains
• Farmer experiences growing Kernza®
• Microbial decomposition and carbon draw-down
• More titles in the carbon faming series
Production costs for this title were underwritten by McGill. Its use is permitted
for educational purposes if presented in its entirety and without editing or other
alteration. ©McGill Environmental Systems of N.C. Inc. Questions? Call McGill
HQ at 919-362-1161 or use a contact form at www.mcgillcompost.com.
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