GETTING DOWN TO THE
A Soil Carbon Strategy for Illinois
Agricultural production has
resulted in significant losses of
soil and carbon storage
Global carbon debt from
agriculture - 133 Billion metric
Highest losses in the US are in
Change in Soil Organic Carbon stocks, pre-settlement to 2010. Adapted from Sanderman et al. 2017.
Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy calls for 45%
reduction in Nitrogen and Phosphorus loadings
Approximately 80% of Nitrogen and 50% of Phosphorus
comes from agriculture
60% of Illinois land is in row crop agriculture, 11.5 million
acres of corn and 9.6 million acres of soybeans
Carbon sequestration potential associated with land
management lies in the Midwest
Strategies to restore carbon in the soil:
- Focus on practices that optimize P, N, and C benefits
- Develop novel investment mechanisms and financing infrastructure
- Implement supporting policies
The carbon contained within the soil organic matter is crucial for its role
of keeping greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, in
cultivating crops, and mediating water quality.
• Advocate for funding and redesigning the Partners for Conservation Program into a healthy soils program that
focuses on priority practices;
• Amend the NLRS to include soil amendments and other high potential carbon practices;
• Conduct training workshops for NRCS staff in the Midwest on the suite of existing COMET tools and integrate
financial information into the tools.
• Integrate data from farmers (especially the early adopters) that demonstrate the costs and benefits of implementing
suites of practices into existing farm management databases and planning tools;
• Evaluate potential effectiveness of emerging mechanisms that offer market premiums to producers whose practices
result in environmental benefits;
• Build and expand the capacity of production, collection and distribution infrastructure needed for implementation of
• Develop a legislative strategy that includes establishing a taskforce, authorizing a healthy soils program, or
expanding the Partners for Conservation Program to promote carbon farming
I want to take the next couple of minutes to provide a brief overview of a report Delta recently published outlining strategies for carbon storage in Illinois soils.
Before diving in, I want to start with some context
Conventional modes of agricultural production resulted in significant loss of soil and release of carbon that would otherwise be stored in the soils. The rate of loss has especially accelerated in the last 200 years.
A 2017 study out of Woods Hole Research Center published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences estimated that approximately 133 billion metric tons of carbon has been lost from the top 2 meters of soil globally due to agricultural activities.
Highest losses in the US are in the Midwest where conventional row crop agriculture systems dominate. Illinois, of course, is among the hotspot states.
Zooming in a bit to Illinois, it is also one of the states that has been directed by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force to complete a nutrient reduction strategy (which it did in 2015) that provides a road map for the state to reduce loadings of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Mississippi River Basin by 45%.
Approximately 80% of Nitrogen and 50% of Phosphorus comes from agriculture, which as you can see from the map is a significant majority of the state’s land use.
With the NLRS, Illinois already has a mechanism for guiding adoption of agricultural practices aimed at reducing nitrogen and phosphorus losses from the landscape.
With a grant from Walton Family Foundation, last year Delta completed a series of reports that examined how market mechanisms can help drive the implementation of the Illinois’ Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, how state agencies can play a role in that; and finally, how NLRS can also be utilized to achieve soil carbon sequestration.
While carbon losses have been the greatest in the Midwest, carbon sequestration potential associated with land management also lies in the Midwest. This is untapped opportunity!
Our report identifies potential pathways to restore carbon in the soil by: focusing on practices that have multiple benefits related to reducing P, N, and C losses; developing novel investment mechanisms and financing infrastructure; and implementing policies that incentivize carbon storage through agricultural systems.
This room is filled with people who want to turn this opportunity into action, and so we can use the meeting today to dive into the details of the recommendations from this report, refine, develop them further, and add to them, and figure out what actions we can start taking as members of this network to recarbonize soils in IL, Midwest, and beyond.
Changing agricultural systems and rebuilding soils is a long-term process and we can’t afford to wait to take action. Hopefully, the actions we identify today will help move us toward mitigating climate change, improving water quality, and benefitting rural landscapes and communities.
Here is a more detailed look at the recommendations outlined in our report that we can use as one of the touchpoints during the discussion at the meeting today. Copies of the report are also available for folks in the room…