FFAR Grant Examines Carbon Farming Effect on Soil Health



  • Soil Health

Agriculture is often seen as a climate change contributor; however, it can also be a natural climate change solution. Employing carbon farming techniques, a broad set of agricultural practices that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for long periods of time in soil, can reduce carbon emissions from agriculture. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $616,178 Seeding Solutions grant to Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue) to develop a multifaceted project that optimizes soil health management practices on rangelands in California. Mad Agriculture and Colorado State University both provided matching funds for a $1,281,584 total investment.

Common agricultural practices like driving a tractor, tilling the soil, and using fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides result in the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. However, through sustainable farming techniques, carbon can be stored long term in the soil, a process referred to as carbon sequestration. Employing carbon farm practices can further improve soil health and environmental health by increasing carbon sequestration.

Knowledge gaps about commonly recommended management practices make it difficult to quantify how the carbon farm process affects carbon levels. Providing additional information about this process will help resource managers and policymakers prioritize programs and funding.

Carbon farming provides significant benefits to the ecosystem; however, we don’t know enough about how to most efficiently implement it. This research is providing much-needed knowledge on the best soil management practices to pull more carbon from the atmosphere. Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Point Blue researchers, led by Dr. Chelsea Carey, are developing standardized protocols that can be used with existing soil health programs to track how soil health and carbon sequestration change in response to carbon farming practices over time.

Along with collaborators at Colorado State University and Mad Agriculture, Dr. Carey and her team are generating data from carbon farm planning practices and building an evidence base to establish carbon farming as a proven and scalable model for advancing climate action. Researchers are measuring how above and below ground carbon changes over a 15-to-20-year period when carbon farming practices are used on rangelands. This data will then be used to evaluate predictive models that support planning tools, such as COMET-Planner, which helps farmers and ranchers estimate carbon sequestration.

According to Dr. Carey, the team will be asking questions like: how much carbon is sequestered with these practices, and how fast does this occur? Is the carbon likely to stay in the soil long enough to make a difference for climate change mitigation? And what are the associated benefits to soil fertility?

We see a lot of opportunity with the current momentum in California around natural and working lands stewardship. We’re excited to support these efforts by engaging our network of partners including ranchers, other scientists and agency staff to conduct science and support ecological monitoring that’s both relevant and impactful. Dr. Chelsea Carey
Principal Investigator of this project.

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Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

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