Can the Soil Save Us?

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By David Schmidt

Reprinted from: Animal Ag

It is good to be part of a team.

Crystal Powers, University of Nebraska Agricultural Engineer and AACC project coordinator will be helping with blog posts this year (as will be others on the team). She is starting with the first in a series of thoughts on SOILS!


The UN General Assembly declared 2015 to be the International Year of Soils so let’s kick off the year exploring how soil may be the most underrated ally in fighting climate change. Several organizations are getting involved in this educational campaign including the Soil Science Society of America.

Soils worldwide store more carbon than the atmosphere, plants and animals combined! This carbon is called organic matter or humus. According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon. However, researchers are finding certain farming and ranching practices can reverse this trend and replenish carbon in the soil. (Stay tuned, we’ll talk more about some of these for livestock in a later post.) Dr. Lal estimates that using these regenerative methods could offset up to a third of our total annual emissions.

And it is a win-win for agriculture productivity as organic matter is also crucial to soil health and making agriculture more resilient to the predicted increases in flooding and drought. Increasing soil organic matter improves moisture holding capacity and soil structure, so when it rains, more of it soaks into the ground reducing flooding and holds it there so it is available to the plant during times of drought. For every 1 percent of organic matter content, the soil can hold 16,500 gallons of plant-available water per acre of soil down to one foot deep!

While reductions in emissions are still needed, putting some back in the soil can help offset some and build resiliency to cope with the predicted climate changes.

To learn more see Soil as a Carbon Storehouse (Environment 360, Yale)

“…civilization itself rests upon the soil.” ~Thomas Jefferson

Always Considering Climate — David

David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Bioysystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate, a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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