Latest NRCS science and technology helps agriculture mitigate climate change
World’s largest soil dataset allows calculation of conservation impacts on soils’ ability to store carbon
Lexington, Kentucky– Committed to reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service developed the world’s largest soil carbon dataset that will help producers and planners estimate the impacts of conservation practices on soil carbon levels.
Soil has tremendous potential to store carbon, which reduces the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
Storage potential varies among soils, land covers, land uses and management, and NRCS soil scientists took 148,000 individual soil samples and evaluated them for carbon content. This rapid carbon assessment, or RaCA, dataset serves as a baseline or “snapshot-in-time” for the amount of carbon each soil type is holding.
Several conservation practices, such as conservation crop rotations or planting cover crops, help increase carbon storage in soil. These conservation practices manage plants to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and deposit it into the soil as organic matter. They also help reduce erosion and increase water-holding capacity and water infiltration, which increases the resiliency to drought, heavy precipitation and extreme temperatures.
Landowners can calculate how much carbon their conservation practices, such as cover crops, can remove from the atmosphere with the new tools, COMET- Farm™ and the Agricultural Policy Environmental Extender, or APEX model.
“This soil carbon dataset will help producers see what conservation practices will have the most benefit on their operation,” NRCS State Conservationist Karen Woodrich said. “It is important to equip landowners with the most up-to-date information and technical assistance so producers can make informed decisions that could increase farm income while mitigating climate change.”
COMET- Farm™, developed in partnerships between USDA and Colorado State University, is a free online tool that allows producers to enter information about their farm or ranch management practices and receive general guidance on actions they can take to build carbon in their soil.
APEX, developed in partnership with Texas Agrilife Research, Texas A&M, Agricultural Research Service and NRCS is planned for use by NRCS conservation planners and private technical service providers. This tool will also assist NRCS and landowners with properly managing nutrients to keep a balance between soil carbon gains, production goals, and impacts on water quality.
The rapid carbon assessment, COMET- Farm™ and APEX open the door to new possibilities for producers, said Dr. Adam Chambers, scientist with the NRCS air quality and atmospheric change team in Oregon.
If carbon can be quantified, verified, and then sold into carbon markets, it is “another potential revenue stream for producers,” said Chambers.
As of Jan. 1, of this year, California began regulating a cap and trade carbon credit market for industries. The first to do so, the state is looking for agricultural greenhouse gas emission reduction and carbon sequestration projects to provide offsets into their regulated markets, he said.
“The rapid carbon assessment provided baseline data on how much carbon is in each soil type. COMET-Farm™ can then be used to show how different management practices can increase that soil carbon,” said Chambers, who is guiding the work in environmental markets for the agency through NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants projects.
To find more information on COMET- Farm™,APEX, the Rapid Carbon Assessmentand how NRCS can help you mitigate climate change, visit your nearest NRCS field office.
Christy Morgan, Acting Public Affairs Specialist
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