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News Release

Latest NRCS science and technology helps agriculture mitigate climate change

Gina Kerzman, Public Affairs Officer

RaCA Map 13

World’s largest soil dataset allows calculation of conservation impacts on soils’ ability to store carbon

SPOKANE, WA (July 10, 2013) – Committed to reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed the world’s largest soil carbon dataset that will help producers and planners estimate the impacts of conservation practices on soil carbon levels.

“This data will help producers see what conservation practices will have the most benefit on their operation,” NRCS State Conservationist Roylene Rides at the Door said. “It is important to equip landowners with the most up-to-date information and technical assistance so producers can best mitigate climate change.”

Soil has tremendous potential to store carbon, which reduces 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 information was used to form the rapid carbon assessment (RaCA) dataset, which 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 no/reduced tillage, help increase carbon storage in soil by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and depositing it into the soil as organic matter. These practices 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 reduced tillage can remove from the atmosphere with the new tools, COMET- Farm™ and the Agricultural Policy Environmental Extender, or APEX model.

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 was developed in partnership with Texas Agrilife Research, Texas A&M, Agricultural Research Service and NRCS. The tool will be used by NRCS conservation planners and private technical service providers to assist landowners with properly managing nutrients to keep a balance between soil carbon gains, production goals, and impacts on water quality.

 The RaCA, 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, California became the first state to regulate a cap and trade carbon credit market for industries. The state is looking for agricultural greenhouse gas emission reduction and carbon sequestration projects to provide offsets into their regulated markets, said Chambers.

 “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 RaCA and how NRCS can help you mitigate climate change, visit your nearest NRCS field office.

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