The Magic of Soil Carbon — Agriculture’s Most Important Input

What limits yield on your farm? Too much water? Not enough? Low soil nutrient levels? Not enough heat? At least one scientist will tell you it’s none of the above — the most limiting factor for crop production in North America is actually soil carbon.

“Our soils are starved for carbon,” says Kristine Nichols, a research microbiologist, most recently with the USDA-Agriculture Research Service, but soon to be with the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania. Nichols presented at the recent World Congress on Conservation Agriculture, held in Winnipeg, Man., in late June.

Related: Introducing biodiversity in to the corn/soy/wheat rotation — one farmer’s experience

Why does carbon matter, even more than rainfall or heat units? Because carbon is a basic building block not only of the soil itself, but is also a key driver of soil microbial populations. In this interview below, Nichols explains how increasing soil carbon can help farmers in years of too much water and in years of not enough, plus how a thriving, carbon-laden soil can actually increase plant health and nutrient use efficiency.

If you can’t see the embedded player, click here to hear this interview.


Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for RealAgriculture. A self-proclaimed agnerd, Lyndsey is passionate about all things farming but is especially thrilled by agronomy and livestock production.


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