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.


Wise Words for Sheep Start-Ups — Three Producers Weigh In

Welcome to an occasional series here on Real Agriculture — where we ask three farmers or ranchers four questions about their business, production and next steps. This first column features three Ontario sheep producers (you'll have to ask them if they want to be called shepherds): Colleen Acres, of Maple Meadow Farms at Osgoode; Chris…Read more »


Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.