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Encourage Soil Carbon

February 8, 2013
By: Davis Michaelsen, Pro Farmer Inputs Monitor Editor

 MSU extension

Managing soil carbon is vitally important to the condition of your soil. This is particularly true during dry years and after last year's drought, Midwestern soils need to retain as much water as possible until soil moisture is fully recharged. Speaking at the 'Growing Michigan Agriculture Conference' on January 24th, USDA soil scientist emeritus Don Reicosky addressed how growers can encourage carbon in the soil.

Reicosky told the group that carbon acts like a sponge that retains water in the soil and releases it to plants -- even sandy soils can benefit from increased carbon content. “If you want to manage water-holding capacity, you have to manage soil carbon, particularly during drought years,” Reicosky said. “Maintaining soil organic matter will aid in soil water retention. No-till and cover crops are the best ways to try to manage and maintain carbon in the soil.”

Two problems can arise from tillage, according to Reicosky. Accelerated soil degradation and soil erosion. Both of these can be remedied by a no-till strategy along with continuous residue cover and diverse crop rotation.parkedplow

“The future of our civilization rests on this thin layer of soil that lies beneath our feet,” Reicosky said, noting that it takes nearly 1,000 years for just 1 inch of topsoil to be created in nature. “In the future, conservation agriculture is the only option. If we want to stop erosion and save carbon, we need to park the plow.”

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Photo credit: Charlie Essers / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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