New test unlocks importance of carbon

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A new soil test can identify, measure, and compare the organic carbon content in a soil sample. This presents opportunities for farmers and food producers to more accurately communicate the levels of carbon being sequestered in soil and also offers important data to help manage soil organic matter.

The tests, launched by Eurofins Agro UK, use near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure organic matter which will help farmers to make more accurate decisions and reduce CO2 emissions by sequestering more carbon.

Sophie Cath from Eurofins Agro UK says: “For the first time, farmers will be able to use accurate carbon data to chart soil health. This will help decide crop rotation, the use of nitrogen fixing cover or break crops and the quantity of organic and non-organic fertilisers.”

Measure sequestered carbon

The test will provide data on how much carbon is sequestered in the soil, how much organic matter is stable or dynamic, what inputs can be used to improve the carbon sequestration potential of the soil, and how those inputs are likely to impact on the crop.

“Carbon is a key indicator of soil stability and fertility. Understanding how carbon fluctuates is the key to balancing the amount of carbon, nitrogen, and other soil components. Understanding the carbon to nitrogen ratio is critical to soil stability because it helps to indicate what levels of nitrogen and other inputs are sustainable for the soil,” she adds.

The speed at which organic matter degrades determines the nutrients released to a crop. The higher the breakdown, the more nutrients are made available. This data is captured in the tests to help indicate what inputs will benefit the crop and what needs to be put back into the soil to improve carbon sequestration. Miss Cath explains that reaching this optimum level for a crop within a rotation can be better gauged by first understanding the active organic carbon content:

“We know that adding N stimulates growth. However, the C to N ratio is crucial to accurately evaluating the stability of organic matter and the speed it is broken down.  By better understanding this we can manage soil carbon sequestration more accurately,” she says.

17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, with many, such as zero hunger, good health, clean water, and climate action directly or indirectly related to soil health.

“In short, we have a new and powerful tool that can tell us how much carbon is being sequestered in soil, how stable that carbon is, and how we can improve carbon sequestration over time. This can help agriculture to meet carbon targets whilst also lowering costs and improving yields,” she concludes.

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