What is Soil Health - Can Soil Carbon be Monitored?

“Land management is the second largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions on planet earth. Agriculture is the ONE sector that has the ability to transform from a net emitter of CO2 to a net sequestration of CO2 — there is no other human managed realm with this potential.”

  • Carbon Cycle Institute

Red Hen is on a quest to more deeply understand the issues of carbon management and sequestration in no-till/minimum-till cropping systems. We would like to better understand the possibility that techniques of blockchain distributed ledgers for spatially accurate measurement of soil carbon will enable soil carbon sequestration to participate in Cap and Trade programs. If a spatial auditability is possible through an acceptable blockchain design, most of the generally vexing and frustrating shortfalls in banking on soil carbon sequestration flux might be overcome?

There is qualified speculation that no-till and strip-till cropping systems can sequester annually upwards of 1,000 lbs C per acre. If atmospheric carbon flux is of interest to us generally and if soil carbon cycling really is the single largest carbon sink with technology systems that can be managed drivers for portion of this absorption, then there is merit in speculating on these naturally occurring sequestered soil carbon inventories too? These tools should be excellent, free, and integratable.

We just need a reliable way to measure the annual flux and accumulations. These measurement processes also can be a feature of blockchained carbon trade and records independence? The Veris Technology in Salina, KS offers a successful implementation of direct contact sensors to initiate the protocol to enable this.

I am a soil carbon advocate as it has many beneficial and some will speculate almost magical properties for farmers as a proxy for healthy regenerating soils, nutritional quality on our common table, and the wider issues of sustainability. It also requires the enterprise expression of soil sciences be broken into its organic processes versus the chemical. Soil productivity and its fertility status are intertwined through soil organic materials, their flux, and the generalized “integrated” quality of our farming systems.

Crop residues protects farm and field, its energy feeds all the important critters and fungi that makes dirt soil, and its presence adds deep nutrient charging and retention though its CEC qualities. Darwin was fascinated by the living soil and its relationship to his general work in natural systems. In the tail of his life, he took time to honor the common earthworm. Earthworms was Darwin’s last book that re-summarized his lifetime of thoughts about soil vegetable mould, aka soil organic materials.

According to Marin Carbon Project research, sequestration of just one metric ton per hectare (1,000 lbs/ ac aprox.) on half the rangeland area in California would offset 42 million metric tons of CO2e, an amount equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from energy use for all commercial and residential sectors in California.

Isn’t the soil’s ability to sequester carbon finite, like a sponge slowly soaking up water to the point of saturation? (Answering this question may in fact be one of your research goals, so apologies if I’m implying you haven’t considered this.)

Where is the equilibrium saturation is in the particular farming system is indeed uncertain. The climax soil carbon or OM in many MidWestern soils like was say 5.0 percent. Most farms are happy with three. So if an acre furrow slice is aprox 2 million pounds for a 10inch deep slice and the OM is 3 percent by weight that makes aproximately 60,000 pounds or 100,000 at you saturation of five percent. That is 40,000 pounds to accumulate at 1000 lbs/ac/yr or on the line of 40 years?


@MidNightMapper Wow, thanks for the intro, I hadn’t seen your project before, I also hadn’t seen Varis Technologies, that’s pretty neat. I knew things like that existed, but they really making it happen :slight_smile:

Invite them to the conference!

I’m on board with you in terms of soil as a major opportunity for carbon sequestration, and your point about connecting value creation at the farm level with carbon credits. @burton your right in that it will max out, but there are many areas where soil carbon levels are unbelievably low because of poor farming practices (many parts of Africa are a good example, but certainly not the only one), so yes it’s a sponge but it’s a really really big sponge with benefits far beyond just climate change (food, soil erosion…) :slight_smile:

If you have not yet already, you should connect with the folks at Nori https://nori.com/ and perhaps also terragenesis (http://terra-genesis.com/) - they are both working on using blockchain to create value for positive environmental action, with Nori laser focused on carbon and even soil carbon!

In my work at PhotosynQ and now at Our Sci, we’ve been working on developing a low-cost handheld device to measure soil carbon and broad strategy to calibrate the instrument..

We’ve been lucky enough to partner with orgs like the BFA (@david.n.forster and others) who have funded us to build a lab on which we can run those calibrations. If all goes well, we’ll run 1500 samples this year, and a few more thousand from partners at Yale (@kanedan29) and MSU and elsewhere. While it’ll take more than that to cover the whole US, it’s a honest start that we can build on!

I’d encourage anyone interested in these topics to try to get to one of Walter Jehne’s soil carbon sponge seminars, in the northeast in early May. Walter is an Australian climate scientist and microbiologist.

Peter Donovan

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I have a few more thoughts on this. that I will figure out where in these working discussions may fall. My background is early in the PA days. I am currently re-interested in advancing nutrient efficiencies, soil conservation and regeneration. Your goals of measurement are good and STEM in challenge. But broad acres are big machines driven by strong brand alliances to the reliable hard work. Replace deeply integrated design will not likely occur within a speculative time… but you might consider looking into the battle going to be able to perfect prom stacks for fine adjustments. Has to do with keeping the brand on your farm… it can be a good thing.

The soil conservation thing really is also about leaking cropping systems. N, P, and K are still in the near production features of millions of acres as will GMO and pesticide. When GMO occured we traded “turbid” and accelerated erosion due to tillage for clear water and organic carbon accumulation in the cropping system. The cost, broken long molecules and other concerns for “measureable discharge”.

I would also suggest direct contact soil sensing for pH, soil carbon, a brix-like indicator of healthy soil, and ?? to complement current systems for conductivity as proxy for texture, point pH, and continious organic carbon aka IR x 2 bands carbon and moisture for an index. Your struggle with calibration is universal so best to get on with it. I suggest blunt force. Direct sampling for lab detailing as well as precise location to help correlate direct contact sensings to known values. I very much doubt that point grid sampling can provide the statistics to confirm the sequestration we have some confidence is there but elusive. I figure the 20000lb CO2 contract would need to be delivered based on a three year organic carbon progression of 2000 pounds per acre.

Got to dash…

Hi MidNight!

This is Jared Smith, I was at the GOAT conference this year. I’m wondering if you were someone I might have met there?

I am too MidNight, and I encountered a group of folks in Ecuador this winter that are working on forming a decentralized nonprofit for just this. The nonprofit will be launching a public distributed ledger for verified accounting of such ecological data, as well as help to raise funds, awareness, collaborations, and volunteers. The nonprofit is called the Regen Foundation, and an early version of our website is alive at http://regen.network. We are raising $30 million in funding for this purpose, with an inflationary treasury for funding grant proposals into the future. We distributed ledger currency and governance as a way many small holders can form a cohesive entity that could eventually rival some of the largest corporations in the field.

Perhaps if you were at the conference you heard us talking about it. I would love to connect with you and learn more about what you’re doing.

Thanks Peter!! I was super excited to hear you speak about that some, I will definitely be looking him up.