What is all the fuss about soil carbon? An Australian Perspective


Soil carbon is debated from paddock to parliament. Between scientists and economists. But what is all the fuss about?

In Australia, many people say carbon is the ‘silver bullet’; a full-proof system for capturing carbon and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That it is the answer to climate change and an emissions trading scheme. And often that is the debate that comes up in our Australian Parliament. Others say that it is too hard to measure; that we don’t have enough science to really know how much carbon is in soil. How can we know how much carbon there is (for credits and emissions trading) if we can’t measure it?

At the other end, landholders and business are jumping on board the carbon credit system. Both are looking into storing carbon in soil or changing to ‘carbon farming‘ practices as an alternative way of making an income.There is anecdotal evidence for increases in soil carbon with ‘carbon farming’ practices and changes in land management. Many landholders can see, with their own eyes and nose, that carbon is being sequestered in their paddock. And, they also say how much money they have saved, or more they have made.

Increasing soil carbon makes sense. It improves soil moisture, soil porosity, provides food for soil biology, is necessary for nutrient cycling and healthy plants. And that is just the tip of the iceberg! Soil carbon is good for plants, productivity, environment and has a flow-on positive effect on economics. Healthy soil = healthy farm = healthy bank account.

But can we really capture ALOT of carbon dioxide in soil? And for the long term? Is it really going to have a significant effect on reducing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? And is soil carbon really a solution to our emissions trading and carbon sequestration issues?

I’m not a soil carbon expert; I am merely dabbling in soil carbon and wanting to learn more. And I certainly don’t have the answer. You would have to ask the Carbon Flagship @ CSIRO what they really think about soil carbon in Australia, and whether or not it is a ‘silver bullet’. But, I am very interested in both the science, land management, anecdotal evidence, and the mixed debate that soil carbon is having in Australian politics. It’s not often soil gets talked about a political setting, and I wonder whether we should we embrace it?

Is soil carbon our future? Does a change in land management really increase soil carbon? Can we really use soil carbon as part of an emissions trading scheme? And, why is there so much debate?

There are a range of amazing shows and podcasts on soil carbon and carbon farming in Australia. If you want to know what all the fuss is about, I recommend having a read, watch and listen:

Soil Carbon Conundrum

From Cattle to Carbon

Carbon Farming Challenge

Trees or Crops?

Carbon farming: river of gold, or flood of words? 

Australia’s carbon farming initiative: a world first

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One thought on “What is all the fuss about soil carbon? An Australian Perspective

  1. I forgot to mention in the post: CSIRO have found some really robust measurements for soil carbon in Australia. The problem is cost; the cost of analysis outweighs benefits of ‘carbon farming’. New techniques are on the way, some of which are mentioned in the links above.

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