A Different Look At Carbon

While no-tilled crops are widely considered to be among the best ways to sequester carbon, the actual amounts may actually be tied to soil type, soil drainage and soil depth.

It’s well documented that no-till effectively stores carbon within 10 inches of the soil surface, says Humbeto Blanco. But little is known about carbon storage in deeper soil profiles, adds the Ohio State University research scientist.

He maintains most carbon-sequestration studies have focused on what’s available in the layer of soil near the surface rather than the entire soil profile. A lack of data from the entire soil organic-matter profile means the effects of no-till on carbon sequestration and offsetting carbon dioxide emissions aren’t totally conclusive.

Go Deeper With Research

As a result, Blanco and soil scientist Rattan Lal decided to evaluate the amount of carbon stored to a depth of 25 inches in both no-tilled and tilled fields.

Data collected from 11 soils in Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania demonstrated that concentrations of carbon in subsoil layers of no-till fields were low. In some cases, the amount of carbon stored in subsoil layers in tilled fields was actually higher.

Blanco says the research indicates that no-till increases soil organic matter in the upper layers of some soils, but doesn’t always store more carbon throughout the entire soil profile than with tilled soils. This suggests no-till’s impact on carbon sequestration may depend on soil type, sampling depth, drainage and several other factors.

While the total soil organic carbon found to a…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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