Without No-Till, Carbon Sequestration Won’t Work

While there’s plenty of talk about solving global warming concerns by stockpiling carbon in the soil, there are plenty of unanswered questions.

Let's get one thing straight. Sequestering carbon in our soils is not likely to happen unless farmers no-till.

“I don’t see how we can have carbon sequestration without no-till,” says Jim Brown, a farmer from Sergeant Bluffs, Iowa. “I just don’t see it working without no-till.”

John Kimble, a soil scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lincoln, Neb., says no-till reduces soil temperature and improves moisture without disturbing the soil.

“Some 40 percent of our soils are already in a degradable state and excessive tillage loses carbon,” he says. “If we lose soil organic carbon, we reduce the ability of the soil to function at a sustainable level.”

Many carbon sequestration ideas came out of a 3-day conference held in late August in Des Moines, Iowa. Sponsored by 15 governmental, commercial and farm organizations, the event was attended by 470 people seeking answers to ways agriculture can reduce the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

A buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can lead to rising temperatures and the earth’s environment may suffer. But a key question is whether soils can have an impact on climate warming changes.

Major Concerns

One of the biggest culprits is carbon dioxide, which is released when carbon stored in the soil reacts with oxygen during plowing and tillage. Because plants use carbon dioxide found in the air, they are the primary means of storing carbon in the soil, which contain 75 percent of the earth’s terrestrial carbon.

One study of…

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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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