Stories From the Soil – Episode 4: ‘Carbon: A Buried Treasure’


There’s some controversy about whether you can actually increase carbon in soils in certain growing regions in this episode We’ll hear about how farmers and researchers in, California Are teaming up to flip the script on our conventional thinking this is not easy. This is different. This is new There’s a lot at stake here frankly There’s a lot of research out there about soil health and a ton of technical information But none of it does us any good unless we can see how it actually takes place at the ground level my name is Tim Hamm rich from the future of Agriculture podcast cool planet and I are gonna travel the country and capture stories about how land stewards and growers and farmers are actually Developing their own soil health and how that impacts their lives and the food they’re growing for you This week’s episode takes us to Five Points California where I met up with veteran farmer John beaner and UC Davis extension specialist, dr Jeff Mitchell part of the goal in creating these healthy soils is to see what it is that we can do to enhance that in an effort to express that it has something to do with the amount of tillage that Goes on in the Sun and so in your decision-making them. Will you look at a field and say boy, it’s it’s been tilled Every year so maybe we want to plant something that can we can go in with the crop right behind it with that You know with reduced tillage or really do that. Okay. Yes, uh-huh. So we as farmers have to determine What? Particular crop marries up with a secondary crop coming behind it. Right? So one crop that might have a lot of trash or residue left on the soil surface may not be acceptable to the succeeding crop because that Material if it doesn’t totally decompose gets involved in the processing of the next crops crop what we’re doing here with Jeff and working cooperatively with the Extension Service here is looking at different styles of Tillage you can see there’s one with no tillage There’s some with minimum tillage and then there’s some with maximum tillage through that process. They’ve been evaluating the soil building that comes from this technique right and over time and actually trying to keep the Productivity of the soil up and keep the amount of tractor work and the diesel and greenhouse gases that come from tillage Down, dr. Mitchell, then walked me through his soil health strategies and explained the importance of having carbon in the soil there’s a lot of Controversy about whether you can actually increase carbon in soils That are in a region like the San Joaquin Valley. It’s very hot in the summertime It’s irrigated so there’s water available to the microorganisms and the Dogma is frankly that you can just blow off and burn off all the carbons You’re gonna try to stave in the soil and never increase carbon through the dedicated effort of reducing disturbance and also adding cover crops We’ve seen carbon in this soil go from about 0.7% To about 1.5 percent so it doesn’t sound like a lot but that carbon probably is Helping a number of soil functions including the infiltration and the movement of water Obviously farming is a business. And so Any of these practices have to be economically viable for farmer to incorporate that and it but but putting that aside You know for you, you’re obviously very passionate about what you do what what’s at stake here in your mind as far as what kind of keeps you motivated because You feel this work is important. What we’re trying to do is is look well into the future and try to anticipate the kinds of Improved performance systems that might be useful for a variety of reasons reduce disturbance of the soil Reduce tillage we’re trying to keep the soil covered to protect the surface of the soil. We’re also trying to enhance Biology in the soil life and also the life of different crops that are above their soil and growing in the soil there So those are three principles they were trying to pursue in this very field here And we’ve been at this now for 19 years pretty near 20 years, and we’ve seen some dramatic changes in a lot of different things including economics the systems that reduce Operations are cheaper. Obviously. We’ve also seen dramatic changes in soil properties and soil function and by that I mean What we’ve tried to do is deliberately add organic matter in the form of offseason or winter cover crops it capture sunlight in the winter free carbon so to speak and then that when that carbon is Turned over into the soil. We leave it on the surface as you can see right here And eventually that that organic matter gets taken into the soil by soil microorganisms and they start eating that that carbon and the organic matter and they start working in the soil to Hold the soil together. You can see evidence of earthworms here. You can see this is a very well structured Aggregated very porous soil that holds water quite well here So these are some of the benefits we’re looking at in addition to just getting the crop produced here What effective ways are there to help inspire more farmers to think about this way and maybe adopt more of these practices this is perhaps one of the most if not The most exciting frontiers for farming is soil biology and there’s so much attention right now from so many people and so many sectors and Interests in this we have very very much to learn and an immense amount to learn but it’s an exciting time as well It’s it’s flat-out energizing to be part of this You

2 thoughts on “Stories From the Soil – Episode 4: ‘Carbon: A Buried Treasure’

  1. Best way to fix any soil problems: don't till, add loads and loads of compost (even in the form of cover crops) on top – no tilling. Ask Charles Dowding

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