In an article titled “Soil Carbon is King ” published in the Western Star, Graeme Sait focuses on how more people need to understand how soil carbon is critical to reducing the excess carbon in the atmosphere. Even if we stop all emissions, there is still too much carbon in the atmosphere for the ecosystem to function in a way to support human life. As we build organic matter/soil carbon in the soil through regenerative agriculture practices, we are taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it used to be.
Graeme also wants to convince farmers to plant cover crops as the answer to getting in the carbon in the ground. Certainly, if every grain farmer began adding cover crops to their crop rotations that would make a huge addition (as would a switch to no- or low-till farming) to carbon sequestrating agriculture. If you added all graziers using planned grazing as a tool to improve the organic matter in grazing soils and then included more perennial crops instead of annuals, then the amount of plants pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and fixing it in the ground would be phenomenal.
But while cover crops are a critical piece of the puzzle, the particularly fascinating nugget in this article was the information that USDA research showed that farmers had the best success for increased soil carbon when using cover crops of 5 or more types of seeds to create a synergistic effect that kicked soil life into gear. In particular, it was critical that the 5 seeds included: grasses, cereals, brassicas, chenopods, and legumes.
It’s like a phenolic party at that point if you get the right combination, because the plants message each other through root exudates and the soil organisms belly up to the root exudate bar for phenolic compound shots. All that activity results in better soil structure and more organic matter. Graeme goes on to explain the eight benefits cover crops give to help encourage the resistant farmer into giving them a try.
Reasons for Cover Crops
- Nature abhors a vacuum and plants give 30% of their glucose every day to the soil organisms
- Suppress weeds
- Provide minerals and nutrients to cash crop
- Protect against root knot nematodes
- Brassicas provide allelopathic protection against weeds
- Feed soil organisms the glucose they produce and exude from their roots
- Seriously reduce erosion (just .1% of rain events cause 75% of erosion). Residues are better than bare soil but there is nothing like a live root to hold the soil in place.
- Provide habitat for all kinds of animals particularly pollinators
Holistic Management practitioner, Gabe Brown, found that when he planted one cover crop seed (turnips), one inch of rain made for a struggling plant (left). But with a good cover crop mix (right), the one inch of rain created a lot more green growing plants.
Learn more about how Gabe Brown has been able to increase the organic matter in his soils from 1% to 6%.
To learn more about how Holistic Management heals the land, visit our Regenerative Solution page.
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