Soil Carbon in Agricultural Systems

Update: For our latest paper on soil carbon and agriculture, check out the Oldfield et al. (2022) paper listed below and for a rapidly-digestible version of the main messages, read our 1-page publication brief by clicking here.

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a key indicator of soil fertility and strongly influences hydrologic processes in agricultural systems. Yet its relationship with outcomes such as productivity and yield resilience has been poorly quantified. Our research seeks to address this knowledge gap by providing robust numbers around how changes in SOC relate to agricultural outcomes like crop production, crop nutritional value, and resilience to climate perturbations.

Specifically, our lab explores SOC as a driver of agricultural productivity and resilience. Our work in this area includes manipulative greenhouse experimentation as well as large landscape level assessments using publicly-available data and those collected collabroatively from networks of working farms. The goal of our research is to provide knowledge and capacity to effectively manage SOC, soil health and agronomic and environmental outcomes in agricultural systems.

As well as the full papers below, which as much as possible we make open access, we are also striving to make our results as accessible as possible to those who might apply them to improve agricultural sustainability.

For example, check out a 1-page summary of our work (by clicking here) on corn yields in the U.S. midwest, and how higher soil carbon reduces crop insurance payouts and protects yields under drought. Similarly, check out an invited piece we produced about soil health initiatives for the Aspen Global Change Institute (click here).

Relevant Publications
E. E. Oldfield, Wood, S. A., Palm, C. A., and Bradford, M. A., How much SOM is needed for sustainable agriculture?, FRONTIERS IN ECOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, vol. 13, p. 527, 2015.