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Soils for Sequestration

Improving soils by building soil organic matter is a win, win situation for everyone

Good soil management is central to sustainable farming everywhere. Healthy soils are any nation's greatest asset and, if well managed, can go on producing food, fibre and fuel for generation after generation. However much UK farmland is badly degraded, following farming practices that have not looked after the soil, effectively raiding the 'soil capital bank'.

Fortunately soils have an extraordinary capacity to regenerate quickly and become productive and stable again.

Healthy soils have numerous benefits for the farmer and society:

  • Stable and resilient

  • Resistant to erosion due to stable and improved soil structure. This leads to improved water quality in groundwater and surface waters, and ultimately to increased food security and decreased negative impacts to ecosystems.

  • Easily workable in cultivated systems

  • Good habitat for soil micro-organisms
  • Fertile and good structure

    Large carbon sinks

Basic principles to create healthy soils:

  • Cultivation is bad for soil structure as it oxidises carbon, which is then released to the atmosphere. Minimise cultivation frequency and depth, also making sure soil is not too wet when cultivated

  • Perennial crops (including grasses) are good for soil because they allow organic matter to build

  • Diverse cropping systems (cultivated and grassland) are better for soil than monocultures

  • Minimise machinery operations; compaction can be very bad for soils

  • Build soil organic matter as much and as frequently as possible!

The importance of soil organic matter


Soil organic matter can be built with permanent pasture (preferably of mixed species), green manures, and additions of manures, composts and other sources of organic matter.

As micro-organisms build in healthy soils, their ability to decompose organic matter and create humus increases over time. The soil's ability to absorb organic matter also increases; whilst degraded soils that become well managed will grow at the fastest rates, all soils can continue to build organic matter.

Building soil organic matter is a holy grail for the farmer or grower and is also a win, win situation:

  • Healthy soils produce healthy crops

  • Crops growing in healthy soils give higher yields and higher profits

  • Soils high in organic matter are resilient, stable and have good structure

  • Carbon sequestration rates can be huge

Every hectare of land that raises its soil organic matter levels by just 0.1% (e.g. 4.2% to 4.3%) will sequester 8.9 tonnes of CO2 per year. This is an extraordinary figure; in practice that is not only possible but being exceeded by farmers and growers building healthy soils.