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Carbon Sequestering: Co-Benefits of Soil Health Series

A handful of healthy soil with roots and worms under a blue sky.
A handful of healthy soil with roots and worms. Photo by Lydia Fitzgerald

"When you rebuild soil, [you are] increasing the carbon content in that soil," said John Piotti, Chief Executive Officer of American Farmland Trust. Piotti joined us on 4 The Soil: A Conversation for Episode 22-2 to talk about how better soil increases productivity. "And where does that carbon come from? Well, it comes from the atmosphere. It's brought down through the wonders of photosynthesis, and then stored in the soil," said Piotti. Building soil health breeds numerous benefits. One co-benefit is sequestering carbon, which strengthens our world's climate resilience and improves nutrient cycling in the soil.

Piotti shared examples of farming practices to help build soil health and sequester carbon. Two practices include no-till and low-till, which minimize soil disturbance. "Every time you plow up land, you release some carbon. But if you manage that land without tilling it, you help the soil rebuild carbon reserves," said Piotti. Perennial plants like alfalfa and permanent grass sods also help reduce sequestration, and they follow the principles of minimizing soil disturbance and maximizing living roots. Growing cover crops and rotating crops help maximize living roots as well. By doing so, we encourage mycorrhizal fungi to grow and plant roots to exude nutrients and sugars into the soil, which provides a pathway for carbon into the soil to be possibly stored. Integrating livestock, a form of energizing the soil with diversity, can also benefit carbon sequestration because their manure and footsteps can encourage more microbial activity and breakdown of plant residues and additional sources of carbon. With proper grazing and density management, animals as part of a holistic system can become part of the solutions. During our conversation, Piotti recognized many of the challenges farmers and the agricultural community face. Yet, he urged hope and action. "There are many tools at the ready and different ones can be used in different combinations in different ways on different farms," Piotti said. When we are "4 the Soil," we are for the future. We are excited to learn about and share potential solutions to complex issues. We encourage constructive conversations, sharing of stories, and we aim to provide accessible and adaptable resources for all soil stewards. If you would like us to explore certain topics or include specific resources on our website, we invite you to reach out to us at the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, Virginia Cooperative Extension, your local USDA Service Center, or your local Soil and Water Conservation District.


What is Soil Carbon Sequestration?, American University Washington D.C. Root Fungus Stores a Surprising Amount of the Carbon Sequestered in Soil, Scientific American Grazing Cattle Can Reduce Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint, Texas A&M AgriLifeCommunications Episode 22-2: Better Soil Health Increases Productivity with John Piotti of American Farmland Trust

Straw covering the soil around a crop
Straw covering the soil around a crop. Photo by NRCS


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