Storing Carbon in the Soil Through Regenerative Farming

Elizabeth Borneman


One essential place that carbon is stored is in the soil. The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is increasing, which has the potential to dramatically change how plants and animals exist on this planet.

Mankind has been pumping additional CO2 into the atmosphere with our cars, our houses, our factories, our technologies, and our power stations. Limiting the amount of manmade CO2 in the atmosphere isn’t something that the majority of people on Earth are actively doing.

Some people are committed to biking to work, to minimizing their waste, and to living eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyles. On the larger scale, mankind is still producing more carbon dioxide than the world around us can safely absorb.

A small stream in the foreground running through fields with cows, a red barn, and several silos in the background.
Midwest streams flow through intensive row cropping. Photo: Peter Van Metre, USGS. Public domain.

Soil around the world contains carbon, which is important for the natural balance of the Earth. Unfortunately, agricultural practices have degraded the soil to the point where much of it isn’t able to hold carbon.

Besides the ocean, the soil holds the most carbon of any other place in the world. As deforestation and industrial agriculture take over massive portions of the world’s agricultural areas, the carbon in the soil is released into the air as CO2. This increases the amount of CO2 in the air and contributes to global warming and climate change.

Farmers have long been tied to the land and are therefore highly aware of the delicate balance of ingredients that go into healthy soil. In partnership with scientists and researchers, farmers are coming up with different ways to keep soil from degrading and releasing more CO2 into the air.

What is Regenerative Farming?

Industrial farming methods can be replaced with more environmentally friendly farming methods, including things like using organic fertilizer, no-tillage, crop rotation, and composting. Using these methods soil can recover from degradation and actually reverse the process, taking CO2 out of the air and absorbing it instead.

This concept, called regenerative farming, has been shown to absorb nearly 3% of global carbon emissions [1]; some scientists estimate that with enough regenerative farming, the global carbon emissions absorbed back into the soil could be up to %15 [2].

Studies show that the soil may be our best chance to reverse the effects of global warming and CO2 emissions; however, the multinational corporations that govern much of the agricultural world are unwilling to give up their pesticides and patented crops.

More: Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet, The Guardian, September 10, 2016

Map of Soil Organic Carbon Stock of the United States.  Source: USDA, NRCS
Map of Soil Organic Carbon Stock of the United States. Source: USDA, NRCS


[1] Gattinger, A., Muller, A., Haeni, M., Skinner, C., Fliessbach, A., Buchmann, N., … & Niggli, U. (2012). Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farmingProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(44), 18226-18231.

[2] Lal, R. (2004). Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food securityscience304(5677), 1623-1627.

Soil Survey Staff. (2013). Rapid Assessment of U.S. Soil Carbon (RaCA) project. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.

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