Which Farm Practices Reduce Emissions & Sequester Carbon?

Content has been adapted from The Context Network “Get Smart, Stay Smart” Ag Carbon Service.

A tractor passes through a wide, flat field filled with yellow flowers.

Justin Buss plants soybean into corn residue and wild mustard using a no-till planter on his farm in Vincennes, Indiana, on May 13, 2021. Photo by Brandon O’Connor and courtesy of Indiana NRCS.

The short answer: All aspects of crop production that involve keeping the soil covered, minimizing disturbance, and agronomic management can help sequester carbon and reduce emissions.

Dig deeper: Specifically, the eight following practices—when carefully applied and tweaked for each farm’s cropping system and climate—present areas to cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil carbon sequestration.

  1. Nutrient management: Changing fertilizer application methods from broadcast to subsurface, reducing rates, and using enhanced efficiency fertilizers. These are all great ways to improve nitrogen use, decrease emissions, and manage carbon sequestration.
  2. Strip cropping: Adding and maintaining strips of perennial cover between rows can help increase soil carbon stocks in the field.
  3. Forage and biomass planting: Converting cropland to continuous grass or legume forage/biomass crops can help sequester carbon and prevent emissions associated with tillage. Plus, there are many grass and legumes cultivars that can be used for pasture, hay, or biomass production.
  4. Cover cropping: Keeping the soil continuously covered in seasons when it might otherwise lay bare is a great means of improving soil quality. Cover crops add root biomass, improving soil quality, sequestering carbon, and providing a nitrogen source to the next season’s crops.
  5. Conservation cover: Perennial vegetation protects the soil from erosion, improves water infiltration, reduces runoff, and builds soil organic matter.
  6. Reduced or no-till: Decreasing tillage causes less disturbance to the soil, leaving carbon sequestered in the topsoil in place.
  7. Perennial grasses: On marginal lands, where cash crops often underperform, a better option might be planting perennial grasses. These grasses reduce soil erosion, restore carbon stocks, provide feedstock for biofuel and bioproducts, and serve as a mitigation strategy to prevent regional climate change.
  8. Technologies: New technology can enable carbon sequestration. Though we can’t get into detail here, see “The Context Network: Global Agriculture Carbon Report” for more information.

No one field—or even one farmer—need apply all of these conservation strategies. Instead, using the strategy that solves problems facing each field, each cropping system, and each farm is a better method for improving soil carbon and reducing emissions.

Photo by Brandon O’Connor and courtesy of Indiana NRCS.