Soil Carbon Monitoring
At this Brookdale Research Field, MBFI is researching soil carbon monitoring. This page provides information about this particular research project; including the background, objectives, and updates.
- Project Lead: Matthew Wiens, Land Management Specialist (Manitoba Agriculture), Send email
- Project Start: May 2016
- Project Status: In Progress
- Location: Brookdale Research Field
About This Project
Most agricultural soils in Manitoba and across the globe have lost soil organic carbon since agricultural production was initiated. A greater understanding is needed of the potential for various agricultural practices in various locations to rebuild the soil organic carbon. Soil scientists believe there is significant potential for agriculture to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it as soil organic matter, leading to reduced atmospheric carbon dioxide levels while also improving the productivity of soils.
Monitoring for soil carbon relates directly to the agricultural productivity, or health, of the soil. Soil organic carbon levels are correlated to a number of factors related to productive soils, including aggregate stability, water holding capacity, water infiltration rate, nutrient exchange, and micobial activity. These factors usually increase if soil organic carbon levels increase.
This project will attempt to provide a demonstration of the impact of certain grazing practices on soil organic carbon over time by employing the Soil Carbon Coalition approach to soil carbon monitoring (Donovan. 2013. Measuring soil carbon change http://soilcarboncoalition.org/files/MeasuringSoilCarbonChange.pdf). This approach is being adopted by a number of cattle farmers in western Manitoba and after 3 years of monitoring some farmers have reported observing large increases in soil carbon.
Two distinct grazing systems have been established at the Brookdale Farm for the "Planned Grazing Demonstration Project" and the soil carbon will also be monitored in conjunction with that project. The planned grazing system employs a documented plan at the beginning of the season to guide when and where cattle will be moved as the grazing season progresses. Cattle are moved quickly during fast growth in early spring and slower during slowed growth in late summer and forage plants are observed to ensure full recover before they are grazed a second time. In contrast, the continuous grazing system allows the cattle to move throughout the same number of acres freely.
- To evaluate the ability of the Soil Carbon Coalition approach to soil carbon monitoring to provide meaningful information for understanding management impacts on soil carbon changes.
- To monitor, for a minimum of 3 years, the impact on soil organic carbon of two grazing systems: planned grazing and continuous grazing. The intention is to continue to monitor even longer-term changes in soil organic carbon.
- To estimate the economic impact of changes in soil carbon and its subsequent impact on forage growth and cattle productivity.
As of March 2017-During the 2016 grazing season cattle were managed in the contrasting management systems over top of the established carbon monitoring sites. Did the grazing of the cattle impact soil carbon levels? If it did was it any different in the planned grazing system versus the continuous grazing system? We won’t be able to tell until we take subsequent samples in future years and compare to the baseline samples we took in 2016. For now all we can do is wait and let the grass and the cows go through their annual cycles of growing and grazing… and waiting through winter. The next sampling of these monitoring sites is scheduled for spring 2019.
As of July 2016 - The baseline sampling for this project has been done at the Brookdale location. Four by Four meter plots were established and 40 cm core samples were taken at pre-determined locations within grazed plots. These samples are now air dried and stored for later analysis.