Soil Organic Carbon Testing Protocol

Alberta’s 50.5 million acres of agricultural land represents a powerful and yet largely unrecognized tool in the fight against climate change. The same soil that produces our food also has an amazing ability to draw carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and lock the greenhouse gas (GHG) in the ground. The sequestered CO2 is converted to soil carbon, a crucial element for soil health. 

Capturing GHG emissions like CO2 through our soil is a win–win strategy. It restores degraded soils, enhances biomass production, purifies surface and ground waters and offsets emissions from fossil fuels use. Soil carbon can also help mitigate against extreme weather events like droughts, wildfires and floods. 

Many of our conventional agricultural practices are unfortunately harmful to soil and do not promote the uptake of carbon dioxide. Regenerative practices like zero-tillage, afforestation of degraded soil, cover cropping and conversion of degraded cropland to pasture nurture soil’s natural ability to absorb CO2. Soil health and its ability to feed ecosystems is closely tied to the amount and quality of soil carbon in the root zone. 

Using management practices focused on soil health can increase soil carbon by as much as three gigatonnes per year globally. This corresponds to a 50 parts per million (ppm) reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2100. Currently, atmospheric CO2 is over 400 ppm and scientists generally agree we need to get to 350 ppm or less to stabilize the climate.

Alberta started the process of creating Agricultural Offsets protocols as part of the province’s overall carbon offset program a decade ago. It was considered too expensive to directly measure carbon in the soil and the idea of carbon sequestration through soil was still developing. Calculating whole farm carbon stocks was even more daunting at the time. 

Times have changed. Using the University of Sydney Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) Measurement protocol we can measure the total carbon stored in the soil of Alberta’s farms. With this data, we can empower farmers to make their own decisions in management practices that facilitate carbon sequestration in soil. Allowing more practices and more land to come under the current offsets program will contribute to the economy and create a new revenue stream for producers.  

Food Water Wellness Foundation is working with producers, scientists, industry and governments to develop a baseline map of soil carbon in Alberta’s agricultural land using the University of Sydney’s measurement protocol. Effectively monitoring and measuring the carbon stocks of the province’s farms will enable the development of sound policies the tackle climate change  and support our farmers at the same time

To learn more about the project and how you can get involved please contact Kimberly Cornish at