By Doug Hanson
Soil Organic Matter in most Midwest farms will range from 1 to 6% organic matter. The percent organic matter can contribute to the productivity of any given farm. Increasing the organic matter on a farm is known to have many benefits. It has the ability to improve nutrient holding capacity which in return can provide more nutrients for a growing crop. It will also help to mineralize unavailable nutrients and make those nutrients more available to the crop. Some physical benefits include improved soil structure which will aid in better water infiltration. Better water infiltration in the soil and improved oxygen supply helps nutrients to be more available to plant roots.
Increasing organic matter in a traditional corn soybean rotation is possible, but it is difficult to accomplish. Increasing organic matter to a measurable amount in a traditional system will require cover crops and a decreased tillage system. This does work, but it is slow. If increasing the organic matter on a farm is a desired goal, including wheat or perennial crops like hay and pasture are going to be needed. Reduce tillage/no-till will also be necessary so the newly developed organic matter does not burn –up through tillage.
What does this have to do with Carbon? Simply put, you cannot improve the organic matter on a farm without sinking Carbon. Therefore, creating a farming system that sinks more carbon than it loses each year provides the opportunity to increase organic matter and sink Carbon all at the same time. This along with some of the reduced use of fossil fuels by doing less tillage in these new systems is why the government and private industry is interested in helping farms to sink Carbon and get paid for it. Not only does the Carbon stay in our soils, but our soils are also more resilient. The more resilient a soil is the better it can handle adverse weather conditions and crop stresses.