Meat & Livestock News

The Role of Soil Carbon in Offsetting Emissions: A Closer Look


  • Soil carbon, while not a complete solution for carbon neutrality, plays a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Hawke’s Bay Future Farming Trust highlights the potential of soil carbon credits as a viable offset strategy for New Zealand farmers.
  • Ongoing research and projects aim to deepen understanding and application of soil carbon management to enhance its impact on emission reduction.

In a recent conference in Hastings, the Hawke’s Bay Future Farming Trust shed light on the significant yet often overlooked role of soil carbon in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The “Healthy Soils … Healthy Profits” conference, attended by 140 agri-sector participants, focused on the dual challenge of improving soil health and maintaining profitability in farming.

The event highlighted practical efforts by New Zealand farmers to enhance soil carbon, alongside international insights into the potential for soil carbon credits to offset farm emissions.

Contrary to some sceptical views, such as those presented in a Farmers Weekly article by Richard Rennie, which cited research suggesting soil carbon cannot fully offset emissions from ruminant animals, the Trust maintains a positive outlook. Acknowledging that achieving carbon zero solely through soil carbon is unrealistic, the Trust argues for its significant potential in reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The Trust’s projects aim at sequestering soil carbon, which could offset a considerable portion of total emissions, with the remainder being addressed through afforestation, improved farm efficiency, or livestock reduction.

This approach aligns with the static or potentially decreasing methane and nitrous oxide emissions due to stable or reduced livestock numbers and enhanced animal performance, making any increase in soil carbon storage a net positive.

However, the Trust also points out the scarcity of scientific evidence in New Zealand on how different farming systems impact soil health and carbon levels. Initiatives like Landcare Research’s 500 Soils Project and the Trust’s own Carbon Positive project, employing eDNA technologies, are steps towards filling this knowledge gap.

These efforts aim to identify microbial groups associated with improved soil conditions and benchmark soil carbon levels, challenging the notion that New Zealand’s soil carbon cannot be enhanced.

Furthermore, the Trust supports the Farming for Carbon project, which utilises internationally recognised soil carbon testing protocols to assess the potential for certifying soil carbon credits. This initiative, in collaboration with the US carbon project development company AEI, explores the certification of soil carbon credits for international trading, offering a new perspective on soil management’s contribution to emission reduction strategies.

Despite the challenges and the recognition that carbon neutrality may not be fully achievable through soil carbon alone, the Trust advocates for a continued focus on soil carbon management. By improving soil health and carbon storage, New Zealand farmers can contribute to a broader strategy of emission reduction, aligning with global efforts to combat climate change.

This approach underscores the importance of innovative farming practices in achieving environmental sustainability without compromising economic viability.