Carbon sequestration capability will vary by soil types across the country.
Ottawa—It is critical that government programs to enhance soil carbon sequestration have farmers involved in their development from the start, says a report from the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
Following Best Management Practices (BMPs), Canadian farmers can capture atmospheric carbon and store it long-term in the soil, says the report prepared by CAPI doctoral fellows Lisa Ashton, Hannah Lieberman, Callum Morrison, and Dr. Marie-Elise Samson
The BMPs “should reflect local context and agri-environmental conditions,” the report said. “Policies and programs can help address barriers to BMP adoption by including producers in decision making processes, providing evidence of return on investment, and ensuring access to affordable and effective measuring and monitoring tools.”
Ongoing information to producers “should provide greater clarity to producers on the state of knowledge and the opportunities and challenges in BMP adoption by utilizing science and data from multiple disciplines,” the report said.
Carbon sequestration strategies need to be adaptable because Canadian cropland soils do not have the same potential in carbon storage or exist within the same agri-environmental conditions.
“The environmental drivers and agricultural practices that encourage carbon sequestration vary depending on climatic conditions and soil properties. In particular, organic matter inputs to the soil and the subsequent processing are key to understanding how to increase carbon sequestration in croplands.”
The report suggests three levers or mechanisms to increase soil carbon sequestration. The first lever is to increase the photosynthesis rate per unit of soil area both in space and time by adopting practices including cover crops and diversified crop rotations.
The second lever should be to maximize the amount of biomass returned to soil by integrating manure and leaving crop residue on fields. The third lever is to reduce soil carbon emissions by adopting practices such as reduced tillage.
There are numerous factors that inhibit adoption of soil sequestration farming practices, the report said. They include “risk and uncertainty associated with introducing new practices, high upfront costs, and environmental constraints. Producers need to be encouraged by being involved in policy design and seeing evidence of return on investment and policy and regulatory certainty and having access to affordable and effective measuring and monitoring tools and technologies.
It’s also important to strengthen the interface between science and government policy in the development of BMPs. That would come from “greater integration and utilization of science and data from multiple disciplines, co-design and collaborative opportunities, and the establishment of on-the-ground test projects.”
A science-based systems approach to policy design should be considered to ensure it will lead to increased carbon sequestration in cropland, the report said. “In the short-term, this approach should lead to more collaborative opportunities for testing innovations in policy and market design that utilize the current understanding of which BMPs enhance carbon sequestration and the barriers and enabling conditions for adoption. In the long-term, this approach can be strengthened by investing in research and infrastructure that furthers our understanding of how to increase and measure carbon storage.”
Soil is largest terrestrial organic carbon pool, containing approximately three times the amount of carbon compared to the atmosphere, and can play a critical role in climate change mitigation.
Agricultural land presents a unique opportunity to identify and encourage beneficial management practices that enhance carbon sequestration and produce co-benefits such as improved soil health, drought resilience, and water quality.
To ensure farmers are well equipped to store carbon in their land, government policy has to better position them to adopt BMPs that are practical and effective within the environmental, economic, and social context that they operate within.
Producers across Canada face different challenges and require different supports and incentives when making farm management decisions to adopt these BMPs. Therefore, policy not only needs to consider the environmental conditions, but also producers’ socio-economic limitations in BMP adoption, as practices that are best for increasing carbon stocks are not necessarily feasible from an economic or farming perspective and vice versa. In addition, science is an evolving field and understanding how best to sequester carbon under changing climatic conditions may change.