The carbon cycle is an essential process in agriculture and with carbon becoming a mainstream topic, farmers need to understand it and how they can influence it.
The interaction between plants and soil are key to this process, as is looking after soil biology. By adapting farming systems, the process can work more efficiently, bringing benefits to your business.
Carbon is a word which seems to come up daily, whether through policy documents or industry reports – it certainly is a hot topic. The subject is not the easiest to understand and many of us wish we’d listened more in biology at school and soil science lectures at college!
What we need to know is:
Whether you farm livestock or crops, the carbon cycle sits at the very heart of your production system. Carbon is the energy source of life and helps farmers turn energy from the sun into an energy source in the soil which drives many other nutrient cycles, allowing crops to grow. These crops are then consumed by us directly or by animals, creating more complex protein sources for humans to eat.
Therefore, carbon must be a good thing? Yes, but we need to understand the stages in the carbon cycle to realise its importance to agriculture:
The plant takes in carbon dioxide (CO2) and releases oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. As the plant draws in CO2, it requires water from the soil to produce more complex compounds in green plant material above ground and roots below ground. As the roots grow, they produce root exudates, which are essentially complex carbohydrates, which are released by the plant into the soil.
Roots are extremely important in the function of your soil. They have the ability to carry carbon deeper into the soil profile, through the release of root exudates. They also have the ability for the plant to “talk” to the soil. For example, if a plant is growing vigorously and requires phosphate for this process, the plant releases an exudate which stimulates those bacteria and fungi which can mineralise phosphate making it more available to the plant.
In the soil, carbon enters from two main sources: root exudates and Bulky Organic Manures (BOMs) (chopped straw, plant residues, FYM, slurry etc). These sources are broken down by a multitude of living organisms including insects, bacteria and fungi, into organic matter. In the process, they produce two types of carbon pool:
The two stages are fundamentally linked with the success of the plant relying on the soil.
Understanding the carbon cycle underpins your production system and adapting your system to take this into account can have a significant impact on your business.
Edinvale’s farm main enterprise is beef: a herd of Highland and Shorthorn cattle, with a bit of the Aberdeen Angus stock, totalling about 270 head, including this year’s crop of calves.
Kaia Waxenberg, Research Associate at SRUC and the member of the Agrecalc team, has won ‘Best Pitch’ in the Net Zero Category at prestigious Converge Challenge.