Soil Carbon

Increasing the quantity of carbon stored in agricultural soils has the potential to offset emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, while soil carbon losses would further add to those emissions.

However, realising this mitigation potential is technically challenging when soil carbon stocks are already high (as they are in New Zealand), potential changes in soil carbon are small and spatial variability is high.

The current NZAGRC programme has three distinct components:

(1) testing specific management practices that may increase the long term soil carbon store in field situations;

(2) developing and using models to predict how a range of management practices may influence long and short tem soil carbon storage; and

(3) identifying those factors that influence the stability of current or newly added soil carbon.

We have also supported international work to map on farm soil carbon and will participate in the international research programme CIRCASA.

Principal Investigators

Dr David Whitehead, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research (2010-present)
Professor Frank Kelliher, AgResearch (2010-2017)

Research Stories

The carbon balance of temperate grasslands part I: The impact of increased species diversity

S. Rutledge, A.M. Wall, P.L. Mudge, B. Troughton, D.I. Campbell, J. Pronger, C. Joshi, L.A. Schipper, The carbon balance of temperate grasslands part I: The impact of increased species diversity, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 239, 2017, Pages 310-323, ISSN 0167-8809,


  • Annual C balances were measured for four years over three pastoral blocks on a New Zealand dairy farm.
  • Two blocks were renewed to low and high diversity swards, and one block left as an unmodified control.
  • Pasture renewal to either sward increased dry matter production relative to unmodified control.
  • Renewal to high diversity sward resulted in reduced C loss compared to renewal to low diversity.
  • Renewal to neither high nor low diversity sward had benefits for C sequestration over the unmodified control.

Read more (external link)

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