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

Impact of importing feed

Parallel work at a nearby farm calculated carbon balances for three years for a farm with very high feed imports (about 12 tonnes dry matter or 5.3 tonnes of carbon per hectare, per year). The majority of the imported feed was converted back to carbon dioxide by cow respiration and decomposition of dung. Some of the imported carbon was also exported in increased milk production. Carbon balance measurements over maize are continuing at the site so that the carbon balance of feed production and importation can be completed.


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