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Iowa State University Team Helps Roll Out National Soil Carbon Program for Working Lands
Iowa Ag Connection - 09/18/2023

As farming for carbon credits gains traction across the agricultural landscape, farmers and soil conservationists need easy-to-understand benchmarks to measure and monitor carbon. An Iowa State University team is poised to help.

The group will lead training for a process to measure and monitor soil carbon stocks as part of a new national program meant to provide a basis for financial assistance to farmers and landowners who adopt climate-smart conservation practices. The Iowa State “Know Your Carbon Landscape” project will also gather data to support carbon-related research and education at demonstration sites in the Midwest that are part of a Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network coordinated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

“Our first goal is to improve the consistency of carbon measurement by training farmers and conservation professionals in the application of the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Conservation Evaluation and Monitoring Activity 221 protocol for soil organic carbon stock monitoring,” said Bradley Miller, associate professor of agronomy and leader for the interdisciplinary project at Iowa State. “We’ll be teaching a method people can use to determine how, what, when and where to measure carbon levels.”

Miller acknowledges that questions continue about how to best measure and track carbon forms and changes over time.

“As science advances, there are likely to be modifications,” he said. “However, the new NRCS standards give us a good starting point, which landowners and farmers can use now to better understand the carbon in their soils and qualify for related conservation program benefits. We are excited to help get this program underway.”

The project’s plans for outreach and education include a website, print and online materials and videos, and field events for farmers and conservation professionals, primarily at the LTAR demonstration sites.

The $2 million project is part of a four-year soil carbon partnership to expand measurement and monitoring of soil carbon on working agricultural lands. Iowa State is one of four institutions in different regions selected by the USDA NRCS to support coordination of national efforts for greenhouse gas accounting. The other regional partners are Michigan State University, American Climate Partners and the University of Texas at El Paso.


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