Soil Carbon Check

Soil Carbon Check

Soil Carbon Check is, a specific soil test that provides unique data on the amount of carbon captured in the soil. This test also offers insight in the quality of the soil carbon and in possibilities to improve the soil carbon content.

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Soil is a powerful tool. It stores more than three times the amount of CO2 compared to the air, forests and other vegetation. Farmers and growers hold the key to this. Tilling the soil less often or sowing green manures are measures they can take to improve the carbon storage. The Soil Carbon Check offers insight in how much carbon is stored, in the quality of the soil carbon and how to improve the soil carbon content. 

Soils have a high potential for storing carbon and can therefore contribute to mitigating climate change. On a global scale, about 1.5 * 1015 kg of soil organic carbon (SOC) is stored in the upper meter of the soil, which is about three times the amount of carbon in the aboveground biomass and twice the amount of carbon as there is carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The more carbon in soil, the less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Importance of organic matter

Besides the impact on the climate, carbon sequestration has important advantages for farming systems. Organic matter plays an important role in soils; it has an effect on physical (e.g. soil workability, water holding capacity, root penetrability), chemical (e.g. potassium-, calcium-, and magnesium binding capacity) and biological (e.g. soil biodiversity, disease suppression, nitrogen and sulphur mineralization) components. Not all organic material applied to the soil will be retained. In mineral soils, organic matter decomposes at a rate of around 2% per year on average. In practice, this is dependent on place and time and carrying out measurements is the only way to be certain of the actual amount of carbon in the soil.

Analysis frequency

Soil Carbon Check is a unique soil test that provides insight into the carbon contents of the soil. It also tracks the development of soil organic carbon over time, and therefore the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. It is recommended to use the Soil Carbon Check every year so that it is possible to display the significance of an increase in soil organic carbon. Soil Carbon Check uses an analysis technique called near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), which is quick, economical and environmentally sustainable.

Improve carbon content

Most farming systems have the potential to increase soil organic carbon and improve their soils. How this should be done, varies per farm. The concept is simple: plants photosynthesize and capture carbon dioxide in organic material, i.e., leaves, stems, fruits and roots. All non-harvested biomass can theoretically become soil organic matter. However, farming systems are complex and therefore a suitable set of solutions should be selected. Reducing tillage, sowing green manures, agroforestry, permaculture, crop selection / rotation and application of manure / compost are a handful of possibilities. The online tool Carbon Calculator provides insight into how measurements taken on the farm will affect soil organic carbon, helping to optimize the farming system.

Here you can find an example of the report of Soil Carbon Check in your own language. You can also find the refence methods used for Soil Carbon Check.

Name Date File
Reference Methods Soil Carbon Check 2022 18-11-2022
Soil Carbon Check - UK 21-03-2023
Soil Carbon Check - Denmark 29-02-2024
Soil Carbon Check - Germany 29-02-2024
Soil Carbon Check - Finland 29-02-2024
Soil carbon Check - France 29-02-2024
Soil Carbon Check - Sweden 29-02-2024
Flyer Soil Carbon Check 18-01-2023
Sampling protocol soil 03-11-2023
Soil Carbon Check - China 29-02-2024
Soil Carbon Check - Vietnam 29-02-2024
Fact Sheet Soil Carbon Check 29-03-2024

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is new in Soil Carbon Check?

Soil Carbon Check is a soil test that provides unique insight into the actual amount of CO2 stored in the soil, and the development of CO2 capture over time. Soil Carbon Check is based on an organic matter determination with NIRS. Soil Carbon Check adds depth to the existing C-determination on Fertilizer Manager.

The report of Soil Carbon Check is supported by the Carbon Calculator. This handy calculator makes it possible to determine the effect on carbon capture of a crop, green manure crop or animal manure or compost. The advice that follows makes possible to optimize the carbon management for the own situation.

More information

Empower Innovations in Routine Soil Testing. Reijneveld, J.A. et al. Agronomy 2022, 12, 191.

Why should you perform Soil Carbon Check annually?

The build-up of organic matter in soil takes time and requires the continuous attention of the farmer/grower. Soil management and mineralization by soil life have a great effect on carbon capture. Climatic conditions, temperature and precipitation are also very influential. Annual monitoring provides insight into the actual state of the soil; measuring and re-measuring the soil carbon status should lead to a significant increase in CO2 storage. When a Soil Carbon Check is performed yearly, improvement can be proved much sooner. Moreover, chain partners in the agri-food sector require up-to-date figures on the condition of the soil. Only with up-to-date data is it possible to claim and prove sustainable land use.

How much CO2 can the soil capture?

CO2 is captured in the soil organic material as carbon. Plants capture CO2 from the air through photosynthesis into organic matter, therefore, leaves, wood and roots form an endless storage vessel for CO2. Micro-organisms are also a major source of soil organic material, however, soil life (fungibacteria, small insects etc.) also breaks down organic material. This causes CO2 to be released again and this is known as the carbon cycle.

CO2 capture in organic matter therefore depends on the type of organic matter: stable organic matter contains more carbon than fresh organic matter. The activity of the soil life is important for the degree of degradation. Carbon Check provides insight into the amount of carbon captured.

At the COP21 (Paris) a 4 per 1000 increase was anticipated; so an annual increase of 0.4% per year.  On average an increase of 2 ton CO2 can be expected (depending on among others weather conditions and management). 

What is the relation between soil organic matter and soil organic carbon?

Soil organic matter is the collective term for all the material found in the soil that comes from microorganisms, plants and animals. Organic matter consists largely of complex molecules of carbon (C), oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H). It also contains other organic substances (e.g. proteins and amino acids) which include nitrogen (N)phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S).

As a guideline, soil organic carbon makes up about 50% of the organic matter, however, this percentage varies widely (between 30 and 70%). The actual soil organic carbon content depends on factors such as the origin of the organic matter and the type of soil.

How do you calculate how much CO2 is captured in organic matter?

To calculate climate impact, soil carbon capture is converted to CO2. To do this, a factor of 44/12 = 3.67 is used (mole mass CO2/mole mass C). This means that 1 ton of soil carbon (as part of soil organic matter) matter corresponds to 3.67 tons of CO2 capture.

How can I increase CO2 capture in the soil?

There are several ways to capture CO2 in soil. The best method is dependent on the type of farm. A few suggestions are:

  • Improve/adapt crop rotation. Crops such as maize, potatoes and onions take up a lot of nutrients from the soil and leave little crop residue. Crops like wheat, barley, and grasses form a lot of organic matter and thus contribute to organic matter accumulation.
  • Provide additional organic matter with animal manure or compost. In the circular economy, the use of compost will become increasingly important.
  • Sow a green manure/cover crop to ensure a growing crop is on the field as much as possible. There are several types of green manure and their contribution to organic matter varies. The choice of green manure depends on the land, soil health and climate. 
  • Leave crop residues (roots, stubble etc.) on the land as much as possible after cultivation. This contributes to soil health and the build-up of organic matter and prevents erosion.
  • Ensure optimal crop growth. Fertilization that is tailored to the crop and the soil, as well as sufficient water, are needed. Soil and crop analyses will give you indispensable insight into optimize fertilization and ensure that the crop receives exactly the right amount of nutrients during cultivation.

What role does organic matter play in the soil?

Organic matter has several important functions in the soil. It is one of the most important indicators of soil health. Organic matter is food for all soil organisms. Because no light penetrates into the soil, soil organisms cannot use sunlight for photosynthesis as an energy source. This means all soil organisms depend on organic matter for their energy and food supply. Organic matter contributes to nutrient delivery, moisture and air management and soil structure.

How does organic matter contribute to soil health?

Organic matter affects biological, chemical and physical soil fertility. Organic matter provides nitrogen (N)sulphur (S) and other nutrients to crops by being released during the decomposition of organic matter. Nutrients like potassium (K)magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca) are loosely bound to organic molecules, which are weakly negatively electrically charged. They can thus hold positively charged ions such as ammonium (NH4+) or potassium (K+) to the CEC.

Organic matter retains moisture. Plots with higher organic matter content are therefore less susceptible to drought and can more effectively ‘capture’ water from rainfall. It is food for soil organisms, therefore not only important for mineralization, but also for the resilience of the soil. Finally, organic matter improves the workability of the soil.

What is a soil organic matter balance?

Most organic matter is stable, however, organic matter can disappear through decomposition by soil life and it is re-supplemented by the input of manure, compost and crop residues for example. The difference between supply and degradation determines whether the content is in balance. If the decomposition is higher than the supply, the organic matter content decreases and vice versa. 

What is effective organic matter?

Effective organic matter is the part of the organic matter that remains in the soil one year after application of crop residues, manure or compost. In the first year after application a large part of the organic matter disappears because it is easily degradable. The contribution of this fraction to the content in the soil is therefore quite small. The contribution of the more stable fraction is greater.

Which crops should I sow to improve soil organic matter?

One crop is not the other when it comes to the contribution to effective organic matterMore about green manures.

What is the effect of global warming on soil carbon capture?

As it gets warmer on earth, the breakdown of organic matter in the soil will increase. It is therefore important to keep a finger on the pulse and perform regular Soil Carbon Check.

What is the Carbon Calculator?

The report of Soil Carbon Check is supported by the Carbon CalculatorThis handy calculator makes it possible to determine the effect that a crop, green manure/cover crop, animal manure or compost has on carbon capture. The advice that follows allows you to optimize carbon management in accordance with the specifics of an individual farm.

Use the link or QR-code on your report to open the Carbon Calculator. The Carbon Calculator will then take your latest personal soil carbon data. Use this data to optimize your choice of crop or which manure/green manure/compost to apply on your fields.

The Carbon Calculator also shows the amount of additional carbon you have stored, in tonnes per hectare, and therefore how many carbon credits you may be able to claim.

Carbon Calculator

How can I get carbon credits?

Eurofins Agro does not produce carbon credits; we provide reliable tests that can be used by certifying parties.

What is the best sampling depth for a Soil Carbon Check?

Carbon enters the soil via degrading organic matter from root exudates (substances in the rhizosphere that are secreted by the roots of living plants and microbially modified products of these substances). It is therefore best to sample the soil layer in which most roots are located, or the plough layer (as this is mixed with organic matter). We advise a depth of 30 cm, if possible.

Can you still perform a Soil Carbon Check when organic matter levels are high, like on peat soils?

Yes, this is possible. However, it is hard to see an increase when organic matter is already high.

Can a Soil Carbon Check be used on both arable land and grassland?

Grasslands are very apt for storing soil organic carbon; permanent grasslands sequester carbon particularly easily. However, arable land is also suitable for storing carbon and although in arable farming systems sequestering carbon can be challenging, there is very high potential.

How does the soil store CO2?

CO2 is captured in the soil organic material as carbon. Plants capture CO2 from the air through photosynthesis into organic matter; therefore, leaves, wood and roots form an endless storage vessel for CO2. Micro-organisms are also a major source of soil organic material; however, soil life (fungibacteria, small insects etc.) also breaks down organic material. This causes CO2 to be released again. This is known as the carbon cycle.

What is the recommended sampling intensity?

The intensity of soil sampling needed to find a significant increase in SOC includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Area (field/plot- or farm- or district/region/group-level).
  2. Land use (arable or grassland).
  3. Current soil organic carbon content.
  4. Anticipated increase.
  5. Single or double soil sampling.
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