Trust Protocol’s farm data exploration and key findings on soil carbon metrics

Specific data and accurate measurements are important tools for US growers in improving cotton production and their environment. As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.  Trust Protocol is keen to empower and develop farmers with this information.

The program annually provides data against six key environmental metrics and produces new reports measuring them. In an annual report through the 2021-22 fiscal year, aggregate data from U.S. farmers, including soil carbon content, is explored.  But what does soil carbon measurement mean?

Soil carbon refers to the total amount of carbon in both organic and inorganic forms that is stored in the soil of a plant, such as natural fiber cotton.  In fact, plants such as cotton absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil carbon pool as they grow, thereby increasing soil carbon levels through the process of sequestration.  Sunlight then synthesizes nutrients from carbon dioxide and water through photosynthesis.  Plants then store the carbon in their leaves and roots, locking it in the soil, where it will remain for as long as the land remains free.  Although soil carbon may not be the primary source of energy for most soil microorganisms, increased levels of soil carbon specifically support water infiltration, water, and nutrient holding capacity and increase crop productivity.

Soil carbon metrics are a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service tool, calculated by the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI).  The SCI index ranges from -1.0 to +1.0.  If the calculated index is a negative value, a decrease in soil organic matter levels is accurately predicted.  However, if the index is a positive value, soil organic matter levels are predicted to increase under current production systems.  Soil organic matter is extremely rich in soil carbon.  Soil carbon is often measured based on how much organic matter is present in the soil.

The national target for soil carbon measurement in FY 2025 is to achieve positive SCI improvement of 30% of farmers.  For the 2021/22 crop year, 70% of Trust protocol grower members were assigned a positive index value, meaning well-maintained soil health with high soil organic matter levels and an abundance of diverse soil microbiomes.

Healthy soil has many superpowers and provides the necessary nutrients to meet the nutrient needs of an environment and plants to thrive.

So now the question is – how can trust protocol farmers raise their soil carbon levels and take better care of the soil?

There are various steps and methods to ensure planting of cover crops when land is bare and susceptible to erosion prevention and practicing minimum and no-till systems to preserve soil structure and encourage biodiversity.  In 2021/22, 82% of Trust Protocol land adopted conservation tillage, and 57% of acres were planted with cover crops which directly contributed to reducing soil erosion by 78% compared to the 2015 Trust Protocol baseline.  Reducing soil erosion improves both groundwater and surface water quality, thereby reducing negative impacts on ecosystems.

US cotton farmers understand that in order to take care of the land, they must take care of it, and they are working hard to improve their environmental impact, including their soil carbon.

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