Soil sampling project to help quantify carbon sequestration

MANNING, Alta. — An Alberta research company has been testing soil to quantify carbon levels in the province, aiming to use the results to advocate for a credit program for producers.

Pachaterrae is examining soil at eight sites across Alberta, sending the samples to labs for an analysis. It will then re-test the soil in 2022, potentially showing that producers managed to sequester carbon.

“We want to demonstrate a bunch of things, one being that management practices do impact carbon sequestration,” said Kimberly Cornish, co-founder of Pachaterrae, following a soil health workshop at the North Peace Applied Research Association plots near Manning.

She said the organization chose to work with producers who have a long history of good soil management practices and is focusing on sites with perennial and native grasslands.

If the sites were to be converted to cropland or for real estate, she added, lots of carbon would be released into the atmosphere.

“We would be able to compute that carbon loss if that conversion happened,” she said.

The goal of the project is to see the creation of a carbon credit program for producers.

Pachaterrae is advocating for a program that would work similarly to Alberta’s no-till offset program but pay producers with native and perennial pasture for increasing their soil carbon levels.

Under Alberta’s offset programs, producers are paid by large industrial emitters who purchase credits to offset their carbon emissions.

It isn’t yet known if a program for pastures will consider previous efforts to increase soil carbon, though the former NDP government had previously expressed interest in it overall.

The current United Conservative Party government has also expressed interest in using carbon credit programs to offset emissions but hasn’t yet indicated if it will move forward with a pasture program.

However, Cornish said the program would encourage producers to improve their soil management practices because they would be compensated.

“We would like it to be an incentive and another income source for producers,” she said.

“It would be like farming carbon as a crop, though they would be growing their soil. I see it as a win-win.”

Pachaterrae will be working on sites in Taber and Hythe and on the NPARA research plots. Cornish is looking for other producers to participate in the project.

She said the data from the soil analysis will produce a carbon map of the farm, which will show the various carbon levels on a producer’s land. Participants will be able to keep their map.

“Using this predictive mapping technology, the margin of error is getting smaller, so we are able to show a change in levels,” she said.

“We know we are pushing the edge on science.”

Cornish said soil health can go a long way, especially during drought years.

She pointed to one producer as an example, saying he only had to turn on the irrigation pivots four times last year. His neighbour, she said, turned his on 66 times.

“So many soils are under one percent carbon,” she said.

“But if we don’t shoot for the moon in improving that number, we are never going to get anywhere.”

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