Ken Bellamy October - 14 - 2010 Uncategorized32 COMMENTS

Soil carbon is a hot topic these days and much has been made of the fact that building soil carbon reserves adds structure and health to our soils.  There is little doubt that declines in soil carbon levels have run parallel with declining yields over an extended period in Australian agriculture.

An important reason for this parallel decline is the fact that soil carbon represents a reserve bank of nutrient in a soil profile.  Soil carbon is largely made up of organic material and organic residues.  Even humus and to some extent charcoal, the most stable forms of carbon in soils, are originally from an organic source.  All organic structures contain a fixed ratio of Nitrogen: Phosphorus: Potassium : Calcium and Sulphur.  That means, whenever there is soil carbon, there are stored nutrients. 

The important point here is that these stored nutrients do not necessarily come from added nutrient.  Photosynthetic microbes in the soil are able to capture Nitrogen and other minerals from the air and manage locked up nutrients from the soil in order to build their own bodies.  As this organic synthesis takes place in the soil, nutrients are made available in a pool of shared material which both plants and other microbes may access.

Over time, the cycling of nutrients in this way reaches an equilibrium level in any soil – and a ‘reserve bank of nutrient’ results.  Before the advent of synthetic nutrients, agriculture was generally based upon the accessing of these stored nutrients.  Ploughing and other techniques were developed as a way to oxidise and “speed up” the transfer of these pooled nutrients to plants.  Unfortunately, unless processes are in place to replenishment the nutrient reserve, a decline in fertility will naturally occur where these practices persist.

In recent times a range of techniques and products have been developed which aim to assist the biological processes which naturally build and maintain the ‘reserve bank of nutrient’ in soils.  These include cell-grazing and other methods which help “rest” the land and add concentrated doses of manure, inoculants and organic products which aim to enhance  the numbers of microbes which perform the nutrient building function.  Some of these products and processes directly enhance the ability of special soil microbes which complete photosynthesis in the soil.

In-soil photosynthesis (and the carbon bank which results) is a key element in nutrient management.  Building soil carbon in this way is a way is more than making healthy soil—it is nutrient in the bank.

32 Responses to “Soil Carbon: Nutrient in the Bank”

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About Me

Ken Bellamy is the principal of Vital Resource Management Pty Ltd (VRM) and Prime Carbon Pty Ltd: two Australian companies that foster cooperative, sustainable environmental management through improvements in soil and water quality.

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