In 2021, The State of Soil Health (SOSH) project measured indicators of soil health on 221 farm fields across the state of Vermont through a collaborative effort among many organizations. Soil carbon stocks to 30 cm depth were assessed on 191 of those fields. In this brief we share a summary of this new soil carbon stock data alongside data from a national assessment of soil carbon stocks performed by the NRCS from 2010 and highlight its relevance to current policy conversations within the state of Vermont.
- The protection of existing soil carbon stocks and support for increased carbon sequestration align with both environmental and agricultural goals.
- A collaborative effort to collect and share soil health information in 2021 provides needed state scale data on soil health and soil carbon in Vermont’s agricultural landscapes.
- Northeastern soils and climate are naturally conducive to high levels of soil carbon.
- When compared regionally and nationally, Vermont’s agricultural soil carbon levels are high. An average of 86 MT carbon per hectare and 4.3% organic matter was observed.
- A wide range in soil health scores and soil carbon levels observed in soil samples showed both that some fields have high levels of carbon storage, and many fields had low carbon levels indicating there are opportunities to further sink more carbon.
- Long term studies in Vermont have documented agricultural soil carbon sequestration rates at between 0.39 and 6.43 MT Carbon per hectare per year. That’s equivalent to a range of 1.4 to 23.6 MT CO2 per hectare per year.
- Increases in soil carbon are possible on Vermont farms, and can complement other strategies to reduce concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gasses.
- The permanence of soil carbon in our region is linked to agricultural economics, farmer capacity and capability. Permanence can be addressed in part through support of Extension technical assistance, policy and conservation incentive program design.
- Policy tools can help protect the high soil carbon stocks in Vermont. Incentives to maintain high levels of soil carbon for farmers, such as cost-shares or payment- for-ecosystem services programs, should be considered by policy makers.
- Additional research on common and innovative soil management strategies and their influence on soil carbon sequestration in Vermont agriculture is needed.
- Soil carbon changes are only one part of the whole farm carbon balance, and more research is needed to assess how soil carbon changes influence climate change mitigation compared to other interventions on farms in Vermont.
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White, A. Darby, H & D. Ross. (2022). Soil carbon storage and sequestration in Vermont agriculture. Research Brief. University of Vermont Extension, Gund Institute for Environment, and Department of Plant & Soil Science.