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What does a soil carbon project look like?

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A soil carbon project involves setting up specific project management activities on eligible land that aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere by increasing the amount of carbon added to the soil. As they grow, plants take up carbon and return it to the soil, where it is broken down to form soil carbon. A soil carbon project may also aim to decrease the amount of carbon biomass removed from the soil: for example, by keeping crop stubble in the soil.

At least one of three types of ‘project management activities’ must be undertaken in a project. Each of these is made up of specific ‘management actions’ (see Section 9 of the method).
Three soil carbon project management activities

  1. Sustainable intensification: where new ways of productive land management are started with the aim to increase soil carbon content.
  2. Stubble retention: where crop residue that was previously removed by baling or burning is now retained in the field.
  3. Conversion to pasture: where cropped land is changed to permanent pasture
Available management actions for sustainable intensification project management activities are managing nutrients, managing acidity (also known as pH), introducing new irrigation and renovating pasture. Two of these activities must be undertaken, and they may be carried out on either pasture or cropping land. However, pasture renovation may only be carried out on land that is already under pasture (see Sections 25–42 of the method).

Stubble retention project management activities keep biomass as crop residues in the field, where previously they were removed by baling or burning (but not by grazing). Stubble retention can only be run on land that is already cropped (Section 39).

Conversion to pasture project management activities can only be run on land that has been continuously cropped for at least five years before the project starts. The land must stay as pasture for the permanence period of the project (Sections 40–42).

The amount of carbon sequestered in the soil is calculated based on the project’s direct management actions, such as irrigation or retaining stubble. However, the change in emissions from sources associated with the project must also be calculated. The emissions sources include livestock, synthetic fertiliser, application of lime, crop residues (including diesel use for tillage) and fuel and electricity used for irrigation.

Soil carbon projects are to be carried out on operating farms. As such, the projects are designed to support profitable enterprises and accommodate ‘business-as-usual’ activities, such as land use rotation and other activities that are not part of the project’s management actions. However, soil carbon projects must provide new ways to sequester carbon, and so cannot include existing practices on the farm. The financial commitment to carrying out the projects is expected to be balanced by greater productivity from the improved soil.

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