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Measuring and Increasing Soil Organic Carbon in Agricultural Systems
Brian William Murphy

Last modified: 2017-08-24


The measurement of soil organic carbon has specific requirements for obtaining representative samples from the field as well as making effective measurements of soil organic carbon in the laboratory. The purpose of estimating soil organic carbon will determine if it is sufficient to have measurements of the concentration of soil organic carbon alone (gms/100gms), often used for soil health. Or whether it is also necessary to have measurements of soil mass (bulk density) and gravel content, which are needed for estimates of soil organic carbon stocks (t/ha).

While environmental factors such as climate, soil type, drainage and landform are often seen as the main drivers of soil carbon levels in soils, land management practices can have significant effects on soil organic carbon at the local level.  Management practices that increase biomass production, minimise mineralisation of soil organic matter and manitain soil nutrient levels are generally considered to maintain soil organic carbon levels in soils.  The possible increases in soil organic carbon can be limited by:

a. The environmental limitations of the local area (rainfall, temperature, soil fertility)

b.  The existing levels of soil oranic carbon under current land management practices.

Identifying land management practices to increase soil organic carbon requries konwledge of the exisitng levels of soil organic carbon as well as an understanding of the soil organic carbon levels that are associated with the different land management practices for the given climate, soil type, and local conditions.  Specified land managment practices are one of the major requirements for an agricultural project to claim carbon cfredits in Australia.

The paper will present some examples from the Central West Region of New South Wale in Australia to demonsgrate these principles.

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