Special Feature

March 7, 2016 | Volume 94 | Issue 10

Regenerating degraded dirt

Efforts to boost soil carbon aim to improve crop yields and combat climate change

By Britt E. Erickson

The world’s soils are rapidly degrading. More and more farmers are trying to reinvigorate them by increasing soil organic matter. Techniques such as planting cover crops, adopting no-till practices, and adding biochar increase organic matter, reduce erosion, enhance soil’s water-holding capacity, and help keep nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from washing away. They also increase the amount of carbon dioxide that plants strip from the atmosphere, which gets locked into soil as stable organic compounds. Food companies and governments are hoping to get more farmers to adopt these practices to make agriculture more resilient to droughts and extreme weather associated with human-caused climate change.