Soils store more carbon than trees, yet forested lands are the source of far more carbon credit sales than are agricultural fields. A innovative collaboration between Michigan State University Foundation Professor Bruno Basso and Kristofer Covey, assistant professor of environmental studies and sciences at Skidmore College, aims to change that by creating a database of soil carbon levels farmers can use to inform decisions on using sustainable agricultural practices and opening the possibility of selling carbon credits.
The project, My Soil Organic Carbon, or MySOC, was recently awarded a $250,000 prize from the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Solutions Collaborative. Basso and Covey join an inaugural cohort of just four other teams working on large-scale solutions to complex, global sustainability challenges.
MySOC is a platform that measures soil carbon through app-led field methods, remote sensing technology and biophysical modelling. Basso and Covey honed the parameters and process for MySOC at Caney Fork, a demonstration farm owned by former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore. Basso attributes the robustness of the modelling used in MySOC, in part, to the decades of data collected at the KBS Long-term Ecological Research site—the only LTER site in the nation focused on agricultural research—as well as the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, also based at KBS.
Samples collected through MySOC will establish a national soil carbon inventory, the first of its kind.
“The prize is an honor, but it’s also such a gratification because this science can help farmers make a more informed decision about how to use regenerative farming to reduce emissions and store new carbon in the soil they can then sell on the market as offsets,” says Basso.
He adds, “It’s a new way of doing economics on the farm—money from the crop yield and money from protecting the environment.”
Bruno Basso is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the MSU College of Natural Science and a member of the Long-term Ecological Research program at KBS. He is an MSU Foundation Professor who, among other honors, was the recipient of the MSU Innovation of Year Award, in 2016.