New research will map out how much carbon prairie soil is storing

University of Alberta Folio – June 16, 2022 – by Bev Betkowski

A sweeping project co-led by University of Alberta researchers will provide the most comprehensive mapping ever of how much carbon is being stored in perennial grasslands across Saskatchewan.

The resulting data from the $3.2-million initiative will help cattle farmers there — and eventually all across Canada’s prairies — manage their land to keep as much harmful greenhouse gas in the ground as possible.

“We know that grasslands are holding onto large amounts of carbon, and this project is going to help us quantify some of the contributions from the beef industry in terms of maintaining their land as grazing land, which helps keep carbon in the ground and not in the atmosphere,” says U of A rangeland ecologist Cameron Carlyle, one of the lead researchers on the project.

Soil carbon also helps retain water, which makes the prairie forage more productive and nutritious for cattle, as well as more resistant to drought, he says.

The project results could also help producers benefit from carbon offset protocols, like one currently being piloted in Canada, if at some point such a program is implemented, notes Carlyle, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

“Our research could help establish baseline values for carbon storage, and help identify specific management practices that would allow a producer to put more carbon into the ground.”

Read the full Folio article about the grassland carbon project.