Monitoring soil organic matter on grassland farms : An exploratory analysis

Hoogsteen, Martine J.J.; Breure, Anton M.; Ittersum, Martin K. van


To meet the goals of the Climate Agreement, policy makers consider incentivizing soil carbon sequestration by carbon credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, industry and other sectors. Therefore, the interest in monitoring soil organic matter dynamics is growing rapidly, yet factors affecting the precision of the monitoring results are rarely quantified. We used the rhetorical scheme “The seven circumstances” to structure the methodological aspects of setting up a soil organic matter (SOM) monitoring program. The rhetorical scheme was applied during four years on two grass-based dairy farms in the Netherlands to assess in detail: conversion of SOM weight concentrations to SOM stocks (HOW), the effect of soil depth and the integration of scales field vs. farm (WHERE), and the effect of sampling date and sampling frequency on SOM estimates (WHEN). We found that all three circumstances affect conclusions on SOM stocks or SOM dynamics strongly. Considerable variation was found in the relationship between soil bulk density and SOM weight concentration (i.e. pedotransfer curves) among fields, depth and literature reference equations. Therefore, preferably a site specific pedotransfer curve should be used when comparing SOM stocks based on SOM weight concentrations across sites. Large differences in trends of SOM stock changes over time were found between fields and sampling depths. We conclude that a sampling depth in grassland soils up to 60 cm may be relevant to capture the dynamics in deeper layers. Furthermore, for quantitative underpinning of carbon payment schemes, the whole farm should be monitored rather than a few fields as trends between fields are highly variable.