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The most essential element to soil and crops in North Dakota

by Atlanta Business Journal

NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — As our crops grow, we grow closer to our soil, not just digging and caring for them more, but learning more about them and what it takes to protect their growing process.

In this week’s chemistry lesson we are covering the element carbon.

We’ve covered phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen, and last but not least is carbon.

Carbon is a very controversial topic when thinking about capture, storage, and such.

But luckily, we are focusing on the element itself as it benefits not only us but also what we grow and eat.

Carbon is a chemical element with the symbol C and an atomic number of 6. Carbon is used for fuel in the form of coal, methane gas, and crude oil, but how does it benefit our soil and crops?

We spoke with soil scientist Chris Augustin who ironically has a master’s in carbon sequestration.

“Carbon is a building block for life. Without carbon, we don’t have life without carbon. We don’t have soil so carbon we need that to build organic compounds,” said Augustin. 

Augustin tells us that unlike the previous elements we’ve covered that are not especially essential to every crop, carbon is. There is no crop that can live without it, just like humans.

Carbon is one of the most common elements in the universe.

So, what does it assist that makes it such an important element?

“Water infiltration, increasing density, and also a food source for the soil biology that helps with the nutrient cycling and it helps plants grow better,” said Augustin.

North Dakota farmers pridefully can say our soil has lots of carbon.

“We have predominantly prairie soil we call a mollisol. There’s lots of organic matter in there so our soils have lots of carbon. That’s one of the reasons why our soil is dark compared to a lot of other soil. So they’re rich in organic matter and that’s a big reason why we have such fertile soil. Another thing going for us is our soil is relatively young on a geological perspective and so there’s still lots of minerals in there for our crops,” Augustin explained.

Augustin says North Dakotans can view the state’s fertilizer recommendations to help assist them in farming.

“If you have 5% or more organic matter, then we do recommend a 50-pound nitrogen credit for each percent organic matter greater than 5%. That’s a pretty high number and not too common, so we do recommend that, but a lot of farmers don’t have those conditions,” said Augustin.

Okay, but why so much organic matter talk, I thought we were discussing carbon? 

Well, adding more organic matter aka adding manure or compost will increase the level of carbon available for decomposition.  The higher the organic matter, the better the crops.

We can’t change our parent materials or climate, but we can do things to increase soil organic matter to improve our soil health overall and save producers a buck or two.

Don’t forget, carbon is the glue of life.

To view the fertilizer recommendations visit this website.

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