Translated by Juliette Paemelaere

Farm lands worldwide cover about 38% of land above sea level. Critics often underline their greenhouse gas emissions, yet when used reasonably with virtuous farming practices, they can contribute to the fight against climate change through carbon sequestration. The National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE), represented by its International Vice-President Jean-François Soussana, along with the association planetA®, have agreed to partner in order to develop an indicator that can measure carbon stocks evolution in farm land. This indicator has been named SOCCROP. The first results, drawn from data collected by a team of INRAE researchers in France, will be shared by the end of 2021. The SOCCROP indicator will then be available for farmers in 2022.

A partnership following the 2019 planetA® forum

The partnership was announced in 2019 during the planetA® forum, which theme was “Earth, matter, planet: soil quality for the health of the living”, and lies in the work from the “4 per 1,000” initiative. The planetA® association, created in 2017 as a hub for multidisciplinary sciences, considers agriculture the core of collective solutions. The collaboration with INRAE, whose Vice-President is also part of the scientific and technical board of the “4 per 1,000”, proves their intent to produce concrete solutions for farmers and agribusiness employees.

According to Philippe Mauguin, General Director of INRAE, this project introduces some of the work that INRAE will undertake, starting from 2022, with the international consortium on soil carbon that emerged from the European project CIRCASA (Coordination of International Research Cooperation on Soil Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture).

An INRAE team, under the direction of Eric Ceschia from the Center of Biosphere Spatial Studies (CESBIO), showed evidence of a direct link between the annual length of vegetation cover on cultivated soils and carbon accumulation, for large-scale farms.

The partnership will allow the development of a first-of-a-kind indicator that measures the CO2 quantities that farm lands can absorb or emit depending on production systems, at the scale of the parcel as well as the entire globe. SOCCROP will thus facilitate carbon assessments at the farm level.

A global indicator to monitor the evolution of carbon stocks and sustainably manage farm lands
Variations in soils vegetation cover directly affect the amount of carbon fixed by vegetation and thus by the soil. Indeed, the carbon stock variation of one farming parcel depends on the balance between inputs (photosynthesis and organic fertilization) and outputs (harvests, grazing, soil respiration, organic carbon leaching). Soil carbon assessment can be modelled depending on net inputs. This method can be used at different scales (land plot, farm, region, globe) and should allow the monitoring of the soil carbon basis and potential additional stock.

This indicator project includes two complementary axes. First, using data from the “4 per 1,000” studies, it aims to analyze and model the relation between length of soil cover and carbon stock potential at the national scale. These results will be summarized in a report by the end of the year. Second, it will quantify farm land soil cover by annual crops or vegetation at the plot scale, and globally. The study will use the “Sentinel” spatial data from the European Spatial Agency and publish its first analyses by 2022.

Thanks to the SOCCROP indicator, one will be able to observe the evolution of length in vegetation cover in various regions of the world. Compiling this with data from farming practices, it will be possible to create a global dashboard to monitor the evolution of carbon stocks in farm lands, and to understand the pace of development of practices that follow the “4 per 1,000” goal.