FARMERS should receive financial incentives for carbon friendly min-till systems to help slow the release of carbon dioxide from soils, which could be speeding up global warming.

A recent study led by Bristol University shows carbon breakdown from soils accelerates as temperatures rise, further enhancing the greenhouse effect. Incentivising farmers to use more min-till would help slow greenhouse gas production, says Vic Jordan, chief executive of the Soil Management Initiative.

Since micro-organisms are not keeping the release of carbon dioxide from the soil at a steady state, as previously thought, an increase in climate temperatures will result in an increase in the rate at which the stable components decompose, the report says. That will lead to even more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and more rapid climate change.

Minimum tillage drastically reduces CO2 release and might play a significant role in slowing global warming. “Every time you move soil you get CO2 released,” Dr Jordan says.

Direct drilling releases 2.85t/ha less carbon dioxide per year than conventional tillage, for example. Put another way, non-plough systems release five times less CO2 than plough-based systems in the 19 days after establishment.

More than 40% of farmers in England now use min-till on more than half their land. That compares with just 15% in 1998, representing a huge environmental benefit, says Dr Jordan. Farmers in the US and Canada receive carbon credits for such min-till, recognising their contribution to keeping carbon stored in the soil and so reducing CO2 release.

A similar approach should be adopted across Europe, Dr Jordan claims. “Farmers can make a tremendous contribution – it is one of the hidden [beneficial] effects that they have on the environment.”