Carbon farming: liming and carbon sequestration

Page last updated: Friday, 27 August 2021 - 1:58pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Acid soils cause significant losses in production and biomass, which restricts the ability to sequester carbon. Applying agricultural lime to these problem soils can correct acidity levels that restrict root growth and crop and pasture production.

We provide this information to support land manager decisions about investing in carbon farming.

Summary

Acid soils – pHCa below the targets of 5.5 at the surface and 4.8 in the subsoil – limit the potential for plant growth and biomass production. This in turn limits the buildup of soil organic carbon. Soil organic carbon levels are higher in areas of higher rainfall and higher biomass production, on soils that are unconstrained by water availability. See the soil acidity page for more information.

Liming is a cost-effective way of removing an acid-soil constraint to plant growth, resulting in greater biomass production, and increased soil organic carbon.

Liming also:

  • decreases N2O fluxes from a wheat–wheat rotation, but not a lupin–wheat rotation
  • decreases total N2O fluxes by lowering fluxes following summer–autumn rain
  • increases CH4 uptake from a wheat–wheat rotation (Barton et al 2013)

Benefits from liming for carbon sequestration

Co-benefits of liming acid soils are improved production and a lower cost of production because of the reduced soil acidity.

Opportunities for liming:

  • Soils are too acid for optimal production of conventional agriculture on 80% of the grainbelt, and reducing acidity would improve yields over a large area.
  • Liming acid soils improves the effectiveness of added fertilisers, and reduces costs of fertilising.

Risks from liming for carbon sequestration

Risks from liming specifically for carbon benefits:

  • Carbon credits from liming do not exist because it is not considered as additional to normal production practices.
  • The potential carbon benefit detracts from the primary message of managing soil acidity to reduce the loss of production potential from poor performing, low pH soils.
  • Leakage (carbon dioxide emissions) can occur by carbonate lime dissolving and releasing bicarbonate which evolves into carbon dioxide and water.
  • The voluntary market price for soil organic carbon is uncertain.

References

Barton, L., Murphy, DV and Butterbach-Bahl, K, 2013, 'Influence of crop rotation and liming on greenhouse gas emissions from a semi-arid soil', Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, vol. 167, pp. 23–32.

Contact information

Tom Edwards
+61 (0)8 9083 1151