The Soil Carbon Challenge

If you want to find out how fast a human can run 100 meters, do you build a computer model, do a literature search, or convene a panel of experts on human physiology to make a prediction?

No, you run a race. Or a series of them.

The Soil Carbon Challenge is an international and local competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter.

There’s been tons of talk about soil carbon, the mother of all ecosystem services, but it’s time to show with good data what’s possible, and recognize those land managers who know how enhance soil water capacity, production, and underground biodiversity. Where things are stuck or the way forward is unclear, a competition can supply creative and unconventional solutions. A competition can leapfrog the decades-long cycle of research, pilot projects, legislation, and incentives, and can showcase leadership based on knowhow and performance rather than on politics, promises, or predictions.

Competitions change the question from Can it be done? to How well, and how fast?

It’s not an offset scheme. It’s the next agricultural revolution, and you can bring it to your district, sector, or community.  Want to race?

Author bio: 
Peter Donovan is founder of the Soil Carbon Coalition ( This fall he will be doing baseline plots to monitor soil carbon change in Oregon and California, as well as facilitating participatory workshops on the largely misunderstood opportunities to build capacity at the local level for enhancing the carbon cycle or circle of life.


Tim Gieseke

Your Soil Carbon Challenge is

Your Soil Carbon Challenge is a very good method to encourage innovation and bring some excitement and entrepreneurism into the effort.  It seems like I come across more articles describing the failled methods of the environmental movement and how it consistently funnels a significant amount of resources at low leverage points.  Hopefully your effort discovers a more efficient method to increase soil carbon.  The only catch is that our country does produce world class sprinters, but more than 30% obese and another chunk overweight.  We will still need to figure out how to motivate the others to apply the solutions learned.

Becca Madsen

Is there a monetary prize?

Is there a monetary prize?

Peter Donovan

  No money yet Becca, except


No money yet Becca, except a small amount raised so far for the Vermont Soil Carbon Challenge. We're open to contributions for prize money, as well as partnerships and localization. If someone wants to donate to a localized Challenge in Austin Texas or central coast California, or some other place, we can make that work.

The 60+ participants so far are interested in what they can do, and our open data and high repeatability gives them value that research and academic programs generally can't match.

The agricultural and grazing methods used by land managers are up to them. That's where the creativity, drive, and entrepreneurship is, and which practice-based or rule-based carbon offset programs may tend to suppress.