How Tilling Is Killing The Atmosphere: A Year Of Carbon Dioxide Accumulation

July 20, 2018 0 Comments

How Tilling Is Killing The Atmosphere: A Year Of Carbon Dioxide Accumulation

In May, our Chief Ranching Officer Dr. Allen Williams, Ph.D. wrote a blog titled The Circle Of Life: How The Carbon Cycle Powers Our Ecosystem. In that blog, Dr. Williams said this:

“When the carbon cycle is in balance, carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, then returned to its source in an ongoing pattern. However, since the dawn of agriculture thousands of years ago, humans have been disturbing that balance with degenerative farming practices, like tilling, that kill soil life and release too much carbon dioxide into the air. 


No Till

Image credit: Kiss the Ground

Thanks to scientists from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, we can see just how carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere and the effect that practices like tilling actually have on CO2 production.

Using real-world data on atmospheric conditions, the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates over the course of a year, the scientists produced a carbon dioxide visualization that simulates the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere from January 2006 through December 2006.

The screen capture below shows the level of carbon dioxide (shown in red and purple) in the northern hemisphere on April 23. In March and April, when farmers are tilling to prepare to plant their crops, carbon dioxide is at its heaviest. Through the summer and early fall, as plants are growing and absorbing carbon dioxide, atmospheric levels of CO2 go down.


As a result, by September 20, as you can see here, the amount of CO2 in the northern hemisphere is negligible.


Unfortunately, as we go into the fall, carbon is released from the ground through harvesting. More often than not, the ground is left bare after harvesting. With no cover crops through the winter, when plant photosynthesis naturally decreases, the carbon dioxide again accumulates in the atmosphere through the end of the year and into the spring.

This screen grab from November 13 shows just how much CO2 has accumulated in less than two months.


Carbon dioxide is accumulating in our atmosphere in higher concentrations each year, resulting in the long-term rise of global temperatures. However, by eliminating tilling, adding cover crops, and even grazing those cover crops, we can help eliminate the spike of CO2 in the spring. And as untilled land becomes healthier, more and more carbon can be drawn down, and fall/winter CO2 levels from harvesting would go down as well.

Bottom line – tilling releases CO2, and no-till farming, coupled with cover crops and grazing, keeps the carbon cycle in balance. It’s as simple as that.

See the full NASA video below, and click here to learn more about our Regenerative Agriculture methods.