Soil Carbon Challenge design draft

An international prize competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter. Open to any land manager, or group of land managers.

The purpose of the Challenge is to highlight in a thorough, localized, and public way the opportunity and the possibilities for turning atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter, and to get it happening.

An entry consists of one or more permanent plots.

We are considering a smallholder division, where management of the parcel is uniform, and it is less than 2 hectares, for which one permanent plot may suffice.

The Challenge runs for 10 years. Entries in 2010 will be judged in 2016 and final awards made 2020. The World Carbon Cup will go to the land manager who sequesters the most tons of C per hectare per year at the end of 10 years. There will be an additional prize for percentage increase. Baseline survey at year 0, remonitor at years 3, 6, and 10.

The Soil Carbon Coalition can offer help in finding sponsorships for the initial monitoring costs (currently running at about US$1000 for three plots, depending on travel costs), including some written, online, and video resources to highlight the benefits and the opportunity of growing soil organic matter, as well as methods for increasing it, and a list of organizations and local government agencies with specific interests in your area.

To keep your entry in the contest, remonitoring is required at 3 years, 6 years, and 10 years. To keep your entry viable, you must request additional monitoring at these intervals, and find sponsorship funding for it if necessary.

Entries baselined in 2010 will be scheduled for remonitoring in 2013, 2016, and 2020. Intermediate prizes will be awarded based on the 6-year monitoring.

Monitoring will consist of several fixed plots with multiple sample sites within each plot. Bulk density and carbon content of soil samples will be determined with laboratory analysis, using traditional sampling techniques. See the monitoring guide.

Sampled soil will be run through a 2mm sieve, pulverized, and analyzed for total carbon using an elemental analyzer. Monitoring will be done by certified, trained Monitors, with the involvement of local groups and land managers. Remonitoring will use the same plots, but with different sample sites within the plot. These techniques can detect small changes in soil carbon over time.

Data from the monitoring will be posted on the Challenge's map-enabled website. All data accumulated by the monitoring will be public, including soil-surface photographs and descriptions of current management.

Judging will be based on calculated carbon accrual since the baseline survey, with nitrogen fertilizer use and fossil fuel use subtracted according to standard carbon dioxide equivalencies. There will likely be a subtraction for methane production as well.

Importation of carbon materials harvested outside the parcel (hay, straw, compost, manure, wood chips, charcoal, etc.) is will put your entry into the category of added carbon, which will be judged and accounted separately. The methods of management used are up to the contestant.

Local and overlapping subcompetitions are strongly encouraged. If a commodity group or local district wants to sponsor additional prizes or incentives for their members who enter the Challenge, this is an easy add-on. The Soil Carbon Coalition, with its partners, may suggest additional incentives such as media interviews of winners, or recognition of those who exceed a certain threshold.

Research project add-ons are also encouraged. The Challenge is a soil carbon monitoring platform, which can support any number of research trials or policy initiatives, localized, overlapping, etc.

Business side

predicted costs of the Challenge:

paid by customers/sponsors:

monitoring (estimated at $1000 per parcel per monitoring, which would include lab analysis, but does not include travel expenses for Monitor)

The customers for the Challenge are both the contestants and their sponsors, who might pay monitoring/entry costs and put up local prizes and incentives. We expect that customers will already have, or can readily develop, an interest in monitoring soil carbon in a specific locale, natural resource sector, or community. They may also have an interest in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and improving water cycling, energy flow, biodiversity and biomass, and ecological resiliency in specific locales. Sponsors may be local organizations who are bearing the brunt of the costs of loss of soil organic matter, such as water districts, road departments, weed and fire districts, health departments, local governments and economic development agencies, as well as NGOs who are engaged with these issues. Raising interest from these groups may require intensive engagement (to which the consensus process is well adapted).

The Challenge is not about carbon credits or offsets, though outside parties may use the accumulated monitoring data for those purposes.

In addition to contestants and sponsors, we expect to get donations of prize and operations funds from philanthropic donors who may be tired of institutional and top-down approaches to climate change and land degradation, and want high leverage for their contributions.

Community engagement process

Where awareness of the soil carbon opportunity is lacking or undeveloped, the Soil Carbon Coalition and its partners will engage in outreach as follows.

1. Invitation. A potential contestant, or local advocate of the soil carbon opportunity will invite us, and enlist potential sponsors.
2. Presentation/workshop. Soil Carbon Coalition will facilitate a 1-day workshop to potential contestants and sponsors. This workshop will include a short presentation on the opportunity and the Challenge, but the bulk of it will be a participatory process for evaluating the opportunity and making broadly inclusive decisions.
3. Entries and baseline surveys. If the sponsors or contestants decide to move ahead, the Soil Carbon Coalition will accept Challenge entries and begin the baseline carbon surveys in collaboration with the sponsors and contestants.