Adding crushed rocks to farm soils can accelerate carbon sequestration and boost crop productivity, according to research scientists attending this year’s Cereals event.    

Calcium and magnesium-rich silicate rocks ground into small particles of less than 2mm have been found to accelerate natural carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration, and potentially improve crop production and soil health.

However, the efficacy of the process, the co-benefits to crops and soils, and field safety data for this new technology has never before been tested in the UK.   

This ongoing work will be carried out under the aegis of the Enhanced Rock Weathering – Greenhouse Gas Removal (ERW-GGR) demonstrator programme.

It is the first initiative of its kind to provide an integrated, whole-system assessment of the scientific, societal, and scalability opportunities for ERW deployment in UK agriculture. 

Carbon capture

With the potential to remove up to 45% of the UK’s GGR ‘net zero’ target, it will be implemented on arable land and grassland that constitute 74% of the UK’s utilised agricultural area, approximately 13 million hectares.

It is envisaged that this approach will not only help in achieving emissions reductions, but also enhance soil productivity. This will be achieved by replenishing soils with plant-essential mineral nutrients.

Crop resistance to pests and pathogens will also be increased through greater silica uptake. Soil nitrous oxide emissions will also be minimised.

The project lead is David Beerling, from the University of Sheffield.

He explained: “The goal is to transform this GGR technology into standard agricultural practices.

“This demonstrator will pave the way for an exciting cross-disciplinary collaborative programme and shape the development of ERW-GGR in the UK.”

The project will be developed across three flagship field sites: Rothamsted Research’s arable research facility in Harpenden; North Wyke grassland experimental platform in Devon; and the advanced Plynlimon Experimental Catchments in mid-Wales.

According to the team of scientists involved, the ERW demonstrator is not just a technological initiative.

It is a comprehensive programme that integrates natural and social sciences, ensuring a balanced approach to addressing environmental benefits and public perceptions.

Erin Roberts, a social scientist at Cardiff University, claims the the project aims to understand how a social licence for ERW’s large-scale operation in UK agriculture might be developed.

Rothamsted’s arable site lead, Steve McGrath, agrees: “The ERW demonstrator is a giant leap towards our net zero carbon emissions target.

“We believe that ERW’s implementation across UK agriculture, combined with its potential co-benefits, will significantly contribute to the fight against climate change.”